A Star Is Born: Korea's upstart luxury brand boldly takes center stage
Wind your mental clocks back just over three decades. The year is 1985, Ronald Reagan just began his second term in the White House, and a new Korean car company was selling a Giugiaro-designed hatchback for the low, low price of $4,995 USD.
Americans couldn’t pronounce the name of the brand (Hun-dee? Hi-yun-day? Hoon-dye?). And its little Excel did anything but. The wheezy econobox’s most notable performance credential was the LAPD’s dubious—later retracted—claim that Rodney King was driving one at speeds of 110 to 115 mph (177 to 185 km/h).
Fast-forward to the present. How beyond belief is it that that same cheap and cheerful automaker—Hyundai—not only has launched a luxury brand but has also built a better BMW 3 Series fighter right out the gate than the Japanese luxury brands have in numerous attempts?
That car is the Genesis G70, and we have voted it the 2019 MotorTrend Car of the Year. That’s all pretty unthinkable, right? Unthinkable, that is, unless you’ve been paying attention.
Hyundai launched Genesis Motors two years ago with the impressive G90, a full-size luxury machine that humbles cars such as the BMW 7 Series and Lexus LS. However, the G90 doesn’t really do much against the 4,700-pound (2,131-kg) German silverback in the room—the mighty Mercedes-Benz S-Class. And although the quite-fine Genesis G80 is a capable midsizer, it doesn’t exactly send shivers down the backs of engineers in Stuttgart or Nagoya. It isn’t, as we like to say, a needle mover.
The G70, however, is. The segment the G70 competes in—entry-level compact luxury sport sedans—has long been defined by the BMW 3 Series. However, for the past decade or so, the Bavarian’s claim of supremacy has been in doubt. That has opened the door for a plethora of stellar sedans from half a dozen countries, ranging from Audi to Cadillac to Jaguar to last year’s COTY, the Alfa Romeo Giulia. Despite comparison tests showing BMW is no longer in ascendency, when creating segment benchmarks, automaker product planners still circle back to, “We want to create a 3 Series fighter.”
Of course, it helps to have a bunch of ringers on your development team to help bring those Eurocentric touches to your first effort—folks like BMW dynamics veterans Albert Biermann and Fayez Rahman, Bentley design talents Luc Donckerwolke and SangYup Lee, Mercedes color/trim specialist Bozhena Lalova, and Bugatti Chiron designer Sasha Selipanov. Coordinating this dream team is former Lamborghini brand czar Manfred Fitzgerald, who has created a Genesis “brand book” to keep his troops focused.
The result of all this hard work is a stunning, value-packed sport sedan that should shake up any shopper’s consideration list.
“What’s remarkable about the Genesis is the Koreans have done what Toyota, Nissan, Honda, and GM have all failed to do: build a legitimate BMW 3 Series competitor,” international bureau chief Angus MacKenzie said.
Over many beers, you and I could sit and pick apart that statement. Yes, the original Infiniti G35 caught BMW flat-footed. Agreed, dynamically speaking, the Cadillac ATS and aforementioned Giulia are superior to the F30 3 Series. However, Angus’ point is that there is no asterisk required for the G70. We don’t have to say the car is better in this way but not that. No excuses are necessary. Am I saying the G70 is perfect? Of course not. No car is. But I am saying that the G70 is exceptional, and when stacked up against our six key criteria, it clearly emerges as our 2019 Car of the Year.
Before delving into said criteria (and in particular Engineering Excellence), I’d be remiss to go one step further without mentioning the G70’s platform cousin, the Kia Stinger. A finalist at last year’s Car of the Year competition, two negatives held the Stinger back from top honors: Its interior design is too blandly similar to every other Kia extant, and its suspension does not befit its sporty-car pretentions. More impressively, we brought a 3.3-liter RWD Stinger GT with us to our 2018 Best Driver’s Car party. There the Kia finished an honorable ninth place out of twelve. That may not sound like much—until you take into account that several bona fide six-figure supercars were ahead of it, and one (Corvette ZR1) finished behind it. Still, the Stinger has felt a bit … unfinished.
Given one additional year of development time, what we assume is a different sort of customer to chase, and perhaps even a different mandate, the G70 does not suffer from the same shortcomings. “The G70 is smooth, quiet, fast, upscale, nimble, good-looking, and a great value,” guest judge (and AMC, Chrysler, and Ford engineering guru) Chris Theodore said. “It’s very good at almost everything.”
The G70 makes a terrific all-arounder, but certain triumphal notes do stand out. If you want a seat at the 3 Series table, true sporting ability trumps a perfectly damped ride and NVH-free cabin. Some version of the word “balance” appears seven times in the notes from seven judges; any suspension complaints had to do with ride quality, not with handling.
“Holy moly, such ferocity and control,” road test editor Chris Walton said. “My attention was rapt. My heart raced. Held to the standard-bearer, a BMW 3 Series, this car out of the gate is better. It’s more evolved and more luxurious than the original Infiniti G35 was, has an edge to it that a Mercedes-Benz C-Class lacks, and feels more alert than an Audi A4.”
We should mention performance under the hood. The optional 3.3-liter twin-turbo G70 is a ferocious animal. The RWD car hit 60 mph in 4.7 seconds, whereas the heavier AWD car did so in 4.8. The rear-driver did the quarter-mile run in 13.2 seconds, whereas the all-wheeler was just a tenth behind. That’s quicker than the BMW 340i, a touch slower than the Mercedes-AMG C 43, and right on the nose of the 340-hp version of the Jaguar XE. “Your basic rocket ship,” Theodore said. “The engine pulls to infinity and beyond.”
Curiously, few of the 5,595 words we collectively wrote as notes about the G70 mention anything about the base 2.0-liter version feeling slow or underpowered. Yet the numbers tell a different story. The manual 2.0-liter takes 7.2 seconds to hit 60 mph, and the automatic requires 7.4 seconds. By contrast, the BMW 330i needs just 5.5 seconds to hit 60 mph, the Mercedes C 300 sedan takes 6.0 seconds, and the Alfa Romeo Giulia Q2 requires 5.2 seconds. The G70 similarly trails in the quarter—more than a second off its nearest rivals. “The 2.0-liter makes most of its power above 3,000 rpm, and the transmission is geared a bit too long to let the G70 make the most of that meat,” features editor Christian Seabaugh said.
Our fully loaded 2.0-liter Dynamic and the decently contented, power-packed 3.3T Advanced both came in under 45 grand. That’s thousands of dollars if not tens of thousands less than Genesis’ competitors. “I’m blinking hard, looking at the Monroney,” executive editor Mark Rechtin said. “I’m trying to figure out how this is possible. I’m not sure if there’s another vehicle in the segment that drives this way at this price point.”
Like all Car of the Year winners, there’s an X-factor at work, some secret spicy sauce that makes the eventual victor jump up off the page, out of the various spreadsheets, and down from the minds into the hearts of the judges. Last year’s champ, the Alfa Romeo Giulia, had it in spades. So does this year’s Genesis. “Somehow,” technical editor Frank Markus said, “this one, with rear-wheel drive, put it all together for me.”
For others, too. Check out this praise from senior production editor Zach Gale: “What an incredible first effort from a new brand.” Seabaugh professed love for the upgraded engine: “What a great way to wake up. This 3.3-liter TT V-6 is just a monster. I absolutely adore this engine. This was my favorite G70 on the proving ground, and it continues to be in the real world.” Then there’s editor-in-chief Ed Loh: “The pull of the 3.3T makes this one easy to love. BMW, Audi, Lexus, Acura, and Infiniti have a real problem on their hands.”
Advancement in design is what you would expect from a car company that has poached talent from Europe’s finest. The G70 is not derivative, but anyone who’s hung around premium German cars will notice a certain resemblance. Genesis didn’t crib its classmates’ homework, but it is working from similar notes. Said guest judge (and former Chrysler design boss) Tom Gale: “A lot of credit is due regarding package execution and combination of design elements for this segment.”
Once inside, the interior fitments are clearly worthy of the compact luxury segment. Genesis had four models on hand for us to sample. “Very upscale interior—almost Mercedes-like,” Theodore said. Detroit editor Alisa Priddle followed with more detailed notes: “Gorgeous quilted black-and-white seats with the diamond pattern in the white stitching.” Associate online editor Michael Cantu said the G70 “has the fit and finish some automakers would dream of.”
As is the case with many compact luxury sedans equipped with leather-clad power front seats, the G70 has a rather tight back-seat area. I’m 5-foot-10, and I fit fine behind a like-sized driver. But 6-footers felt pinched. It’s not big back there. Your friends will fit, just not comfortably for lengthy road trips unless front-seat occupants slide forward a bit.
So yes, there are shortcomings. The 2.0-liter version needs to undergo a kale cleanse, as it’s among the heavier sedans of its class. Rechtin called out its lane keep assist function as wandering. Loh and Markus noticed detectable amounts of road NVH creeping into the cabin on rough aggregate paving. MacKenzie felt the engine note needs refining. And Seabaugh was dismayed that the infotainment interface makes no bones that it’s shared with down-market Hyundai and Kia models.
Genesis shows how a new model from a new brand must enter a crowded segment, one where both heritage and perception count. Not in the middle, not as merely a value proposition or even as a funky alternative, but at or so very close to the top that everybody is forced to take notice. If there are sins, they’re easily forgiven. Alfa Romeo did it last year with the Giulia. Genesis does so this year with the G70. If we can once again journey back to the 1980s, Lexus did exactly this (and then some) with the release of the initial LS 400. The entire industry was put on notice. Some brands (hello, Lincoln) have yet to fully recover because the parent companies refused to recognize the threat and invest the funds necessary to fight back against the hard-hitting, hungry, hustling newcomer. The other brands, chiefly the Germans, evolved. Sure beats extinction.
If Genesis can extend its product line with SUVs similar to the excellent new G70, it stands poised to take over the world of mainstream luxury. Some will focus on the flaws of this first serious effort. But those folks are the ones with their noses up against a tree, missing the whole dang forest.
For now, however, let Genesis Motors bask in the glory of accomplishing the near impossible: It built a better 3 Series. I’ll let Angus summarize: “It hits all the right notes: Punchy powertrains and an agile chassis that’s a ton of fun, sporty exterior styling with strong graphics, and a well-appointed interior. Look out, BMW. It’s the real deal.”
It’s Car of the Year, too.
READ ABOUT 2019 CAR OF THE YEAR CONTENDERS:
- Buick Regal
- Ford Mustang
- Ford Transit Connect
- Hyundai Accent
- Hyundai Elantra
- Honda Clarity
- Kia Forte
- Lexus ES
- Lexus LS
- Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class
- Nissan Altima
- Toyota Avalon
- Toyota Corolla Hatchback
- Volkswagen Jetta
READ ABOUT 2019 CAR OF THE YEAR FINALISTS:
READ ABOUT 2019 SUV OF THE YEAR CONTENDERS:
- BMW X2
- BMW X3
- BMW X4
- Cadillac XT4
- Ford EcoSport
- Ford Edge
- Hyundai Santa Fe
- Infiniti QX50
- Jaguar E-Pace
- Jeep Cherokee
- Lexus RX L
- Mercedes-Benz G-Class
- Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross
- Nissan Kicks
- Subaru Ascent
READ ABOUT 2019 SUV OF THE YEAR FINALISTS:
- Acura RDX
- Ford Expedition
- Hyundai Kona
- Jaguar I-Pace
- Jeep Wrangler
- Lincoln Navigator
- Range Rover Velar
- Subaru Forester
- Volvo XC40
READ ABOUT 2019 TRUCK OF THE YEAR FINALISTS:
|2019 Genesis G70||2.0T||2.0T (manual)||3.3T||3.3T HTRAC|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD||Front-engine, RWD||Front-engine, RWD||Front-engine, AWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head||Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head||Twin-turbo 60-deg V-6, alum block/heads||Twin-turbo 60-deg V-6, alum block/heads|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||121.9 cu in/1,998 cc||121.9 cu in/1,998 cc||203.9 cu in/3,342 cc||203.9 cu in/3,342 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||252 hp @ 6,200 rpm||252 hp @ 6,200 rpm||365 hp @ 6,000 rpm||365 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||260 lb-ft @ 1,400 rpm||260 lb-ft @ 1,400 rpm||376 lb-ft @ 1,300 rpm||376 lb-ft @ 1,300 rpm|
|REDLINE||6,500 rpm||6,500 rpm||6,500 rpm||6,500 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||14.5 lb/hp||14.2 lb/hp||10.4 lb/hp||11.0 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||8-speed automatic||6-speed manual||8-speed automatic||8-speed automatic|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar||Struts, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||12.6-in vented disc; 12.4-in vented disc, ABS||13.8-in vented disc; 13.4-in vented disc, ABS||13.8-in vented disc; 13.4-in vented disc, ABS||13.8-in vented disc; 13.4-in vented disc, ABS|
|WHEELS, F;R||8.0 x 19-in; 8.5 x 19-in cast aluminum||8.0 x 19-in; 8.5 x 19-in cast aluminum||8.0 x 19-in; 8.5 x 19-in cast aluminum||8.0 x 19-in; 8.5 x 19-in cast aluminum|
|TIRES, F;R||225/40ZR19 93Y; 255/35ZR19 96Y Michelin Pilot Sport 4||225/40ZR19 93Y; 255/35ZR19 96Y Michelin Pilot Sport 4||225/40ZR19 93Y; 255/35ZR19 96Y Michelin Pilot Sport 4||225/40ZR19 93Y; 255/35ZR19 96Y Michelin Pilot Sport 4|
|WHEELBASE||111.6 in||111.6 in||111.6 in||111.6 in|
|TRACK, F/R||62.8/63.1 in||62.8/63.1 in||62.8/63.1 in||62.8/63.1 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||184.5 x 72.8 x 55.1 in||184.5 x 72.8 x 55.1 in||184.5 x 72.8 x 55.1 in||184.5 x 72.8 x 55.1 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||36.1 ft||36.1 ft||36.1 ft||37.4 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,659 lb||3,581 lb||3,778 lb||3,998 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||51/49%||52/48%||53/47%||54/46%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||39.7/36.9 in||39.7/36.9 in||39.7/36.9 in||39.7/36.9 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||42.6/34.8 in||42.6/34.8 in||42.6/34.8 in||42.6/34.8 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||56.3/54.6 in||56.3/54.6 in||56.3/54.6 in||56.3/54.6 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||10.5 cu ft||10.5 cu ft||10.5 cu ft||10.5 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||2.9 sec||2.7 sec||1.8 sec||1.8 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||3.6||3.7||2.3||2.3|
|QUARTER MILE||15.7 sec @ 91.7 mph||15.7 sec @ 91.0 mph||13.2 sec @ 107.3 mph||13.3 sec @ 105.7 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||110 ft||112 ft||114 ft||113 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.90 g (avg)||0.89 g (avg)||0.89 g (avg)||0.89 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||25.6 sec @ 0.69 g (avg)||26.0 sec @ 0.68 g (avg)||25.2 sec @ 0.75 g (avg)||25.2 sec @ 0.76 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,600 rpm||2,200 rpm||1,560 rpm||1,560 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$44,895||$38,995||$44,745||$52,495|
|AIRBAGS||9: Dual front, f/r side, f/r curtain, driver knee||9: Dual front, f/r side, f/r curtain, driver knee||9: Dual front, f/r side, f/r curtain, driver knee||9: Dual front, f/r side, f/r curtain, driver knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||5 yrs/60,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||10 yrs/100,000 miles||10 yrs/100,000 miles||10 yrs/100,000 miles||10 yrs/100,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||5 yrs/Unlimited miles||5 yrs/Unlimited miles||5 yrs/Unlimited miles||5 yrs/Unlimited miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||15.8 gal||15.8 gal||15.8 gal||15.8 gal|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||25.1/34.5/28.6 mpg||00.0/00.0/00.0 mpg||23.7/33.6/27.4 mpg||00.0/00.0/00.0 mpg|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||22/30/25 mpg||18/28/22 mpg||18/26/21 mpg||18/25/20 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||153/112 kW-hrs/100 miles||187/120 kW-hrs/100 miles||187/130 kW-hrs/100 miles||187/135 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.78 lb/mile||0.90 lb/mile||0.93 lb/mile||0.94 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium||Unleaded premium||Unleaded premium||Unleaded premium|