Hard to believe but it’s been a full decade since Hyundai introduced what was then its most expensive and lavishly equipped model, the Genesis sedan going on to become the North American Car of the Year, among the many awards it collected. The four-door model also had a sort of Mini Me, the Genesis Coupe essentially being positioned as the Korean carmaker’s answer to the ever-popular BMW 3-Series.
Like so many other 3-Series wannabes, the Genesis Coupe wasn’t up to dethroning the king-of-the-sport-compact-hill, but it’s clear that Hyundai has kept that goal in mind and, a decade later, it’s come about as close to anyone to calling BMW’s bluff.
The original Genesis siblings are gone. Indeed, the name itself has been repurposed for Hyundai’s new luxury brand. A couple months from now, the high-line division will get its third new entry since being spun off two years ago, and the 2019 Genesis G70 does a better job of justifying the Genesis brand’s existing than the two models that came before it, the midsize G80 and premium luxury G80. It also presents a surprisingly solid alternative to the 3-Series, as well as other compact European contenders like the Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
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Don’t be so surprised. We’ve already gotten a hint of what the G70 is capable of in the form of the Kia Stinger, which shares a version of the underlying architecture. The two cars aren’t an example of badge engineering, however. There are some notable differences beyond the exterior design. The Genesis G70 is slightly shorter and lighter – among other things opting for an aluminum hood, as opposed to the all-steel Stinger.
The Genesis sedan also had the good fortune of being assigned to an all-star development team that included not only former Volkswagen Group design legend Luc Donckerwolke, but also Albert Biermann. The head of vehicle performance, Biermann previously served as chief of BMW’s M division. You could say that few people outside Munich so intimately understand what it is that makes a 3-Series tick.
The team is more than skin deep, starting on the design side where Donckerwolke’s second-in-command helped pen products as diverse as the Chevrolet Camaro and the Bentley Bentayga.
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From a visual perspective, you’ll notice some similarities to the earlier Genesis G80 and G90 models, but the design team consciously avoided creating what the Belgian styling chief calls “Russian dolls,” essentially the same shape in sizes small, medium and larger. “We want each model to have its own character,” he explained during a background briefing in Cape Neddick, Maine, where we gathered for a first media drive.
The Genesis G70 is a handsome vehicle, with a clean, coupe-like shape that doesn’t suffer from the excess of design elements that we’ve been seeing, of late, on so many other sport sedans. The diamond-shaped “crest” grille is large, but it doesn’t go to the excess of so many recent Lexus offerings, for example. The headlights are slit like, with twin LED running lamps that help them flow into the front fenders. Secondary air ducts up front serve a dual purpose, feeding cooling air to the brakes and acting as air curtains to reduce drag around the front wheels.
From the side, the G70’s glass adopts what Donckerwolke calls a “pharoah’s eye” shape, an attractive silhouette that also provides good visibility for driver and passengers.
The only real frills are what appear to be chromed air extractors just ahead of the front doors. They’re actually non-functional.
From the back, taillight clusters hug the corners, rather than spreading across the trunk, another current industry design cliché. Beyond the badging, you can tell the difference between the two G70 models by the layout of their exhaust pipes. The 2.0T model has twin pipes on the right side, the 3.3 has them split left and right.
(Click Here for a closer look at the exotic Genesis Essentia supercar concept.)
The interior of the Genesis sedan is equally clean, with details that speak of luxury without getting stuffy. You can opt for a base cloth package or move up to leather. The top-line trim features elegant diamond stitching on both front and rear seats. Up front, in particular, there’s plenty of bolstering to keep you firmly in place – something we discovered, much to our pleasure, running laps at the Club Motorsports track in Tamworth, New Hampshire.
Overall, the G70’s knobs, buttons and other controls are intuitive and easy to reach. And kudos for offering us both volume and tuning knobs. That said, we wish the Genesis team had also provided some sort of additional controls – a knob or even a touchpad – for the 8-inch touchscreen display atop the center console.
One of the big surprises with the 2019 Genesis G70 is the availability of a six-speed manual gearbox for the 2.0T model. The reality, we were told, is that only a handful of buyers will opt for that package, but it clearly was meant to signal that the sedan was more than a poseur pretending to be a serious 3-Series alternative.
Most buyers will discover that, like a number of new models, the G70 has adopted an e-shifter for its eight-speed automatic transmission, which is shared by both the 2.0T and the 3.3 models. It takes a moment to get used to the shift pattern, but it’s nowhere near as confusing as on some recent products in which you can readily find yourself going into the wrong gear.
The base 2.0T model doesn’t make you feel like you were too poor to opt for something with real guts, we quickly discovered – especially with the G70 Sport. That package includes not only the stock Brembo brakes found on all G70 sedans but upgraded pads and an enhanced exhaust system. Power is direct and reasonably linear, albeit a little slow in its initial launch. For maximum punch, opt for the manual gearbox it makes 255 horsepower (three more than with the automatic) and 260 pound-feet of torque. Light and nimble, Genesis may sell more of these packages than it originally planned for.
The 3.3-liter twin-turbo V-6 is where things get serious, punching things up to 365 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque. That’s enough to take you from 0 to 60 in just 4.5 seconds – nearly a second faster than a BMW 330i. And there’s plenty of stopping power, thanks to those Brembos: 13.8-inch four-piston fronts, 13.4-inch vented two-piston rears.
Of course, anyone familiar with a 3-Series knows that the Bavarian sedan is far than a straight-line sled. So, we were anxious to see, and feel, how the Genesis G70 would handle the Club Motorsports track. It’s a tight and technical course, with lots of corners and plenty of elevation changes, all perfect for measuring the mettle of a compact sport sedan.
For all intents and purposes, the G70 lived up to and even exceeded our expectations on both the main track, as well as the long slalom course that also was made available to us. Indeed, both on track and off, we were plenty surprised by the precision, balance and road feel of the sedan’s steering. Even in Comfort Mode it didn’t overdo the steering boost. On the track we found ourselves quickly able to keep up with the resident instructor during a game of lead-and-follow, even when he started pushing the Genesis to its limits.
The two biggest options, especially for performance-oriented drivers, come in the form of an adaptive suspension and all-wheel-drive. Even the standard suspension remained well poised whatever we through at it, but there are some pluses to being able to adjust to road and driving conditions.
Perhaps the big surprise came as we tested out the AWD system on the slalom course. While all-wheel systems often push into corners, we found the G70’s system compliant and easy to work with, especially when we dialed back on Traction Control. (Track alert: you also can shut of electronic stability control entirely.) We were able to keep the car pointed where we wanted to go and slice several seconds off each lap with the AWD package.
The bottom line, for us, is that Genesis has delivered a sedan that readily lives up to its billing and not just in terms of value for the money. Starting at $34,900 for the base 2.0T and pushing to around $50,000 with a well-equipped G70 3.3, Genesis is offering quite a bargain. But when you factor in just how well it looks, rides and performs, it’s an even more enticing deal.
Of course, there is the question of timing. Sedans have become all but passe these days, millions of American motorists trading in their passenger cars for SUVs and other light trucks. But the reality is that utes rarely can come close to delivering the thrill of a good sedan. So, far those who want something that’s fun-to-drive, rather than just trendy, we think the 2019 Genesis G70 well deserves to be on the shopping list.