There was much hype surrounding the Genesis EQ900, the first flagship sedan under Hyundai Motor Group’s newly launched premium standalone brand, Genesis.
The world’s fifth-largest carmaker has put all its efforts in placing the brand on par with or beyond German luxury carmakers such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz. It has invited the press on five occasions to heat up the vibe while providing chauffeured test-drives around Seoul to potential customers.
And the market has responded warmly: Hyundai said it has received more than 13,000 preorders since Nov. 23, and the number is expected to exceed 15,000 around Christmas. The company started delivery of the preordered cars on Dec. 14.
On Thursday, the auto giant invited the press to get behind the wheel for the first time, driving from Walkerhill Hotel in eastern Seoul to Gapyeong, Gyeonggi Province.
I was given the car with the Lambda 3.3 V6 T-GDi twin turbo engine, which targets a younger generation than the conventional customers of the Equus, another high-end brand under Hyundai. With a full option of various safety and convenience options, the car costs around 120 million won ($101,500).
To start with, the drivability is impeccable. From the smooth steering to the gentle but powerful acceleration, the nearly 2-ton car feels lighter than its weight.
The suspension was better than expected. Cornering was smooth and when going over the speed bumps – Korea has a notoriously large number of speed bumps for pedestrian safety – the shock was nearly undetectable with the brakes, and was brought down to a minimum level even without braking.
The noise-sealing efficiently blocked nearly all the street noise the while Harman’s 14 Lexicon speakers delivered optimal surround sound. The smart drive program adjusted my driving posture after I input the height and weight data while the backseats emulating the first-class seats in flight hugged the body so well that I didn’t want to get out.
But perhaps what grabbed the most attention was the highway driving assist, which has an adaptive cruise control function.
By clicking a few buttons, one does not have to push any pedal or manipulate the steering wheel at all on the highway.
I set the maximum speed at 132 kilometers per hour. And within that speed the car maneuvered down the highway, without deserting the lane even at turns. The car automatically detected the risks of collisions on the front, side and the rear, and slowed down or sped up to avoid accidents.
All I had to do was to keep my hands on the wheel – the function turns off if the hands are removed from the steering wheel for more than 10 seconds because it is illegal in Korea to take the hands off the device.
The only concern is perhaps its marketing niche — coming up with a good story to convince the customers of the whole new brand concept. Currently, the car is a bit lost between two generations of cars: The car has the face of the old Genesis and the derriere of an Equus, a bit old for the former Genesis drivers and a big too light and sporty for Equus drivers.
If Hyundai wants to have the Genesis like what Acura is to Honda and Lexus is to Toyota on a global scale, the company may have to figure out how to approach the people used to the dichotomy, before it goes head-to-head with the German or American contemporaries.
The good news for the company is that local high-end motorists are embracing the car.
According to Kim Sang-dae, a marketing executive at Hyundai, about 20 percent of those who have ordered an EQ900 owns a foreign car. “We are very positive about the outlook of Genesis,” Kim said.
The EQ900, which will be sold under the name of G90 overseas from later 2016, will make an overseas debut at the Detroit Motor Show in January, targeting the U.S., the world’s largest upscale auto market.