There’s a scene in Glengarry Glen Ross when maestro salesman Blake (played by Alec Baldwin, a fact I’m particularly fond of) berates a wage slave of the offices of Mitch and Murray:
Dave Moss: What’s your name?
Blake: F**k you. That’s my name. You know why, mister? ‘Cause you drove a Hyundai to get here tonight, and I drove an eighty thousand dollar BMW. That’s my name.
Well, joke’s on you, Alec Baldwin: Hyundai doesn’t build punchline-worthy cars anymore!
Times have changed since Alec Baldwin unleashed his swear-laden rant in David Mamet’s stage (and film) classic. For one, Hyundai doesn’t build insult-worthy machinery anymore—much digital ink has been spilled on the company’s development into a respectable full-line manufacturer of everything from luxury cars to subcompacts, and even crawler excavators. The Elantra, Equus, and the occasional R480LC-9 series tracked excavator have all received high praise.
Today’s case in point: the 2012 Hyundai Genesis R-Spec, which at 429 horsepower is the most powerful car Hyundai has built to date, equal to a half-dozen Excels. If you told David Mamet back in the 80s that Hyundai would build a car with more power than a Ferrari 308, he’d unleash a torrent of swears. Back then, the automaker sold itself on the virtue that for the price of a new car you could get two Excels, like some Costco member’s only discount gone wrong. Today, however, they’re building off the same legacy: has Hyundai built the ultimate, unsuspecting Q-ship?
Hyundai sent me (and a bunch of equally spoiled, easily-excitable automotive journalists) to the Las Vegas desert to find out, where they managed to lure Don Felder of The Eagles to play for us and our souffléd short ribs. No, not that Don from The Eagles. You can check out of the Genesis anytime you want, but you can never leave until you shill our sound system.*
The new Genesis gets a new transmission, a directly-injected engine and a revised suspension that is as improved over its previous generation as a Cannondale over a penny-farthing. The Genesis also gets obnoxiously subtle styling taken from the Porsche School Of “If It Ain’t Broke, Mess With It” Design And Sandwich-Making Department. This includes a “more premium B-pillar finish,” a band of LEDs that neatly bifurcate the front headlights and some trick integrated faux-exhaust outlets. But other than that, the sort of people who can recite the differences between the 2011 and 2012 Geneses are either Hyundai engineers or the sort of people you wouldn’t invite to a bachelor party.**
Like Porsche still, what’s new is where it counts. Under the hood. For 2012, Hyundai developed a 5.0-liter V8 engine based on its Tau architecture, complete with gasoline direct injection, an aluminum block and heads and variable valve timing all around. At 429 horsepower, it’s the most powerful car Hyundai has ever built. The engine is paired to a brand-new 8-speed automatic gearbox available across the Genesis range, and it’s designed and built completely in-house.
We drove the Genesis R-Spec, as well as the 3.8 V6, around Lake Mead Recreational Area where the temperature was 106 degrees and hot enough to render one of the car’s radios inoperable, triggering a cheery warning message. At Loews Las Vegas, on the suspiciously blue waters of Lake Mead, builders are constructing some eerie replica of Florence, Italy’s Ponte Vecchio—only less grand in scale, and completely uninhabited. The effect is a facsimile in a vacuum: an interpretation of an established icon, while attempting to be unique at the same time. Whether this is a (painfully obvious) metaphor is your guess.
On the freshly paved (thanks Obama!) ribbon of Lakeshore Road, the engine pulled strong and barely rose above conversation volume. We hit
120mph (Ed. Note: Blake surely means 70 max) in some places without even realizing it, with only a “huh, we’re at a buck twenty” to acknowledge it. As befitting a cruiser that’s still more luxury than sport, yet the Genesis feels most comfortable cruising at illegal highway speeds. It’s a shame the touchscreen navigation system doesn’t come with its own radar detector.
Sadly, the transmission hinders the engine like it’s been rereading Harrison Bergeron. Hyundai thought it would be snazzy to jam 8 speeds into that cast-aluminum bell housing, in the spirit of scientific endeavor not unlike the world record for the largest In-N-Out Burger. Eight speeds might sound good on paper, but in the car it’s dog-slow, unresponsive, reluctant to shift and fights your every decision like a petulant teenager. We attempted to clock the R-Spec’s 0-60 time and ended up with the same result as the 120-horsepower-less V6.
The R-Spec weighs 200 more pounds than the 3.8-equipped Genesis. Hyundai claims a 0-60 time of 5.1 seconds with the big-block, and despite the added 99 horsepower, the two engines felt almost exactly the same. Chalk it up to the Genesis’s weight, perhaps, at 4,046 pounds, but a 400+ horsepower car should have some semblance of having 400+ horsepower, you know?
The 2012 Genesis range rides on an all-new suspension comprised of ZF-built Sachs two-valve adaptive damping shocks that, unlike other cars in the class, don’t feature selectable Comfort or Sport modes. The R-Spec has a larger rear stabilizer bar and higher spring rates in order to handle the extra power, and the overall package is a marked improvement over the last generation. The suspension doesn’t crash like it used to, with little body roll and minimal drama. Granted, we were on buttery-smooth black asphalt, which just gave us more time to enjoy the interior.
Both Geneses (Ed. Note: We’re not sure either) come with a lovely, patterned faux-leather dash that seems almost a waste to regulate to sun-warping status. Every surface is soft-touch and solid, and the dashboard is refreshingly free of buttons. (See BMW? This is how you do button-free driving.) The screen controls responded quickly. Navigating the map, however, was either achingly slow or whoops, you’re in Antarctica—it required a steady hand not unlike an unfamiliar shower knob.
As for Lexicon? Maybe the audio settings were off after I played with them, but the Harmon-Kardon-designed 17-speaker system sounded underwhelming and flat. The Grateful Dead deserve more respect than that. In typical German emulation, the R-Spec gets an interior that’s none more black: exterior colors consist of grey, more grey, and black. It seems that whoever designed the R-Spec’s color options must have been going through a Dashboard Confessional phase. V6 models get a bit sunnier: you get metallic red and metallic blue (“Cabernet Red Pearl” and “Twilight Blue Pearl”) for starters.
In fact, the V6 came with all of the features we found in the R-Spec: lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, Lexicon audio, heated and cooled seats, bowling ball shiner, etc. The V6 starts at $34,200 and the R-Spec at $46,500—it seems that with the R-Spec, you’re paying for the cool tuner-esque name and the inevitable price premium that will add $4,000 upon resale. That’s how the game works.
But why? The R-Spec’s purpose is to bestow the owners with the sort of heady one-upsmanship that he or she can revel in, to laugh in the face of the Joneses when they spring for the smaller engine. V6 Camaro owners will know what I’m talking about. Nobody expects a Hyundai to be fast, but nobody expects the smaller-engined car as well. Buy one in black and troll WRX owners all day for great success.
And perhaps Vegas, with all of its lights and reputation, wasn’t the most rational place to introduce a car that features none of the above. But then again, therein lies the beauty of the Q-ship: a car that, when distilled to its fundamental elements, nobody expects to go fast. And if you want to spend $12,000 over the price of the V6 for the chance to own Hyundai’s biggest and most powerful engine, then surely you are a better man than I, and may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest—through the Valley of Fire.
* I blame Alex Kierstein for this line. Don’t shoot the messenger.
** Present company included.