First Drive – 2013 Hyundai Genesis Coupe

Did John Krafcik just compare Hyundai to The Beatles?

I’m writing this in my notebook, circling it, and staring at the ink which squirted forth from my pen and formed those very words. I even bothered the journalist to my left, making sure my ears are working at this relatively early hour of the morning. Krafcik, CEO of the North American arm of Hyundai, has in fact uttered those words. I’m in a Las Vegas hotel conference room, I’m not drunk, and I’m… nodding in agreement.

The manner in which Krafcik has compared his automotive brand to one of the greatest bands of all time is an interesting one. You see, The Beatles were not exactly an overnight success. They formed in the mid-to-late ’50s, and the proceeded to grind out their sound in German nightclubs. Over the next few years, Stu Sutcliffe died, Pete Best was replaced by Ringo Starr, and Beatlemania soon became a “thing” a few years later.

Hyundai hasn’t exactly been an overnight success here in the United States. The brand made its North American debut in 1986 with the Excel. Sales were actually strong for a first year foreign brand selling its wares stateside. Still, that early Excel was … not good. For the next two decades, Hyundai was selling vehicles viewed as sub-par to the rest of the offerings available to consumers. Fast forward to the beginning of 2012, and John Krafcik is explaining to assembled media members that Hyundai is the 6th best selling brand in the United States, is seeing a rise in the average transaction price, has shot from 7th to 3rd in ALGs ranking of residual value, and is now working hard just to keep pace with demand for its latest vehicles.

One of these latest vehicles is a refreshed version of the automakers rear-wheel-drive sports car, which has its sights set on competitors such as the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, Nissan 370Z, and the upcoming Scion FR-S. Hell… Hyundai PR folks are even throwing the Infiniti G37 in the mix of possible competition. Are they crazy, or will we love, love this coupe?

I have the keys to examples of the 2013 Hyundai Genesis Coupe with both engines, access to the Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch racetrack, and the good-day sunshine, so let’s find out.

Hyundai was dreaming big when it launched the 2010 Genesis Coupe into the U.S. market. This happened towards the beginning of 2009, and many enthusiasts were curious to see just how well the Korean two door could stack up against its coupe contemporaries. The first generation car could be had with a 210-horsepower 2.0T four-cylinder engine or a 306-horsepower 3.8-liter V6. Either choice sent power to the correct wheels, and it was metered out via a six-speed manual gearbox or a five or six-speed automatic, depending on your choice of engine.

That car was (and still is) rather fun to drive, priced strongly, and provided a new choice for those sick of staring at the Ford and Chevrolet lots. One could stare at a Nissan lot as well, but your account might slap you unless you were looking at the used lot. Still, the Genesis Coupe wasn’t an instant “must buy”. The brakes faded quicker than the latest auto-tuned one-hit wonder, and second gear would occasionally decide it was up for a game of hide-and-seek while the driver was in the middle of his favorite canyon run.

For the 2013 model year, Hyundai engineers have taken that older car into the shed… and tinkered, quite a bit.


What came out of the Hyundai garage was a car with a bold new look, updated engines and transmissions, and a two-door that has reaffirmed its desire to compete with the best (and the Camaro). Of course, the first thing everyone will notice is the galactically large grille, which appears to be the automotive impression of a whale shark on the hunt for krill. To be fair, it’s far easier on the eyes in person, and a darker exterior shade helps it blend into the body far better. No matter which shade you choose, I believe you’ll find that a long road trip will leave you with the next Jackson Pollack masterpiece. This one created entirely in the medium of flying bugs and diminutive fan boys.

Moving away from the cow catcher eater, the rest of the body is quite a handsome leap forward compared to the previous coupe. The headlights hug the front fenders, move backwards past the updated 18 or 19-inch wheels, and into the z-shaped midsection. Ultimately, your eyes swing all the way around to the rear, where Hyundai has fitted the car with sharp LED-enhanced taillights.

Exterior updates to any vehicle are always viewed through a subjective lens. Ignore that side of your brain for a moment because I’m now going to focus on things that are based on concrete facts and figures. Hyundai has updated both the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder and 3.8-liter V6 engines, and I can objectively say the engineers involved have done a splendid job.

The forced-induction four banger is up 64 horses, and now produces 274 horsepower. This turbo mill also pumps out 275 pound-feet of torque, with peak torque arriving at just 2,000 rpm. Those numbers come courtesy of a new twin-scroll turbocharger, and a larger intercooler, as well as a few tweaks to the variable valve timing system. These premium power ratings are for folks who prefer to run premium fuel. You don’t have to, however, as Hyundai has set up the car to be happy sipping regular gas as well. Anti-knock sensors see that you’re saving money at the pump, adjust timing and engine mapping as needed, and power output drops to 260 for both horsepower and torque. You’re also going to see 30 miles per gallon on the highway, regardless of which type of fuel you choose to fill up with. Still, we like power here, so that extra 14 horses should be worth the extra coin.

Even on premium fuel though, having nearly 300 horsepower on tap is… fun. Having 348 horses and 295 pound-feet of torque is more fun, and everyone knows that more equals better. That’s what you’ll get with the 3.8-liter directly-injected V6 motor. Hyundai has eked out 42 more ponies from the prior generation V6 Genesis coupe. It’s not just the power that caught my attention though, because the engineers threw in an auditory trump card that’s guaranteed to induce instant Joker-grade smiles. A sound induction pipe transports the downright delicious engine note through the firewall, and straight into the deepest pleasure centers buried in your brains. The first time I stepped on the pedal, my eyes opened wide, my brain was confused, and wicked laughter began to filter into the cabin alongside the sonorous wail of the Lamba V6.

Regardless of engine choice, the base transmission is a six-speed manual gearbox. If you prefer to let a computer shift for you, Hyundai offers up the 2013 Genesis coupe with an eight-speed automatic, which can be shifted manually via steering-wheel-mounted paddles or via the centrally located gear lever. The eight-speed is plenty adequate, and actually quite smooth. Still, if it were my own money being spent, the manual would be the way to go.

That said, it’s certainly not the greatest manual transmission I’ve had the pleasure of playing with. It feels better than the one I remembered in a 2010 press car that was flogged around Southern California. Hyundai has stated that it’s worked to refine clutch engagement, while creating a more friendly shift gate. That’s clearly evident, because the car is super easy to drive around town. Things quickly go south out on the track though, and that “friendly shift gate” becomes my sworn enemy. The Genesis coupe suffers from the same issues that plague the gearbox of the Lotus Evora. Certainly wonderful company to be included with, but not in this instance. Second gear goes into hiding the moment you try to force a hard shift down from third. Ease up, relax, and gently slot the gear lever backwards and to the left, and you will once again find second where you left it. The Evora and the Genesis coupe are the only two vehicles I’ve driven in recent memory that suffer from this issue, and it’s wildly frustrating when out on a race track.

The shifter isn’t the only area where the Genesis coupe lets confidence killing thoughts creep into your head. You can oufit this two door in R-Spec or Track trim, each of which come fitted with Brembo brakes. I fired up a Brembo-equipped car, chucked it down a straight, and as I approached the first corner, I was ready… and got nothing. The initial pedal feel is nearly scary in its absence. Still, these are Brembo brakes. Push past that dead zone, and there’s plenty of bite. It just happens to lie a bit further than I expected.

Despite the manual gearbox and braking issues, the rest of the car is incredibly well sorted. The turbo four has plenty of low-end grunt, and the 3.8 is the car of choice or those wanting wonderful sound and power. Handling has never been a Hyundai strong suit, but the coupe is a Malcolm Gladwell-approved outlier when compared to the rest of the family. Additionally, the Genesis coupe is incredibly easy to control if the rear end decides to step out. Hyundai setup an autocross track, and then proceeded to douse half of it in water. The slow speed corners saw more drifting than an Italian cruise ship. As I would try to go slow in to the turn, I’d want to get a bit of speed coming out, but the water was working against me. Regardless, once the rear started to slide, a touch of opposite lock with the tiller, a tap of the gas, and I was Rhys Millen.

Until, I tried to push it a bit harder.

On my last run on the autocross course, I wanted to set the record for the day. I believe I murdered at least eight orange cones… may they rest in smoke-filled, burnt-rubber-smelling peace.

It’s clear that my favorite improvements took place under the hood, but the interior has also received a reworking. Stitched seams give an upscale first impression, and the heavily bolstered front seats offset that with a welcome dash of sporting good looks. After a long haul on the track, and then back to Las Vegas, the seats remained comfortable, which is no easy task for thrones that also have to do duty keeping my body in check when I throw both car and driver around a race track. When fitted with the optional Infinity sound system, I’m able to drown out that wonderful-sounding V6. But I don’t want to drown it out, I keep on and off the throttle all the way back to the neon lights and flip-flap flip-flap of street workers handing me cards promising a great night.  I didn’t need their $99 parties when I have the keys to my own 3.8-liter event.

If you’re interested in acquiring such a party, it costs a bit more than $99. Hyundai is going to offer the 2013 Genesis Coupe with a starting price tag of $24,250. That will get you into a 2.0T with a manual transmission. From there you can opt for the 2.0T with 8AT, manual-transmission-only 2.0T R-Spec, or automatic-only 2.0T premium, which wear sticker prices of $25,500, $26,500, and $28,750, respectively. The bigger engine starts with a bigger price point, and you’ll have to shell out at least $28,750, which gets you a 6MT-only 3.8 R-Spec. The 3.8 Grand Touring, which is only available with the 8AT, runs $32,000. At the top of the rung stands the Genesis Coupe Track with its 3.8, and choice of either the manual or autobox transmission. Row your own for $33,000 or sit back and relax for $34,250.

At these price points, Hyundai has to offer things that Ford and Chevrolet can’t match in the V6 versions of the Mustang and Camaro. You’re down on power if you opt for the turbo four, but you do wind up with a nicer interior, better warranty, and a longer list of standard features. Despite that, the Ford Mustang V6 is the only real choice here for those seeking the best experience behind the wheel.

Climb higher up the Genesis coupe spec ladder, and a new dilemma emerges. Stepping up to the V6 presents a power advantage over the ‘Murican muscle, but it also pushes the Hyundai towards new competition. I have to bring the 370Z, and even the Infiniti G37, into the discussion because we’re talking about a car with the same powertrain layout, yet more power. The Genesis coupe can’t match the driving experience offered up by both the Z and the G, but it’s getting damn close to doing so. Plus, the interior of the Hyundai is now better than that of the Nissan. Save a few bucks at the dealership, plunk said saved  greenbacks down at the sales counter of your friendly neighborhood aftermarket parts supplier, and you have a seriously competent 3.8 R-Spec for well under $40,000.

What Hyundai has done, is reworked the already-solid Genesis coupe into a better car. It’s not a great car yet, but it’s pretty damn good.

So let it out, and let it in. Hey Krafcik, begin.
I’m waiting for someone to perform with.
And don’t you know, that it’s just this coupe, hey coupe, you’ll do. 

[Disclosure: Hyundai flew me out to Las Vegas, put me in a pretty excellent hotel, and plied me with food and booze. I didn’t gamble once, but I did go to the Gun Store and shoot guns, but I paid for that myself.]

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