by Gerhard Horn
Building a premium brand cachet has to be one of the trickiest undertakings in the automotive manufacturing industry, but the 2021 Genesis G90 isn't a bad vehicle for the job. Even a trusted manufacturer like Toyota had to resort to creating an all-new subdivision to go head-to-head with industry giants like Mercedes-Benz and BMW.
Hyundai's Genesis brand had a rocky start, and it's still struggling in what's unofficially known as the Mercedes S-Class segment. Last year, the outgoing S-Class outsold the G90 by a ratio of roughly six to one. Despite the G90 being around $20,000 less expensive and offering more advanced tech than the now-defunct sixth-generation S, shoppers couldn't look past the badge.
It's not just the S-Class, however. The G90 also undercuts the Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, and Lexus LS, and with either a twin-turbo 3.3-liter V6 or 5.0-liter V8, the latter providing up to 420 horsepower, and the choice of rear- or all-wheel drive, the G90 is now representing fantastic bang for the buck.
The G90 received a comprehensive facelift in 2020, so changes are relatively reserved for 2021. Genesis got rid of the faux leather on the dash and doors when the 2020 model was unveiled, replacing it with the real deal. The car can now also receive over-the-air updates and the voice recognition has been improved. A redesigned 19-inch alloy wheel option is available, but the most significant change is the new Rear Comfort driving mode. The G90 was already an accomplished cruiser, pampering all passengers in a cocoon of quiet luxury. This new mode is aimed at making the ride as comfortable as possible for rear passengers.
See trim levels and configurations:
The G90's standout exterior feature is the massive grille, sans any sort of badge. It's flanked by thin Volvo-esque headlights. From the side, it has a pleasingly subtle concave character line running the length of the vehicle. The rear-end is modern and simplistic, with the word "Genesis" proudly pasted between the rear light clusters.
As you'd expect, the exterior comes with a long list of standard features. Both models come with soft-closing doors, puddle lamps, heated and electrically folding side mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, LED headlights with high-beam assist, and an auto defogging function.
The flagship Genesis G90 sedan does not lack when it comes to size. It's 204.9 inches long with a 124.4-inch wheelbase. Merc's S-Class may be longer, but with an all-new model for 2021, the German is 3.3 inches longer and rides on a 2.2-inch longer wheelbase. At 75.4 inches wide (excluding the mirrors) and 58.9 inches tall, the G90 takes up a fair amount of real estate. The base model weighs 4,663 pounds with the V6 and RWD, while on the other end of the spectrum, the V8 all-wheel-drive weighs 4,960 lbs.
The G90's color palette consists of seven options. Usually, when you spend a lot of money on a car, you want people to know. Yet, the available color options seem to have been selected to make the G90 blend into the background. Himilayan Gray, Gold Coast Silver, Savile Silver, and Uyuni White all look upscale, if on the bland side, and, in Vik Black, it looks slightly sinister. The only vaguely flamboyant options are Porto Red and Adriatic Blue.
Performance-wise, Genesis has made great choices. You can choose between the entry-level 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 or the old-school, naturally-aspirated 5.0-liter V8 with its outputs of 420 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque. Let's get one thing straight; the G90 is not a speed merchant. Both models can get to sixty in an independently tested 5.3 seconds, but that's neither here nor there. It just doesn't matter.
When it comes to luxury barges, you don't rely on sprint figures. What you want is what Rolls-Royce used to refer to as "adequate" power. In other words, the engine should provide decent grunt without ever feeling or sounding strained. Both engines hit the mark perfectly. The twin-turbo V6 provides most of its grunt low-down, as does the V8. We wouldn't call the resulting forward momentum brisk but, rather, convincing. Pushing the G90 hard from a standing start feels uncouth, but it's nice to know that you can outsprint the occasional hot hatch if you want. Both the V6 and V8 are offered with either rear- or all-wheel drive.
The engine lineup consists of two choices, but both mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox. The base engine is a 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 that produces 365 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque. This engine is known to have more power than claimed, which is likely why it feels livelier than the V8 from a standing start, and through the mid-range. With such a flexible powerband and a responsive gearbox, the V6 does around 90 percent of what the V8 can. If Genesis didn't offer several model-specific features on the V8, there'd be little reason to opt for it, but the Korean marque has persisted with the bigger engine anyway.
The 5.0-liter naturally-aspirated V8 does feel perfectly at home in a luxury car, though. It produces 420 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque, but it's a lazy, old-school engine. The V8 burble is more of a statement than anything else, announcing your arrival in a subtle yet noticeable manner. That's likely why the V8 gets several rear-seat features as standard. It's not meant to be driven but rather enjoyed from the rear seat. Genesis is clearly pitching the G90 as a chauffeur's car for 2021. With a new driving mode specifically aimed at rear-seat comfort, the G90 wants to be taken seriously as a luxury limo.
Adaptive damping is standard fitment, as is a Sport mode. This setting firms up the suspension, adds some weight to the steering, and triggers the seat's active bolsters. For ultimate control, paddle shifters are mounted on the steering wheel. Despite all of this, you don't need to drive far to realize that the G90 is as sporty as a sumo wrestler. The G90 rolls through the bends. It's a giant barge that weighs nearly 5,000 lbs, and adaptive damping can only do so much. The thing is, we don't care.
When you buy a luxury barge like the G90, sportiness is of little concern. What you want is a sensory deprivation tank with a sumptuous interior. The only clue that you're moving should be the changing scenery and perhaps the rev counter. When it comes to this sort of driving, the Genesis excels. The electronically-assisted steering is light but accurate. Sound dampening is on par with other cars in the segment, making for an impressively quiet interior. This sets the tone for the driving experience as a whole. And the G90 provides an indulgent one of those. It wants you to sit back and enjoy the many features it offers rather than get involved in something as uncivilized as enthusiastic driving. Racing between the traffic lights is a plebeian activity, after all.
According to the EPA, the G90 twin-turbo V6 with AWD should be able to achieve 17/24/20 mpg city/highway/combined. The RWD V6 is curiously slightly less efficient, with EPA estimates of 17/24/19 mpg. This is odd, but those are the official figures. Surprisingly, the V8's figures aren't that bad, most likely because the engine doesn't have to work as hard moving the barge-like body. The RWD V8 has an EPA estimate of 16/24/19 mpg, while the AWD manages 16/23/18 mpg. Thankfully, Genesis included another luxury car must-have; a big gas tank. At 21.9 gallons in size, you should be able to get nearly 440 miles from a full tank with the most efficient model.
The interior should be the highlight of any exclusive luxury vehicle. To us, luxury is space and simplicity, and the G90 sedan scores high marks in both departments. While the general theme of the interior is minimalist, the attention to detail is remarkable. In many ways, it schools some other wannabe S-Class competitors out there. One notable example is the infotainment interface. Instead of using an existing interface from the Hyundai range, the G90 features an entirely different operating system with colors designed to complement the interior.
As standard, the 3.3T Premium gets Nappa leather seats with a suede headliner and a 22-way power-adjustable driver's seat. That's power-adjustment for lumbar, shoulder support, and seat bolsters. The front seats are heated and ventilated. In the 5.0 V8, the party moves to the back. The right rear seat has a 14-way power-adjustment, while the left seat gets 12-way power-adjustability. Both seats are heated and ventilated, while this row also includes illuminated vanity mirrors and a rear-seat entertainment system with dual 10.3-inch HD screens.
You might have guessed that the G90 has no problems accommodating five fully-grown adults. As we alluded to earlier, space is one of the main hallmarks of luxury, and the G90 has plenty of it. The front legroom is 46.3 inches, while the rear legroom is 37.8 inches. Headroom is equally impressive, measuring 41.1 inches in the front and 38 inches in the rear. Getting in and out is easy, thanks to large doors with a soft-closing feature. The view from the driver's seat is generally good, plus the G90 comes with all sorts of features to help you maneuver in tight spaces.
The right rear seat in the V8 deserves special mention, as it comes with more power-adjustment than the left seat. This is relevant if you plan on being chauffeur-driven from your house to the country club. Since there is no front passenger, this seat can be moved right up the dashboard. This leaves ample space behind, comparable to a business-class seat on a plane. The right rear seat won't recline completely flat, but catching a few Zs is easy enough.
Genesis knew that to beat the establishment, it couldn't just offer an interior that's merely good. Something extraordinary was required, and that's what you get. Nappa leather seats are standard across the range, as is a microfiber suede headliner. You get the feeling that the seats will still look good in twenty years. That's saying something in a world where almost everything is designed to last no more than ten years. The available interior colors are Indigo Blue, Brown, Beige with a Brown dashboard, Beige with a Black dashboard, and Black.
To further enhance the interior, Genesis uses trimmings like wood, brushed metal, and leather. These materials tend to look cheap when used in bulk, but in the G90's cabin, they're subtly applied in all the right places. Our only gripe with the interior is the button quality. Owners will interact with buttons regularly, and a higher quality plastic or metal could have been used instead of the cheap-feeling buttons it currently has.
Luxury barges offer interior space in spades, but all of them share one particular problem: a lack of proper cargo capacity. The G90 provides 16 cubic feet of cargo capacity. Audi's A8 comes with 12.5 cubes and the BMW 7 Series has a more spacious 18.2 cubes. This collection of trunks aren't small but easily beaten by something as mundane as a Honda CR-V.
All of these cars share another oddity, which might seem like an oversight at first. None of them have rear seats that fold flat, so when it comes to trunk space, you get what you get. The reasoning behind it is simple. Market research shows that owners of these kinds of cars also own some kind of SUV used for those purposes. Interior storage is good, with a large center console storage bin and door pockets. Cupholders are found throughout.
There are no additional packages available for the Genesis G90, and we like that. You get the idea that each G90 is built to be as comfortable as it can be, with nothing left on the table. Take some notes, European and American manufacturers. The 3.3T Premium comes standard with an adaptive suspension, full LED headlights, soft-close doors, and a surround-view camera system. Standard features on the inside include a 22-way power-adjustable driver's seat, Nappa leather, a microfiber suede headliner, three-zone automatic climate control, and a wireless charging pad, to name just a few of the highlights.
The 5.0 Ultimate adds several additional features to make life in the rear as comfortable as possible. Its specs include a 14-way power-adjustable seat on the right and a 12-way power-adjustable seat on the left. Both come with ventilation and memory.
The 12.3-inch infotainment display is nestled neatly within the swooping dashboard. It's a much better look than the usual iPad-like screen bolted to the top of the center console. Unfortunately, the 12.3-inch can only be operated via the centrally-mounted knob and buttons on the dashboard.
The display is crisp, and the colors of the various menus blend well with the interior. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. You also get an old-school aux input, USB ports front and rear, SiriusXM satellite radio, and Bluetooth connectivity. The system is mated to a 17-speaker Lexicon sound system, and it produces clear tones. The 5.0 Ultimate adds dual 10.3-inch HD screens for the rear seats.
The heavily-revised G90 doesn't have a J.D. Power rating yet, but Genesis products tend to perform well in aspects like quality and reliability. According to the NHTSA, the facelifted model has not been recalled. The last round of recalls affected the 2017 and 2018 models with the V6 engine; this was for an oil leak onto the exhaust manifold. Another issue affecting the 2018 model was the windshield and rear window being incorrectly bonded.
The standard warranty speaks volumes about how much faith Genesis has in this car. It comes with a five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty, a three-year/36,000-mile maintenance plan, and a ten-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty. Finally, corrosion perforation is covered for seven years regardless of miles covered.
The NHTSA doesn't have a new Genesis G90 safety review yet, but the agency tends not to crash-test cars above a specific price point. In contrast, the IIHS had no qualms about crashing the G90. It was well worth the investment, as the 2021 G90 was named as a Top Safety Pick +, which is one of the highest ratings a car can get. The only glitch in an otherwise stellar safety report was the "acceptable" rating given to the LATCH system.
A car doesn't get glowing safety reviews from the IIHS without a generous standard safety specification. The G90 is well equipped with traditional safety systems, featuring ten airbags (including front knee airbags and curtain airbags), ABS brakes, and traction and stability control. When it comes to driver assistance, every G90 comes with safe exit assist, blind-spot collision avoidance, forward collision avoidance (with both pedestrian and cyclist detection), rear cross-traffic avoidance assist, lane keep and lane following assistance, and driver attention warning. A head-up display is standard, so there's no need to keep your eyes off the road for long periods. A surround-view camera system is also included.
The broader question worth asking is whether Genesis is there yet? Does it have the brand cachet of Mercedes-Benz or BMW? The answer is no, but it's well on its way. By following the same steps as Lexus but doing a much better job, the South Korean manufacturer will likely get there even quicker.
The G90 looks better than ever, and it makes the pricing of German cars like the 7 Series, S-Class, and A8 look ridiculous. In terms of value for money, the G90 is the ultimate luxury barge. With such a large gap between the G90 and its rivals price-wise, you'd expect the sacrifices to be noticeable. But we can't tell the difference, apart from it being slightly slower than the established players. Its interior is just as luxurious and equally well designed. There's no difference in quality, not to mention the impressive safety rating. We also like the Genesis approach with regards to additional packages - there are none. You get everything as standard.
In this post-COVID-19 world, people will likely be more cautious with their money. Sure, $75,000 is hardly entry-level cash. Still, the G90 represents a $20,000-plus saving compared to similarly large and luxurious cars. We don't care how much of a baller you are, that's a massive pile of dollar bills that should at least make you think twice before ordering an S-Class.
It's refreshing to see an entire model range that sticks to five figures in a class filled with six-figure competitors. The rear-wheel-drive 3.3T Premium has an MSRP of $72,950 in the USA, while the 5.0 V8 Ultimate will cost $76,700. In both cases, the Genesis G90 price will increase by $2,500 if you add all-wheel drive. These prices exclude the destination charge of $1,025 in the US.
There are two models to choose from: the 3.3T Premium and the 5.0 Ultimate. Both are RWD as standard, but AWD is available for an additional $2,500.
The Premium specification comes with a 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 producing 365 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque. It provides plenty of low-down and mid-range power, perfect for large luxury sedan needs. The standard kit consists of an adaptive suspension, full LED headlights, a surround-view camera system, a 22-way power-adjustable driver's seat, Nappa leather, a microfiber suede headliner, 12.3-inch infotainment display with a 17-speaker sound system, and a wireless charging pad, to name just a few of the many features.
The 5.0-liter naturally-aspirated V8 feels more like an old-school luxury car thanks to 420 hp and a burbling V8 soundtrack. Geared more toward rear-seat comfort, the Ultimate gets several model-specific features. These include a rear-seat entertainment system, 14-way power adjustment for the right rear seat, and 12-way power adjustment for the rear left seat. This model also gets ventilated rear seats and illuminated vanity mirrors at the back.
There are no additional packages or array of optional boxes to check when configuring the Genesis G90. The Premium model offers everything you could want in a car, while the Ultimate adds a few things to make it more comfortable in the rear. The only choice you have to make is whether you want rear- or all-wheel drive.
There's a $3,750 price gap between the two models, so you might as well go for the Ultimate G90. While we prefer the mid-range punch and better fuel efficiency of the twin-turbo V6 engine, the V8 isn't that far behind. A big, lazy, yet powerful engine with an alluring low-down burble also feels more suitable in a luxury vehicle. For the additional $3,750, Genesis includes a lot of rear-seat features. Whether you'll be using them yourself or simply getting them to make life more comfortable for the kids, it's a worthwhile investment.
These two cars share the same underpinnings and a twin-turbo V6 engine. As a competitor to the G90, the main difference is that Kia relies on an even more impressive retail price and its humble brand identity. Both cars feel similar to drive, with both being biased toward comfort rather than performance. The K900 is also slightly more efficient, and it comes with the same host of driver assistance features. There are two significant differences between these cars. The Kia's interior is premium, but the Genesis' interior is truly opulent. The design of the G90's interior is so much better, hitting that wonderful sweet-spot between looking minimalist while still offering all of the features. The Genesis wins the exterior design competition as well. The K900 looks a bit bloated, as if it's not 100 percent happy in a premium outfit. Still, the K900 and Genesis' price gap is hard to ignore, primarily since the latter's entire existence is based on the premise of schooling the establishment at a more reasonable price. 2020 was supposed to be the K900's last year on sale, but there are still some units left.
The S-Class has been at the top of the luxury barge list for so long that the segment has been named after it. It has been a trendsetter for decades, and if first impressions are anything to go by, the new model will continue to do the same. We haven't driven it yet, but we'd be shocked if it didn't offer one of the best drives in the class. There hasn't been a lousy S-Class yet, and we can't wait to see what tricks the newest one has up its sleeve.
If it's status you seek, the S-Class remains the only choice. It's also worth stating that the S-Class will have more engine options, some of them way more advanced than anything Genesis offers. A plug-in hybrid is part of the range, while upper S-Class models will be far more powerful than the Genesis. Mercedes also offers a lot of customization options, which are both positive and negative. On the upside, you can customize a car to your liking, but on the downside, the price tends to escalate dramatically if you do.
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