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:
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.
NHTSA safety ratings are not available at this time.
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.
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.
The most popular competitors of 2021 Genesis G90: