by Gabe Beita Kiser
There is a great paradox hiding within every range-topping BMW, Mercedes, and Audi that mirrors the blessings and the curses of the luxury lifestyle. Money affords freedom and power, yet most luxury products advertise themselves as markers of exclusivity with high barriers to entry. Isolation chambers in essence, objects that separate their owners from the surrounding world despite giving them more ability to traverse it. Cars are no different, and to prove that it makes a real luxury car, Genesis sent us its G90 to see if it preserved this paradox.
Evidence of Hyundai's new luxury brand Genesis' success on this mission is somewhat present on the exterior, but despite the fact that Audi's own Peter Schreyer designed the G90, the car's wow factor seems to bank on the large grille of land yacht dimensions. The reason for the design is obvious. When entering a new auto market, especially one as tough to crack as the US market, it's important to distinguish oneself either by starting at the very top with expensive high-end cars or take on the low hanging fruit with offerings so cheap they defy logic. Hyundai took the latter approach at its inception, but now that it has matured, it needs to crack the highly profitable luxury segment and is doing so by tip toeing into the luxury segment.
That's exactly why Genesis decided to replace the Equus with the G90 when it reorganized its naming structure with badges that were more easily digested by fans of German luxury cars. To distinguish itself, Genesis got to work branching as far away from Hyundai as it could. Even the man delivering the G90 made it a point to refuse to say the H word. And rightfully so. After all nothing grids a Lexus rep's gears more than to call their cars Toyota. The G90 is a direct assault on the Lexus LS, which has Mercedes S-Class and BMW 7 Series aspirations. While Lexus has made leaps and bounds in in sales, even surpassing Audi and getting within reach of BMW, the Japanese automaker knows that luxury limousine buyers are badge snobs.
That's what makes the G90 such a curious submission and a very solid first attempt from Genesis. Two enticing engine options include a 3.3-liter twin-turbocharged V6 making 365 horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque and a 5.0-liter V8 pushing 420 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque. Depending on customer preference, that power can be routed to the rear wheels or to all four of them, but the eight-speed automatic transmission stands firm as the sole torque manipulating option. Our example was the lightest of the bunch, being optioned with the 3.3-liter V6 sending power to the rear. Even with a weight advantage, the onboard MPG calculator saw nowhere near the 20 mpg (17 city, 24 highway) advertised by the EPA.
I averaged 12 mpg over a week with the G90 although keep in mind that San Francisco is incredibly dense and my foot is heavy. Like the miniature limousines it competes with, our Manhattan Brown G90's presence was highlighted by its size, which happens to boast measurements longer and wider than both a 7 Series and an S-Class. Still, its exterior felt old school compared to the two German picks because the G90 is rather polite in its styling, which can be interpreted as boring to some or a refreshing break from the aggressive and edgy designs we tend to see nowadays by others. Case in point, the wheels are as stunning as ever, but with only 19 inches of diameter, they don't exactly scream for attention.
A critical scan of the beige interior in search for evidence of budget cuts yields a pleasant surprise as the inspectors would only find Nappa leather, aluminum accents, and real wood trim surrounding the driver and their lucky passengers. The feeling that everything within the body panels is designed to serve the occupants like a loyal butler comes to surface when playing with the knurled aluminum knobs and multitude of buttons that control everything from the heated and cooled front seats to the Audi MMI-like infotainment system. The technology is strong with this one, especially because Genesis intelligently makes it so that, aside from the drivetrain options, there are no features to be had.
Every possible toy is included in the strikingly low $69,050 price tag including (take a breath) automatic shades for the rear side windows and rear window, auto hold, a 360 degree camera, Bluetooth, a wireless charging pad located in a compartment designed specifically for cell phones, driver alert detection, radar cruise control with lane departure warning and lane keep assist, rear cross-traffic alert, a large 12.3" screen to compliment said Audi MMI knob, a HUD, traction control, automatic braking with pedestrian detection, and even parking sensors. Annoyingly, one of the parking sensors broke and proceeded to sing a constant warning signal unless I turned the whole system off.
The G90 is so well thought out that there's even a CO2 sensor that detects when the cabin air has gone stale and pumps in some fresh breath. The only missing features were reclining rear seats, cooled rear seats to compliment the standard heated leather in the back, and LED lights, all of which would be included if my test vehicle was the 5.0-liter V8. The good thing with luxury cars is that exhaustive lists usually mean a sublime driving experience, and that's something the G90 delivers in droves. The most notable feature comes thanks to the acoustic laminated glass, thick door seals, and plenty of sound insulation, the result of which is a whisper quiet ride.
Suspension components ease the glide with a ride that feels as if both car and driver are suspended in a weightless environment. Typical of any luxury car, this means that the G90 is not exactly the world's best sports car. Even though the 4,600-pound (lighter than the S-Class and a fully-loaded 7 Series, impressive considering it's larger than both) machine has a Sport mode, you'll find the G90 far outside its comfort zone when attempting to toss it into corners any quicker than what Captain Slow might attempt. Slamming on the brakes from highway speeds only confirms the high inertia, something not announced to the driver when getting on the throttle thanks to a 0-60 mph time of 5.6 seconds.
More sane drivers will place the car in Smart mode, which takes the pilot's driving style into account and switches between Eco, Sport, or a mode in between that's not accessible by the driver outside of Smart mode. Despite the good show, there are one or two areas where the G90 is lacking as a luxury car. The steering wheel and gauge cluster seems to be absent of ornamental design. Both are simple and polite, but can come off as plain. Ditto the buttons controlling the window and mirror functions on the door and to the left of the instrument panel. These also suffer from a condition not frequently seen in the G90: Thrift.
It may sound petty to rag on those things in a car that offers the best value for money, but these items, combined with the inoffensive exterior, give the G90 a lack of character. As Genesis begins to develop itself by working out the kinks of the luxury car, personality is something it will have to develop. Currently, driving the G90 feels like going on a date with someone so nervous they don't offer meaningful conversation based on their original opinions for fear of stepping on toes. It's okay Genesis, we like you. Enough to banish the H word from our vocabulary when we're around you. Just relax, be yourself, and don't be afraid to raise the price a tad if that's what it takes to cover the cost of new buttons and standout sheet metal.