Auto Show 3: a very scary car

I saw a lot of cars at the Auto Show, and very few of them surprised me very much.  Part of this is a matter of too much information:  I read Auto Week and Ward’s Auto World and four buff books a month,  listen to Car Talk and watch Motor Week and visit Jalopnik and other car sites regularly.  I’ve seen pictures of almost every new car long before it comes out, often many pictures, and I’m pretty good at translating them in my head to picture the car itself.  Granted, all  cars usually look better in the metal than on the page …(if they don’t there’s a huge problem), but it’s something you get used to.  Very little totally blindsides me.

But sometimes words and pictures, or even the imagination, are not enough.   Usually, that’s a bad thing– a car that is good on paper, and even looks pretty, is lousy to sit in, much less drive.  This is why it’s so good to go to the Auto Show– you don’t get to drive, but sitting in a car tells you a lot.

In this case, it told me a LOT, and none of it was good.  Not good, that is for the US auto industry, and possibly not for the Japanese as well.  The car itself is bodacious.  If it runs and drives as well as it “sits”, everyone else needs to be afraid.  Very afraid.  Maybe not Mercedes and BMW and Bentley and Porsche, not to mention Ferrari and Lamborghini.  Anybody building anything truly sporting, and or truly prestigious is safe (for now). 

But if I were GM, contemplating the future of Buick (and maybe even Cadillac) or Ford, contemplating the future of Mercury and Lincoln,  I would be shaking in my polished shoes.  If I were Chrysler, I would be hiding under the bed.  If I were in the home islands, making marketing plans for Lexus, Infiniti, or Acura, I would be feeling distinctly nervous.

The country is South Korea. The company is Hyundai. The car is a medium-large, rather luxurious, V8 powered, rear drive sedan.  Its name is Genesis.  Look at this website now, please, particularly if you have broadband.  It’s got many nifty pics and and says more than I can say here, except to add that the car looks much, much nicer in person.  The hood and front fender treatment is particularly elegant– there is a lovely suggestion of a real fender.

Genesis made its debut in Detroit a few weeks ago, and it was one of the cars I particularly wanted to see.  I expected to admire it (if I found it admirable) from a distance, rotating on a turntable behind a little railing.  Hyundai is to be commended for having not one, but three of them sitting on the floor, to be given a certificate of merit for allowing people to sit in them, and to be awarded a gold medal for having one of them “live” so that visitors could adjust the seats and steering wheel to take a driving position.  This is the kind of thing that makes one think that Hyundai might be interested in selling some cars to people.  They even had a full sized model of theit new Tau V-8 engine on display for the edification of tech heads. 

This is a pretty, pretty car, solid and chunky, and everything about it, inside and out, seems to be of a piece.  I don’t know anything about Hyundai’s design department, but it seems like the people who did the exterior were actually talking to the people who did the interior.   There seems to have been a unifing idea. 

All the details seem right– clean paint, decent quality plastics, nice leather that smells just great.  Chocolate brown leather, the color of a Hershey bar, in one case, in a car painted a lush wine red… this is a car that rewards color, and I was sorry to see the other cars on display were silver over very dark grey leather.   But it still looked good.

Ergonomically, it’s sweet.  I’m normally confused in an all electronic cabin, and I found, and used all the controls easily.  It took me only a few moments to find an excellent driving position, and I automatically crammed down the brake and reached for the controller to put it into drive. I was gonna take that sucker for a spin.  I’ve only done that a few times, ever, in a show room or at an Auto Show, and I consider it a very good sign.

Designwise, it’s clean and strong looking, but hardly a creative breakthrough.  Hints of Toyota/Lexus, Mazda, and Mercedes, even Maybach, abound.  Not that any of that is bad– those are handsome cars, and so is this one.  They are also cars that sell well, and have pleasant associations of quality, luxury, good road manners, prestige, and style.  This puts Genesis right where it needs to be to compete with these cars using Hyundai’s traditional marketing scheme of “an equivalent car, with a better warranty, for much less money.”  This has sucessfully put Camry/Accord customers into Sonatas, and small Buick customers into Azeras.  Will it put Acura/Lexus/Lincoln/big Buick etc. etc. customers into Genesis?  Don’t know, obviously,  but my guess would be, oh yes, it certainly will.

Had a long talk with a product rep from Hyundai about this, and we came to two conclusions.  1) Unless there is a major quality problem that results in the engine falling out in the first two months of ownership or something, the big H has a real winner here. 2) Hyundai has come a long way, not just from the hideous Excel, but from the early cars of their second coming, like that fondly remembered first generation Accent with tinfoil doors and a strong smell reminiscent of a Samsung VCR when you first plug it in.

We sat in a current Accent.  It’s a very nice car, a strong competitor in every way to a Fit.  The new Elantra is very pretty, and I’d take one over a Corolla, a Civic or a Focus. I know three families right now who are strongly considering a Sonata.

Does the idea of Genesis really seem so crazy?  Not to me.  Not when not one of the big three can sell me a modern V-8, rear drive sedan with a Chrysler, Lincoln, Mercury, Buick or Oldsmobile nameplate, and GM has to outsource the new Pontiac G8 to Australia. 

I’m waiting for the final color chart, but I know I want the chocolate brown leather in mine.


Published in: on February 18, 2008 at 12:17 am  Leave a Comment  
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