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SEOUL — The mission: Make a compact luxury sedan lighter, more agile, and feel more compact than the BMW 3 Series.
For an automaker with limited experience in creating sporty vehicles and crafting luxury experiences, this is a tall order. But with its 2019 G70 sedan arriving in U.S. showrooms in early 2018, Hyundai’s Genesis brand is attempting to break the German dominance of the compact luxury sedan segment.
Recall the shocking entrance into the luxury market by three Japanese automakers three decades ago. But despite wins in several segments for Lexus, Acura, and Infiniti, no Japanese sedan has yet to shatter the BMW 3 Series’ iron-fisted grip on the compact sedan segment—either in sales volume or its perception as a keenly crafted driver’s car. Whether the arrival of the Genesis will have any greater impact with consumers or if there will be no reply at all remains to be seen.
Hyundai’s luxury division wanted to create a sedan that had a sense of “athletic elegance.” It is clear that Genesis benchmarked the BMW 3 Series for performance and the Mercedes C-Class and Audi A4 for the G70’s interior.
“There are a lot of derivatives of the four-door coupe,” said Luc Donckerwolke, design director for Hyundai and Genesis. “We wanted a dynamic three-box design. The most important thing is proportion. We wanted a long dash-to-axle ratio.”
In the front fascia, there are lots of busy angles that form triangles and trapezoids. The G70’s headlamps use four thin-lined lamps as a design signature. The inward rake of the pillars toward the roofline (aka the tumblehome) is rather severe, which impinges on headroom in exchange for more muscular body-side sheetmetal. The trunklid shape hints at BMW and Audi design cues, and it flows from voluptuous rear haunches tapering rearward. And, yes, the “archer’s bow” vent behind the front wheel is functional.
Inside, Genesis is making a design statement with its console and dash detail materials—or lack thereof. Like it or not, wood trim will not appear anywhere on any G70. Instead, brushed metal or liquid metal will be the details.
Other interior touches: quilted diamond-stitch leather on the door inners, and infotainment screen does not retract, and, in the back seat, headroom that’s a bit tight. And although the front-seat cutout provides decent kneeroom, the footwell is a bit cramped. Visibility from the rear seats, however, is good.
The G70 carries about an inch more wheelbase and 1.6 inches more overall length than a BMW 3 Series. Actually, the G70 wheelbase and length line up almost identically to the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
Under the hood, Genesis will offer a 248-hp 2.0-liter turbo-four that generates 260 lb-ft of torque as the base engine. A 364-hp 3.3-liter V-6 with 375 lb-ft of twist is optional. Genesis claims the V-6 can run from 0 to 62 mph in 4.7 seconds with a top speed of 167 mph. Genesis did not give performance numbers for the turbo-four.
Both engines will be mated to eight-speed torque-converter automatics developed in-house, though the U.S. market will also offer a turbo-four with a manual transmission with a limited-slip differential. Expect that version to migrate to Europe when the Genesis brand launches there.
Although the turbo-four comes with 18-inch Bridgestone all-season tires, the V-6 offerings will get 19-inch Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires with four-piston Brembo front brakes and two-piston rear brakes. The Korean market will get a diesel variant, and the U.S. will get a “dynamic edition” of the V-6 in 2019. There will not be a hybrid version.
For fun more than traction, Genesis executives say the G70 will offer rear-wheel-biased all-wheel drive with variable torque split.
“There’s no boring understeer,” Albert Biermann, Hyundai’s head of vehicle test and high-performance development, said of the proprietary AWD system. “Some people will still think it’s rear-wheel drive.”
Because “many things are subjective,” Biermann said the G70’s split between Sport and Normal modes will adjust settings for steering, throttle, shift points and response, transmission mapping, active sound, all-wheel-drive torque split, and adjustable shocks on the 3.3-liter and the possibility of adaptive dampers on the 2.0-liter.
Biermann knows these dynamics well—Hyundai poached him from a 30-year career at BMW, capped by running the M performance division. But whether Biermann’s knowledge translates into Genesis’ ability to replicate the BMW magic remains to be seen.
On a short test-track drive of Korean-spec prototypes, the 2.0-liter turbo-four felt better balanced and obviously lighter up front than the V-6. The 2.0-liter tucked in precisely upon application of lift-throttle oversteer, especially when taken through an off-camber kink. But both engines tended to roar rather than snarl—an auditory signal to this driver that connotes stress rather than performance.
Biermann said the U.S.-spec version will have sportier steering effort and clearer on-center feel than the Korean-market edition.
“With ride comfort, NVH, and interior luxury, we can be competitive with the Germans,” Biermann said. “Plus we have striking styling and a promising package.”
This platform will not belong solely to Genesis. The Kia Stinger will share the same powertrains, suspension, and tires—but the suspension settings on the Stinger will be stiffer. The Stinger also has a longer wheelbase; if the G70 were to mirror the Stinger dimensionally, it would come too close to the G80 sedan, Biermann said.
Might there be a performance G70 version to compete against the AMG and M brands? Perhaps, Biermann said, they would also be more in line with the 340i and C43 than the M3 and C63. No final decision has been made.
Can an upstart Korean brand pull German loyalists away from their steeds? The G70 is the first keen test.
“The G70 shows that Genesis a real brand,” said Genesis brand boss Manfred Fitzgerald. “It shows that there is much, much more to this brand.”