The recent Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in Monterey, Calif., showcased the rarest and most costly autos in the world, from a 1935 Duesenberg to Ferrari race cars.
Also included on the lawn were new concept cars from Lamborghini, Aston Martin and Hyundai. Yes, Hyundai.
The South Korean brand has come from the first shoddy exports to North America in the 1980s to the HCD-14 Genesis concept, an automotive sculpture from the brand’s Irvine, Calif., design studio.
Hyundai has declared that it can line up alongside the world’s most storied brands and not look out of place.
While the Genesis concept car won’t go on sale as shown, it indicates where the company is headed, especially relevant for me, having just spent a week in the current model, a 2013 Genesis 5.0 R-Spec.
The Genesis is Hyundai’s rear-wheel sedan and the best example of the company’s unusual blend of budget and luxury.
The Genesis swims in competitive waters, among luxury sedans like the BMW 5 Series, Audi A6, Jaguar XF and the Lexus GS350. It’s unlikely that even the next generation Genesis will snag away 5 Series drivers who look for superior driving chops and brand recognition.
What the Genesis 5.0 does is beat competitors in value, with all of the major options included in the $48,000 price. It also gets a 10-year/100,000-mile power train warranty.
The all-in sticker is a major change from the practices of German automakers, who are especially prone to charging for every option. It’s also not easy to find a base BMW or Mercedes on sales lots.
While there is a base Genesis sedan with a 333-horsepower V-6 and a price of $35,100, the R-Spec is the model most in keeping with its rivals. It has a 5.0-liter V-8 with an eight- speed transmission, 19-inch wheels and leather seats.
Also included are a power sunroof, lane departure warning system, rain-sensing wipers, adaptive xenon headlamps, a navigation system and backup camera. One of the few options you can add is a $35 iPod cable.
I kept comparing the Hyundai to another car I recently reviewed, the Jaguar XF 2.0, which starts at $47,000. The entry-priced Jag looks great and handles extremely well, besting the Hyundai in both categories. But it has only a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, with 240 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque — underwhelming compared to the Genesis’s V-8, with 429 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque.
With all of its options, many which aped the Genesis, my test XF came to $61,100. Not so cheap at all. It’s easy to see why many consumers would happily look to the less expensive Hyundai.
Of course not all is perfect. Hyundai has been on a design roll recently — but the current Genesis is still using older, stilted design language. The front end (which has no logo on the grill) looks like a reinterpretation of a Mercedes, and the sides are bland.
The HCD-14 concept indicates a new direction. It is long and slinky, with an upright sci-fi nose and short overhangs. It also has a rear-hinged back door, the kind of concept car styling which rarely makes its way into the real car.
The production-ready Genesis will be shown at January’s Detroit auto show as a 2015 model, and a company spokesman says it could go on sale the second quarter of next year.
The interior of the current Genesis lacks a suede headliner and first-grade leather. The navigation system mimics the Mercedes rotary control system, a poor choice. It should be a touch screen. One imagines those issues will be fixed in the next generation.
Hyundai’s drive character has steadily improved, but the R-Spec’s steering is artificially heavy, and the body rolls in corners, with odd shudders on broken pavement. The result is a feeling of wallowing, rather than wafting, down the road.
The thing’s got guts, though. Ford has famously offered its 5.0-liter V-8 on the Mustang over the years, and there’s a bit of muscle car character to this engine. It pushes through traffic with a nice bit of rough sound.
Turn off the traction control and gun it around a corner, and you’d even get a bit of tail swinging action like in a 1970s action film.
Again, my mind turns to the next generation, and the improvements that may come. Will it go the way of Lexus, soft and pliant, or BMW, heady and fast?
The R-Spec’s strengths and weaknesses are clear. It makes an excellent entry into the luxury sedan space for budget-minded buyers.
And when the new generation is released, the current car should go on a fire sale with significant incentives. It could make a very good deal a veritable steal.