A few years ago, Hyundai-Kia’s Genesis name turned 10 years old. In that time, the Genesis name evolved from adorning the trunks of two-door coupes and four-door sedans within Hyundai’s ever-expanding lineup to become its own distinct brand within the South Korean mega-manufacturer’s family. Genesis, the make, now carries its own range of competitive luxury sedans and SUVs.
The 2021 Genesis G80 is the latest evolution of the car that launched Genesis as a luxury name some thirteen years ago. It, along with the rest of the current lineup, is a huge leap forward for both Genesis and Korean auto production generally, with an objectively excellent exterior design, beautiful materials on the inside and a potent twin-turbo V6 powerplant making nearly 400 horsepower.
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But we constantly hear (and read) auto journalist types saying how “Genesis has come such a long way” or “this is so good, I forgot it was a Hyundai product.” See the paragraph above as proof. Instead of just repeating these cliché talking points, let’s quantify them by taking a deep dive into the car that started it all: the original italic-H Hyundai Genesis sedan.
We won’t look at the entry-level Genesis though, nor even the vaunted “Technology” package models. We’re going to the top of the late-2000’s Korean car food chain, to the V8-powered, rear-wheel drive cruise missile that is the Genesis 5.0 R-Spec.
“It’s So Good, For A Hyundai”
That phrase is so grating, and digging through Genesis 5.0 reviews both written and recorded, you can’t escape it. It’s almost instinctual, the Hyundai badge sets off a tick in a car reviewer’s brain that this is somehow unworthy of being judged on its own, and is instead compared against Hyundai’s history of hum-drum cars with bargain-basement interiors.
In fairness, when the Genesis sedan launched in 2009 it used some questionable fake wood trim in its interior and the tail-lights looked a little cheap, but by the 2012 refresh that brought with it the R-Spec trim level, Hyundai had tidied up the interior and improved the quality of the leather which lines the dash, steering wheel and seats. The buttons are all plastic, but the trim surrounding the centre screen, HVAC controls and lower shifter and infotainment controls is made of real brushed aluminum, not fake plasti-chrome. Other than the steering wheel badge and the blue backlighting on some of the buttons, there’s no real indication that this is a Hyundai product. According to reviews, it feels as nice inside as a comparable Japanese luxury car like an Infiniti M-series or Lexus GS.
The Genesis sedan is a big car, and as such it has tons of space for both front and rear passengers. Hyundai put some real design effort into the seats too, which are soft and supportive, and heated in the front. The driver gets a cooled seat. Everyone else gets a sweaty backside.
The infotainment system dates the car considerably, but according to reviews it’s fairly intuitive and quick, and doesn’t take long to get accustomed to. There’s auxiliary audio input and Bluetooth, as well as a six-disk CD changer in the dash. Cutting edge stuff for 2012.
The Genesis sedan is a mid-size luxury car, thus it has a massive trunk at 15.9 cubic feet. That’s room enough for a few months’ supply of bottled soju. One knock on this car, and it’s a problem with most cars in this segment, is that the rear seats don’t fold down at all. The only way to extend the length of the trunk is through a tiny passthrough for skis through the centre rear seat. Hyundai must have assumed that Genesis buyers would be the types to pay extra for Ikea local delivery.
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It Cruises Like A K-Drama Villain’s Car
You don’t care about trunk space with this car though, you care about how it drives. This is, after all, a RWD luxury sedan with a V8, it must be a blast! Before you let your bargain GS F fantasies develop too far, we’ll have to let you down easy. This is not a sports sedan. That’s also not a bad thing.
The base Genesis sedan launched in 2009 with a 3.8l direct-injected “Lambda” V6 and a 4.6l port-injected “Tau” V8, making 330 hp and 375 hp, respectively. Either option was powerful enough to entice potential Lexus and Infiniti converts, but Hyundai wasn’t going to let the Genesis project wither away. The R-Spec launched with the 2012 refresh and it brought a lot more power to the platform.
The R-Spec’s engine was a 5.0-litre stroked-out version of the 4.6 Tau, and it was also fitted with GDI direct-injection like the V6. This boosted power output to 429 horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque, sending power to a rear limited-slip differential through a new-for-2012 8-speed automatic transmission, which was also fitted to the rest of the range.
The R-Spec also got its own 19″ wheel design which looks much nicer than the base sedan wheels, as well as sharper steering tuning and “sportier” suspension. According to reviews, it tightens up road-holding a little bit over the base cars, but not enough to turn this into some sort of M or AMG competitor.
Instead, this is a car that’s best between five- and seven-tenths, for cruising down backroads, absorbing the broken pavement and, when the coast is clear, matting the accelerator and letting the twin-cam 5.0l engine bellow its way to redline. Early direct-injection cars sound almost dieselly at idle, but the trade-off is sharper throttle response, higher revs (aided by not being a pushrod V8 like the 6.2l Pontiac G8 GXP) and more power.
At lower speeds, the 5.0l Tau is silky smooth and quiet, barely making any intrusion in the cockpit. Reviewers knock the transmission for being slow to respond to more exuberant driving, and though it offers a +/- manual shifting option, it’s best left to its own devices in automatic mode. There’s so much torque on offer that it’ll never struggle to shift its 4,000 lb heft. This is a subtle and elegant cruiser, and it accomplishes what it sets out to do rather nicely.
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Buying One, And What To Look Out For
The Genesis R-Spec was only an option for two years (2012-2014), before the entire model range was refreshed in 2015 with the second-generation car that would become the first Genesis G80. The 5.0 Tau engine lived on in that car, but it will die with the introduction of the 2022 model.
The 5.0 is not a perfect powerplant. Some R-Spec owners have reported issues with oil consumption due to an issue with excessive blowby, which Hyundai doesn’t seem too keen on addressing. Some cars had their engines replaced under warranty (which seems to be par for the course with Hyundai ownership), while others have claimed to just live with the issue and top up their oil regularly.
This does not appear to be a wide-spread issue, but it’s something to check if you’re considering buying one of these cars. Elsewhere, they don’t seem to have too many known catastrophic failure points, and if you’re after reliability above outright performance you can always consider the mid-range 4.6l V8 model. You’ll lose the upgraded wheels and suspension of the R-Spec, but the interiors are identical and the 4.6 isn’t known for burning oil to the same degree, nor does it have issues with carbon buildup that can be persistent in direct-injection cars, which affects both the 3.8 V6 and the 5.0.
However, if you’re willing to take the plunge, the early Genesis sedan’s party piece is its depreciation. These cars can be had for an absolute steal, well below the $20,000 mark (in Canadian dollars). The nicest R-Spec listed across the country currently sits at $13,900, and there are some with higher miles for less than that. 4.6l V8 models can be found comfortably below $10,000.
The early Genesis sedan is an important car for Hyundai-Kia, and especially to today’s Genesis brand. It’s their closest analog to the original Lexus LS 400, the car which launched Toyota’s luxury line some two decades prior. As it ages, it has started to emerge as one of the best deals in depreciated luxury cars that still, possibly because of North American brand snobbery, draws ire from consumers “because it’s a Hyundai.” It’s such a cheap excuse to overlook what is, objectively, a rather good car, and a platform that has become a genuinely compelling option for those of us who like a bit of rare automotive bargain hunting.
It’s not just good “for a Hyundai.” The 2012 Genesis R-Spec is a good car, full stop.
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