When Hyundai declared it would unleash a 3 Series rival through its Genesis luxury sub-brand yawns must have filled BMW boardrooms. It’s not the first to launch an attack on the established German marques.
But it seems Hyundai knew it needed something dramatic to at least arrive in this space after Genesis’s first offering, now known as the G80, has failed to make a meaningful impact.
Cue the G70, its new compact sedan it hopes will serve as a shot-in-the-arm for sales and brand awareness when it launches in Australia this month, even if the timing is almost two years past its international debut.
It’ll offer two engines, each driving the rear axle through an eight-speed transmission, starting at a turbocharged 2.0-litre inline-4 and finishing with a 3.3-litre twin-turbo V6. We’re reviewing the big’un.
But, really, where does it summon the bravado to challenge the established Germans? Let’s start with some names. Albert Biermann, Bozhena Lavlova, Peter Schreyer and Manfred Fitzgerald.
Biermann, who was once in charge of BMW M, oversaw its chassis development. Lavlova brought expertise on colour and trim from Mercedes-Benz. Meanwhile, Audi-alumni Schreyer waved his experienced pen over its design. Fitzgerald, from Lamborghini, coordinated them all.
It's promising there are some experienced chefs in the kitchen, along with news they used some very ripe ingredients. Engineers installed a strut front and multi-link rear suspension setup into a platform it shares with the Kia Stinger. The wheelbase shortens from 2905mm to 2835mm.
Adaptive dampers are exclusive to the 3.3T model, as is variable-ratio steering and a viscous limited-slip differential. But while you can option big Brembos and 19-inch Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S rubber on the 2.0-litre, they’re standard across the Sport, Ultimate and Ultimate Sport grades for the 3.3.
And the engine? Its six cylinders swallow boost from two low-mount turbochargers to produce 272kW at 6000rpm and 510Nm at 1300-4500rpm. The hardware helps add 115kg to the four-cylinder’s kerb weight, for 1719kg in total, but Genesis says it can dispatch the 0-100km/h sprint in 4.7 seconds. You’d need an all-wheel drive Audi S model to match that.
Related: G70 performance figures revealed
After driving the G70 over hundreds of kilometres we can say it rides comfortably, handles tenaciously and goes like a proper twin-turbo rear-drive sedan should. On top of that, it’s built solid, specified competitively and packs presence. Is that enough, though, in such a competitive class? The price wants you to think so.
After all, before on-road costs and depending on grade, the six-cylinder charges between $72,450 and $79,950. Our Ultimate Sport sits at the top. It comes in an exclusive Havana Red, on unique five-spoke alloys, and welcomes you with cross-stitched Nappa-quilted leather seats. They’re gorgeous.
Thumb the starter button and the engine wakes without much drama, quietly humming away under layers of leather and sound proofing, revealing little about its power. Hold the odd-looking gear lever down into Drive, then release. You’re ready to go.
There’s a launch control function, so of course you’re going to try it. Stomp on the brake, load the throttle and a chime will sound to confirm it’s working. Suddenly, at the 2100rpm stall, a growl creeps out from the engine bay.
Launching it when you release the brake is remarkably undramatic. It surges forward at a linear rate at first, with the rush of boost in each gear doing little to upset its rear tyres. The more speed it gathers the faster it seems to accelerate, though, and that growl expands into a full-bodied, if moderately artificial, roar.
It feels effortlessly quick and that should come as no surprise when it shares its engine with a Stinger 330, but sheds a full-grown adult's weight. So, luckily, the brakes feel solid, even if we wish they would bite a little harder. The discs measure 350mm up front and 340mm out back.
They’re welcome on roads more winding, where you need precise control of its weight balance. Hyundai might have worked hard to slash kilograms with aluminium but it’s still hefty. For instance, the new BMW 330i and current Mercedes C300 sedan are each over 130kg lighter than the 2.0-litre. Luckily, it has an ace in its sleeve.
Like the i30 N a local engineering team has perfected the chassis for local roads. Over six months, they cycled through different springs, roll bars, dampers and steering tunes. And yet its classic rear-drive dynamics feel like they’ve been developed for much longer.
It’s a wonderfully balanced thing, despite a touch of push into a corner. And even in damp conditions it holds the road tenaciously. The variable-gear steering, too, feels fluid in weighting and action.
What’s disappointing is that even with a different rear suspension arrangement to the Stinger’s double-wishbones, it suffers from the same sudden breakaway at the rear when boost hits. It’s as if there’s no LSD managing traction at all.
That could be down to the inherent suppleness in the car’s setup. This is one of the best riding cars under $100K. Really. Switch those two-mode adaptive dampers into Comfort through the dial on the console and it unlocks proper long-stroke absorbency.
Even in Sport there’s enough cushion to press its Michelins into the road over bumps, and this particularly helps settle the car at corner entry and follow your sighted path. Maybe rear roll-stiffness was sacrificed for this compliance and stability.
Inside lives a clean, functional interior that balances symmetry and driver-focused design. It's nice enough. There’s also a cavernous storage compartment in the centre stack that has a small bed to wirelessly charge your phone. Nice.
The most important touch point, the steering wheel, is impressive. It moulds to your palms nicely and its button pads feel soft, matte and tactile underneath your fingers. However it’s only a matter of time before you recognise parts from cheaper models.
Its rim design, for instance, is identical to a Stinger's. The cluster design and infotainment screens? i30 N. The graphics on the page where you select your drive mode? Stinger again. And the same goes for the lettered markings next to the gear lever. All of which makes us paranoid about the familiarity of some material finishes. These are the realities for an entry-level luxury car.
So where does this leave the Genesis G70 overall? Before anything, it’s already in a long line of brands keen to stamp their mark in the luxury arena with a game-changing compact sedan. Just look at the Lexus IS 350 F-Sport, Jaguar XE R-Dynamic and Infiniti Q50 Red Sport.
The Red Sport rises as its most natural rival. And while they’re closely matched on straight-line performance, which is potent enough to challenge German sedans with proper performance badges, it’s the G70 that feels a generation ahead on handling, ride and interior design.
And although its sudden power oversteer is problematic there’s something charming about the assumption you’re mature enough to handle its overpowered chassis. It’s hard to believe Lexus would trust you the same way.
Jaguar would certainly be impressed with its ride and handling, and perhaps even irked by its nicely weighted controls, interior NVH and good ergonomics. Meanwhile the build quality is ahead of Alfa Romeo.
Its appeal lies in being a cut-price luxury sedan that goes like a rocket. Add a strong after-sale warranty and customer care package and it stacks up as the pragmatist’s choice. It feels more developed and refined than its relative, the $56K Kia Stinger GT, to justify a $15K premium. As it should. But our Ultimate Sport’s price is pushing it.
Tested and rated on MOTOR car reviews
Where the G70’s powers start to unravel is against established opposition. Hopping back into an Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, the snatchy door handles and chintzy glasshouse trim on the G70 are more obvious, along with the low-pixel console touchscreen and derivative exterior design.
The new 3 Series has more technology to lure early adopters, while the all-wheel drive (and more expensive) AMG C43 has more rear-axle stability and an A4 trumps its on style, status and class. So they should be safe for now. But you can bet on one thing, no one will be yawning if Genesis ever decides to target AMG, BMW M or Audi RS.
2019 GENESIS G70 3.3T SPECS
Engine: 3342cc V6, DOHC, 24v, twin-turbo
Power: 272kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 510Nm @ 1300-4500rpm
0-100km/h: 4.7sec (claimed)
4.0 stars out of five