Situated in the rain shadow of British Columbia's coastal mountain range, the Okanagan Valley isn't exactly where you'd expect to discover a thriving wine country. And yet here I am, behind the wheel of the 2017 Genesis G90, driving past vineyard after vineyard, most built along the steeply inclined shores of Lake Okanagan itself, which stretches a magnificent 135 kilometres from tip to tip to define the character of the region.
Of course, a Hyundai showroom isn't where you'd expect to pick up a luxury car capable of challenging the best that Germany and Japan have to offer, either. This is definitely the biggest obstacle facing the all-new Genesis brand as it works to separate itself from its more pedestrian roots and take a genuine shot at class leaders from BMW, Lexus, and Audi ― and a major reason why you won't actually be able to find the G90 anywhere near a Hyundai dealer. In fact, Genesis will be rolling out its entire fleet by way of small, boutique-type stores linked to an online, no-haggle ordering process (combined with a complete valet service to handle all repairs and maintenance without ever having to visit a service bay).
Building an entirely new luxury brand requires three very important ingredients: an excellent range of products, the willingness to spend enormous sums of money to make people aware of them, and a receptive audience capable of letting go of traditional definitions of what constitutes a premium experience. Genesis seems to be well-positioned to fulfill the first two of these obligations, and it's quite possible that the time is right for the third stipulation to also be fulfilled.
Genesis G90 makes an impression
That the G90 represents the thin tip of the product spear bodes well for the sedans, SUVs, and coupe that will follow it onto the market over the course of the next five years. My impression of Genesis' chances at success began to form almost immediately upon picking up the keys to the sedan at the valet station of the Rosewood Georgia Hotel in downtown Vancouver as mere minutes later, I was fielding questions from other guests not just about the car, but also about the brand itself, accompanied by compliments and small exultations of surprise that such a handsome, well-appointed automobile hailed from Korea.
The bolstering of my opinion continued once I had a chance to let the Genesis G90's design truly soak in, first from the passenger seat and then after I took my turn behind the wheel. Vancouver's early-morning congestion faded into the background and disappeared completely from my radar as we crossed the bridge out of the city heading north, our final destination marked on the map as being somewhere between Kelowna and Vernon.
The impressive silence of the G90's interior, combined with the outstanding fit and finish of its leather-laden trim and classy wood accent gloss, demonstrated that the lessons learned at Hyundai over the past several years of Genesis sedan and Equus flagship sales had not merely been internalized, but used as foundation for reaching the next stage of evolution in terms of quality.
Highway 1, which casually traces the contours of the Fraser River as it meanders from the Pacific basin to the northern reaches of the Rockies, offered ample opportunity to put the Genesis G90 through its paces. Alternating between white water and pine forests on our left, and with the beginnings of B.C.'s mountain tops peeking through the fog ahead, it was time to get better acquainted with the Genesis-exclusive, twin-turbocharged V6 offered as standard equipment on the G90.
This fresh piece of engineering produces a hearty 365 horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque, managed by an 8-speed automatic transmission and an all-wheel drive system. The words that came to mind after exercising the sedan's throttle were “smooth” and “immediate.” There was no pause between the command of my right foot and the delivery of whatever degree of forward motion I required, even when ascending Highway 1's long alpine passes, through tunnels marked by bear carvings and with thousand-metre drops lurking just past the shoulder. So capable was the twin-turbo V6 that I hesitate to even mention the 420-horsepower, 5.0L V8 that is also available with the G90; the latter simply feels superfluous in the presence of such a pleasing drivetrain.
The effortless character of the Genesis' V6 was echoed by the rest of its performance on our northbound sojourn. At speeds of over 120 km/h, the G90's suspension system kept it tracking straight and true with a bare minimum of interference from the road below, giving me the impression that I could easily drive the car from sunrise to sunset and not emerge at the end any worse for wear. Turning off the beaten track to explore the beautiful emerald green lakes and purple-flowered rolling hills of the Laurie Guichon Memorial Grasslands near Merrit, B.C., the Genesis G90 once again demonstrated its competency at insulating riders, keeping the ruckus of the rutted gravel side roads firmly at bay.
Going the distance
By the time we reached our stop for the night - the Sparkling Hill Resort, a Swarovski-encrusted architectural tribute to the world-famous crystal, and home to one of the most comprehensive spas in North America - it was clear to me that Genesis was more than a mere experiment on the part of parent Hyundai. The passion of the individuals responsible for birthing the brand was matched by the genuine equivalence demonstrated by the G90 as compared to direct rivals such as the Audi A8 and Lexus LS.
It's rare that a new car company manages to make it out of the gate without a stumble or two, but as it stands now, any potential pratfalls for Genesis would seem to be waiting in the murky future. Getting people to pay attention to a clean-slate car with high-end aspirations will be a tougher hurdle for Genesis to overcome than any perceived inadequacies in its product.
That being said, with pricing for the G90 and its midsize G80 sibling pegged to surge only slightly above that of their Hyundai progenitors, a relentless focus on offering value in features and service as a lure to first-time customers, and a rock-solid trust fund to tap into, the only real question about the Genesis success story would seem to be “when?”