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2020 Genesis G90 Review, Take 1: A Great Car In Search of Buyers

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Auto123 puts the 2020 Genesis G90 to the test – part 1!

Since its arrival in Canada in the early 1980s, Hyundai has had its share of success. Like any non-established manufacturer, the Korean automaker had to go through some lean first few years on the North American continent, but there’s no denying that since the turn of the century, Hyundai has become a major player – and that, in almost every segment of the industry.

Where the problem lies, however, is in the brand's luxury strategy. Hyundai has been trying for over a decade to assert itself against the undisputed kings of the hill, the German brands, and even the likes of Cadillac, Jaguar and Lexus. After the first appearance of the name when it designated a model in the Hyundai showroom, Genesis became a proper stand-alone brand with the 2017 model-year. Its vehicles have features exclusive or almost exclusive to the brand.

Three years later, the Genesis lineup consists of three sedans: the sporty G70, the mid-size G80 and the opulent G90, which has been fully renewed for 2020.  The brand has also just introduced its very first SUV, the GV80, which will join the roster this year. In the meantime, I had occasion to test drive the big G90 flagship recently, in freezing temperatures and equipped with a brand-new set of winter tires.

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Photo: V.Aubé

Luxury, Korean-style
The large G90 sedan appeared for the 2017 model year with a very discreet silhouette, maybe too discreet in fact. Folks interested in this type of limousine aren't necessarily looking for attention, but when you're spending close to $100,000 on a sedan, the design has to be worth the asking price.

For 2020, the design department et Genesis has addressed that and delivered a much more assertive outer shell. The huge grille, christened Crest Grill, ends in a spike at the base of the bumper and gives the car more presence than the outgoing model. The same goes for the headlamps, which are separated in the middle by a horizontal stripe that acts as a turn signal. This line extends over the front fenders behind the wheel arches, and is quite a sight when the car activates its turn signals.

Seen from the side, the stretched windows confirm that the G90 is still based on the same platform as before, but that's pretty much the only indication of its older origins. Behind, the two-level taillights point the way to the design language we can expect with the brand's future products, with the GV80 the next step.

Photo: V.Aubé

As for the retro-looking 19-inch-diameter wheels, some people love them, while others don't like them so much. Personally, I find they add a lot of class to the package.

A superbly-crafted cabin
Genesis - Hyundai in general, I should say - has been turning heads with its expertise in quality workmanship for a few years now. A quick glance inside the Hyundai Palisade, for example, reveals that both the mass-market and luxury branches of the automaker know what they’re doing. Rest assured, though, the Genesis G90 has better finishing than that three-row SUV, with its open-pore wood trim on the dashboard, door panels, centre console (front and rear) and even the backs of the first-row seats. Nappa leather is also ubiquitous throughout the cabin, as are beautifully crafted plastics.

As a self-respecting prestige limousine, the G90 is very welcoming to its passengers. The first-row seats are exemplarily soft, while in back, the space provided for two or three passengers is worthy of business class with the two heated and ventilated reclining seats. No integrated massage system, however, but then that luxury feature can’t really be qualified as indispensable.

Photo: V.Aubé

Overall, there's plenty of room in both rows as well as in the trunk. Though I should mention cargo space can't be enlarged by lowering the rear seat.

Back up front, the dashboard is the same in the previous model, with the climate control buttons grouped together on a strip right in the middle, just above the gearshift lever, while the other buttons for quickly navigating through the infotainment system's menus are also within easy reach. The thumbwheel in the centre console is also used to scroll from menu to menu.

In nearly every respect, the Genesis G90 goes blow to blow with the segment's best sedans, faltering only when you measure the prestige of the badge glued to the centre of the leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Photo: V.Aubé
Photo: V.Aubé

A Smooth-as-Golden ride
Its size and the segment it competes in means the G90 needs to fit a large-cylinder engine under the hood. The 5.0L V8 delivering 420 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque is more than enough to get the job done, especially since the sedan's mission is not exactly to be sporty – that’s best left to the smaller G70. The automatic transmission has 8 gears, which can be shifted via paddle shifters mounted on the back of the steering wheel.

Of course, everything is velvety smooth inside the G90. Soundproofing, for one, is class-leading and the driving experience is more relaxing than dynamic. The steering is heavier, but not unpleasant in everyday driving conditions, no matter how aggressively the right foot pedal is used. The adaptive suspension also isolates occupants from the pocked crabbiness of our Canadian roads.

The electronics also take care of modifying the character of the sedan, with the driver having the choice between Eco, Comfort (the default mode), Sport and Custom, the latter allowing each parameter to be adjusted as the driver sees fit.

This is the one I prefer, as it allows me to combine the dynamics of the Sport mode with the smoothness of the Comfort mode. I did find that in city driving, the G90's transmission is quite lazy when starting off, but that’s corrected by the Sport mode. However, the Sport mode also makes the bodywork a little too rigid, at least for a limousine of this caliber.

Photo: V.Aubé

Because this test was conducted in wintertime, I was also able to test the Korean automaker’s H-TRAC all-wheel drive system, which once again made a mockery of icy conditions. Quite frankly, it's a huge step forward when compared to the outdated rear-wheel-drive Hyundai Equus.

The last word
The Genesis G90 is an incredible luxury sedan that's smooth, comfortable and powerful, and it’ pretty to look at to boot. The fly in the ointment for the brand is that it can't even make it to the 100-unit annual sales mark in Canada. The problem lies in the badge, which simply doesn't have all the history and cache of the German brands that have been in the segment for a long time. Even Lexus’ LS now has some history to back it up (as does the Jaguar XJ, though that model is leaving us this year, sadly).

Another non-negligeable factor is the strong depreciation of the model after only a few years. In two or three years, a G90 will be available at half the new-car price with ridiculously low mileage, and chances are that reliability will be there. That's the case with all these luxury super-sedans.

Photo: V.Aubé

Should Hyundai's luxury brand be considering converting to an electric powertrain for its flagship sedan, if only to counter the Mercedes-Benz EQS, an S-Class powered entirely by electric power? Personally I think it's still a little early for Genesis, a brand that needs to establish itself in the marketplace first.

We like

The original design
Quality of execution
Sublime level of comfort

We like less

Thirsty V8 engine
Weak resale value
The twin-turbo V6 engine only available by special order

The competition

Audi A8
BMW 7 Series
Cadillac CT6
Jaguar XJ
Lexus LS
Lincoln Continental
Maserati Quattroporte
Mercedes-Benz S-Class

Coming up soon: Our “West Coast” take on the 2020 Genesis G90!

Photo: V.Aubé