[TEST DRIVE] In Genesis versus the pandemic, Genesis wins with G80 luxury sedan

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[TEST DRIVE] In Genesis versus the pandemic, Genesis wins with G80 luxury sedan

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The new G80 sedan is driven down a road in Gyeonggi. The latest release from Hyundai Motor’s luxury brand Genesis is expected to help the company overcome a sales slump stemming from the coronavirus outbreak. [GENESIS]

YONGIN, Gyeonggi - Koreans certainly like their luxury sedans, and Genesis seems to be giving the people what they want.

The G80, which debuted at the end of last month, checks all the right boxes in terms of safety, style, comfort and performance and has caught the eye of local consumers - perhaps the world’s most demanding when it comes to this class of vehicle.

With the GV80, the Hyundai Motor brand zigged to bag some SUV sales. With the new G80, it zags back to the form to satisfy a market that is very much still there and very much engaged.

The environment is challenging, for both secular, long-term reasons and because of the pandemic, and this car could make all the difference for a company working to regain its stride.

In the first day the car was made available, the company hit two-thirds of its annual sales goal for the vehicle, taking orders for 22,000 of its 33,000 full-year target.

It has been the subject of glowing reviews a world over.

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And what’s not to like? The G80 has a solid powertrain, a comfortable interior and all the safety features imaginable.

While it’s hard to ignore the similarities of the lines to those of the Mercedes-Benz CLS, the exterior is distinctive. The massive grille, like a giant face mask, is pure Genesis. You saw it on the GV80. You see it here.

The double headlights - which seem designed more for a giant gadget than a mid-sized sedan - also connect the vehicle to the lineage of the brand.

To be sure, the tail seems a bit confused about what it wants to be, caught somewhere between sporty and elegant, making a big but not altogether clear statement. Genesis appears to be channeling the classic Jaguar E-type - a mistake for a sedan even if executed well.

Once you enter the vehicle, you might forget about the tacked-on tail.

The designers seemed to achieve the perfect combination of wood, metal and leather so that it feels classic without being fusty and contemporary and cool without erring on the side of juvenile.

Light brown leather seats welcomed me and ash wood across the dashboard soothed my soul, while some genius in the design department knew enough not to overwhelm me with dials and buttons: Most of the functionality is centered so minimalism was achieved without sacrificing the sense of control.

Interior temperature was controlled via a horizontal display that was both out of the way yet convenient. I never had to fumble for the right settings.

The mood was ruined a bit by the air vents. Those took some work to adjust, and I never did get the airflow right. Cold air was blasting on my face throughout the test drive.

I found the steering wheel to be a bit tough to grasp. I don’t expect them to reinvent the steering wheel, but after all this time, I figure this is one element of car design they should have mastered.

The infotainment system was all you would expect. It was clear, cool, efficient and useful, telling me about tomorrow’s weather, playing music without a missing a beat and giving me accurate directions so I could get from A to B and back again.

My only quibble is the size. It was a bit too wide. I wanted the footprint of an iPad. Genesis gave me a widescreen good for Netflix binge watching.

During the test drive, I piloted a G80 with a 3.5-liter turbo gasoline engine from southern Seoul to Yongin, Gyeonggi, and back.

I couldn’t hope for anything more in terms of comfort and stability. The car went over speed bumps like they were marshmallows. It was doing 150 kilometers (93 miles) an hour before I knew it.

The brakes expertly brought the beast to a halt with the lightest of taps.

In Sports mode, the excellent vehicle got even better. It was like a superhero with an extra power you didn’t know about until the big fight. Performance was augmented with auditory sensations. No Maserati, but within the margin of error.

Driving assist and collision avoidance were there and doing their jobs as I spaced out hurling down the expressways leaving the city. Not quite at the level of a Tesla, so don’t get any ideas.

You might be tempted to close your eyes while driving. Don’t do it. While Hyundai Motor is ahead of the pack when it comes to these features, autonomy is a long way off.

A few times I found the car drifting out of the lane or slowing down on its own when there was nothing there.

Performance comes at a cost. The 3.5-liter gasoline engine model rated at 380 horsepower and 54 kilogram-meters in torque can only travel 9.2 kilometers per liter.

The car was first released in 2008 as a Hyundai Motor vehicle and placed first among mid-size premium cars in the 2020 J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study. In the past, some car reviewers declared it a masterpiece.

The G80 car may not hit the U.S. market in the second half, its original scheduled rollout there. The coronavirus outbreak is making a mess of auto releases for all automakers.

But consumers who manage to get their hands on one of these beauties might forget about the global pandemic altogether while driving.

BY KO JUN-TAE [ko.juntae@joongang.co.kr]

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