Road test: 2012 Hyundai Genesis 5.0 R-Spec

Money gives us choices. And when money and choice intersect at car-buying time, the combination makes for some fast and thrilling company. With $55,000 to spend, we could buy an Audi S4, an Infiniti M35x, a Mercedes E-Class, a BMW 5 Series — the benchmark for luxury sedans among the Rosedale set. A Cadillac or Lexus GS 350 might even leave us with some change. Regardless, any one of these brands would also buy us a level of prestige to go with those nicely equipped wheels.

But what if you don’t want to show off? What if you prefer to keep neighbours from tweeting about your “expensive” new car, or prefer to spend less on the prestige of an established luxury brand, yet still demand refinement, space, performance and a reasonable level of sophistication? Would a Hyundai even make the shopping list?

The 2012 Genesis 5.0 R-Spec should.

“What car is that? Who makes that?” The questions came from several men and women. Since the car’s badging is so low key, all wondered who was responsible for assembling the elegant-looking black sedan in my possession recently. “It’s very nice. I like that. That’s a Hyundai?”

The Genesis R-Spec is one of the more powerful and luxurious sedans in the Hyundai fleet, taking a back seat only to the more expensive Equus. The R-Spec has just about everything you’d find in a fully loaded Infiniti, BMW or Mercedes, but for less money. At $53,499, the R–Spec comes equipped with features that usually come as optional equipment on the marque competition.

But the best part is not the heated and cooled leather seats, nor the navigation system, backup camera, lane-departure warning or Lexicon 17-speaker audio system that come standard on the R-Spec. The most savoury aspect of the R-Spec is the car’s 5.0L V8 engine and its 429 horsepower delivering 376 lb.-ft. of torque to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. The power is monstrous, enough to easily rotate the tires on takeoff, much as you would expect from a Mercedes E 550 that comes with a 408 horsepower V8 but costs $74,500.

With three Ward’s 10 Best Engines awards, the Genesis’ V8 is unquestionably the star of the R-Spec show. The R-Spec is the only Genesis sedan offering the V8, with all other Genesis sedans coming equipped with a 3.8L V6, itself no slouch of an engine. The V8, however, is a true gem. It sounds beautiful under full acceleration, giving off no harshness or vibration. It is eminently smooth at idle and cruising, and is supremely quiet when not being pressed for all it’s got. The eight-speed responds quickly, smoothly and could easily be mistaken for something out of a Lexus.

Steering and braking, however, are not in the same league and will have a difficult time trumping a BMW 5 Series. Focused more on luxury than sport, the R-Spec has average feel through the steering wheel, does not track with the superiority of a German sedan and generally feels less connected to the road than an Audi, BMW or Infiniti. Braking is solid, sure and strong enough, but feels less confident under hard stops than its counterparts. It’s not that the R-Spec is inadequate; it’s just that its rivals have honed their braking and steering feel to such a level that they deliver a driving sensation absent in the big Hyundai four door.

The same sentiment can be applied to the interior, too. While uncluttered and logically laid out, with controls that are easy to operate and see, the Genesis R-Spec forgoes the higher detail and supremely polished finish of an Audi or Infiniti interior for something more pedestrian, especially the main instrument cluster that would seem fitting in a Sonata but less so a modern luxury car.

We are, of course, splitting hairs on the finer points of luxury here; the Genesis is still plenty swank inside and out. And to achieve the richness found in the interior of some of those other cars — plus get all the power the R-Spec delivers — would require significantly more money.

But that’s the unique proposition of the R-Spec: For not a spectacular sum, the car delivers performance, space and luxury to compete with the best in the class. Whether it is the best car for the money will remain a matter of choice.

2012 Hyundai Genesis 5.0 R-Spec.
Photograph by: Derek McNaughton, Postmedia News