Payne: Genesis G-pulling G70 is a bargain athlete

Posted by Talbot Payne on November 13, 2018

G70 Fr3 4 Bushes

At the same time Audi announced this summer it was ditching the manual transmission for its A4 sports sedan, Genesis said its G70 competitor would not only have a manual variant — but that it would be offered as an upscale Sport version unto itself.

That tells you a lot about Hyundai’s aggressive new luxury brand. This Seoul-produced entry-level sedan has soul.

The G70 is rightly baselined to the compact segment icon, the BMW 3-series. Stealing away BMW M-class engineering guru Albert Biermann and Lamborghini design director Luc Donckerwolke, Genesis put the G70 on its own rear-wheel drive platform and trained it in the German makers’ Nürburgring racetrack backyard.

But BMW, Audi and Mercedes are no longer the segment performance leaders. That honor now goes to the terrific Cadillac ATS, Alfa Romeo Giulia and Tesla Model 3 sedans.

Indeed, the irony of the market’s shift away to lookalike SUVs today is that entry-level sedans are incredibly, head-turningly good.

Not only are the establishment players at the top of their game, but there are three 21st-century upstarts: Genesis, Alfa and Tesla. EV-maker Tesla and Italian diva Alfa are niche brands. Genesis aspires to be the traditional volume player of the group, following the Toyota model of accessorizing a popular mainstream brand (Hyundai) with a premium marque.

Genesis’ challenge is establishing an identity in a cramped athletic-shoe aisle that includes such high-tops as the aforementioned German, American and Italian makes — and near-luxury sneakers like the Mazda 6 and Kia Stinger.

Most G70 buyers will approach the $32,000 base Genesis as a value-play over costlier alternatives, but my sophisticated 2.0-liter Sport manual demands to be measured against the best performers in luxury.. That said, how can they ignore Korean cousin Kia — which produces the bigger, five-door Stinger hatchback based on the same architecture and offering the same turbo-4 and twin-turbo V-6 powerplants?

A compelling aisle for sure. I took the very different 2.0-liter manual and 3.3-liter automatic for a run.

Automakers have traditionally offered manuals as entry-level fuel sippers or high-end enthusiast toys. Both are getting squeezed — by the inferiority of manual fuel economy relative to automatics at the low end, and by the performance of quick-shifting, multi-ratio boxes at the upper range.

The $38,895 Sport is targeted at enthusiasts somewhere in between who want an attractive pocket-rocket they can afford. At its core, the 2.0-liter Sport is a runner. With the four-banger driving the rear wheels only, it’s the lightest Q70 configuration.

It reminded me immediately of the ATS, Giulia and Model 3. And since the Tesla EV is a unique animal, I’ll concentrate on the gas-engine Caddy and Alfa: turbo-4 athletes, both more fun than the Midnight Screamer at Six Flags.

Attacking area interstate cloverleafs, the 252-horse Genesis is right there with the Caddy’s nimble handling — telepathic steering, tossable chassis — but shy of Alfa’s sexy looks and best-in-class 280 horsepower.

G70 is carving its own design path — away from the slavish, Audi-like styling of big brothers G90 and G80 — but it doesn’t have the personality of the Italian dish or sculpted Caddy. It’s muscular, no doubt — its wide rear stance ready to pounce — but hard to distinguish from a 3-series or Infiniti Q50.

Hard acceleration exposes the 2.0-liter’s biggest flaw — an initial dead spot on throttle that feels like turbo lag. Or something. “What is that?!” asked my motorhead friend Rick as he rowed through the gears.

Once on throttle, the 2.0-liter is plenty feisty, the engine pulling hard over 3,000 rpms. Upshifts are crisp, the car beautifully balanced on corner entry.

The Genesis makes its mark in true Hyundai fashion — value.

The G70 starts with standard comfort amenities like a 12-way driver’s seat, then adds a best-in-class standard suite of automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise-control, automatic high-beams, blind-spot assist, lane-keep-assist and automatic emergency braking. This is important stuff at a time when mainstream cars from the $25,000 VW Jetta and $32,000 Mazda 6 have similar goodies.

The days when luxe cars (and luxe trucks) can upcharge for such features is coming to an end, and it’s good to see G70 at the head of the game. That said, Mazda’s sensory system is better with its Tesla-like, 360-degree instrument graphics.

Upgrade to the G70’s honkin’ twin-turbo V-6 pushing out an impressive 365 ponies, and the value equation multiplies versus competitor brands. Save one: fellow Korean, Kia Stinger.

Stinger is another superb vehicle brought to life by Mr. Biermann. And that’s not the only thing it shares with G70. They are built on the same platform, have the same engines, boast quad-exhaust, are Nürburgring-tested, get smartphone connectivity and 5 year/100,000 drivetrain warranties and …

And then the Stinger goes further.

At the same entry price as the 3.3-liter G70, the Kia offers five doors instead of three. Its fastback hatchback was one of the revelations of 2017 — offering the utility of an SUV with the handling of a sedan. It’s an Audi A7 — for $25,000 less. An Audi A7 for the same price as a G70. Is that what Hyundai-Kia intended?

The styling and interior of the Stinger are world class, and when you get in back, it exposes the other glaring flaw of the G70 — its tiny rear seat.

Though stretched across the same architecture, the Kias get a longer wheelbase than its Seoul cousin. At a leggy 6-foot-5, I can sit behind myself in the Kia. The G70? Not so much. Which is another reason I lump the 2.0-liter with the equally backseat-challenged Caddy ATS and Alfa.

Genesis North America chief Irwin Raphael says that Genesis and Kia are separate entities (sharing Mr. Biermann) within the Hyundai-Kia empire. And maybe they are appealing to different customers.

I’m struck by the difference in Genesis and Kia Stinger branding, for example. Genesis introduced itself with the lovely voice of blues singer Audra Day. The Stinger, by contrast, was debuted at the 2017 Super Bowl by Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler burning rubber backward to make himself 30 years younger.

Which soundtrack fits you, performance sedan enthusiast?

Stinger has the formidable task of selling folks a $40,000 Kia. But Genesis’ task is no less formidable. Both will appeal to customers looking for a bargain car that looks different than the Audi A4s and BMW 3s in the cul-de-sac.

The biggest difference between G70 and Stinger may be that the Stinger is Kia’s halo car — while Genesis’ halo is the forthcoming Essentia supercar. These are good times, indeed.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

2019 Genesis G70

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front- and all-wheel drive, five-passenger sedan

Price: $32,000 base including $995 destination fee ($38,895 RWD manual Sport as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter turbocharged-4 cylinder; 3.3-liter, twin-turbo V-6

Power: 252 horsepower, 260 pound-feet torque (turbo-4); 365 horsepower, 376 pound-feet torque (V-6)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic or 6-speed manual

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.3/6.0 seconds (Car and Driver est.); top speed, 130/155 mph

Weight: 3,550-4,050 pounds (est.)

Fuel economy: EPA: 22 city/30 highway/25 combined (Turbo-4); 18 city/25 highway/20 combined (V-6)

Report card

Highs: Nurburgring-tested athlete; bargain luxury

Lows: Cramped rear seat; cousin Kia Stinger hatchback an even better bargain

Overall: 4 stars

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