You are forgiven if hearing the name "Genesis" either connotes the first book of the Bible or the British rock group that vaulted singer Phil Collins to musical fame.
In an automotive context, Genesis also is a story of creation. It's the name of Hyundai's (HYMLF) expanding luxury vehicle franchise, whose latest offering is the G80 Sport sedan. G80 Sport is a more powerful and improved version of the G80, first introduced in the U.S. in 2015 and meant to compete with Daimler's (DDAIF) Mercedes-Benz E Class, Volkswagen's (VLKAY) Audi A6 and BMW's 5 Series.
Genesis is only just getting off the ground in the U.S., which is why consumer recognition of its brand remains relatively meager at about 4%, according to the latest research, compared to 60% for the better known luxury brands. Hyundai has yet to announce a definite list of Genesis dealers or a specific strategy to create dedicated showrooms, though general manager Ervin Raphael promised that news will be forthcoming shortly.
"Recognition is improving," Raphael said, thanks to marketing that includes title sponsorship of a PGA professional golf tournament held for the first time earlier this year at Riviera Country Club and now known as the Genesis Open. More models, including SUVs, are in development, he said.
Last year's introduction of the Genesis G90 sedan -- slotted to compete with the Mercedes S Class -- won gushing praise from reviewers, including this one, noting that the South Korean automaker had filched a page from Toyota's (TM) - Get Report Lexus playbook. Lexus managed to grab a foothold in luxury starting in the 1980s by matching German automotive engineering and design while significantly lowering the cost of ownership.
G80 Sport, now arriving at about 200 Hyundai/Genesis dealers, is powered by a 3.3-liter twin turbo V6 generating 365 horsepower, compared to the slightly smaller G80 which puts out 311 horses. The same engine is available in the larger G90, which also offers a 5.0-liter V8 rated at 420 horsepower. In a day of driving the hills and winding roadways of northern California wine country, I must say that the handling, feel and road manners were very much consistent with the best German, Japanese and U.S. luxury models.
Visually, G80 Sport's proportions and lines are pleasing to the eye, making the car look as though it belongs in the company of better-known competitors, which isn't surprising since Hyundai has been recruiting some of the better known talent in German automotive design. Two of them are Luc Donckerwolke and Peter Schreyer. Both men were highly renowned for luxury creations while working at Volkswagen. Impressive attention has been devoted to the cabin as well, which is adorned with a rich selection of leather, copper stitching and carbon fiber trim. The seats felt exceptionally comfortable.
G80 Sport starts at about $56,000 for the rear-wheel-drive version and about $2,000 more for the all-wheel-drive. There are no options except for color. At those prices, the car is sure to attract attention from luxury buyers who are interested in value as well and aren't mesmerized by the brand cachet of the more familiar names.
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Editors' pick: Originally published May 11.
Doron Levin is the host of "In the Driver Seat," broadcast on SiriusXM Insight 121, Saturday at noon, encore Sunday at 9 a.m.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.