In the beginning there was Hyundai, maker of budget cars with questionable quality. That was the ’80s.

Then the Korean automaker introduced the industry’s best warranty to go along with much better cars. Soon thereafter the sub-$35,000 Hyundai Genesis won 2009 North American Car of the Year in Detroit, an acknowledgment that Hyundai could not only compete but best other automakers in design, quality and value.

Now, there is Genesis, the stand-alone luxury sub-brand of Hyundai.

Genesis was joined by Equus, a value-packed competitor for cars like the BMW 7-Series and Audi A8. Recently redesigned, these cars became the Genesis G80 and G90, both priced at least $10,000 less than key competitors. Still, attracting discriminating customers over the prestige German brands may require explaining.

“It’s a bit confusing because the cars were sold as Hyundai Genesis for a while,” said Jeremy Acevedo, analyst at “They will initially be sold in sectioned-off areas of Hyundai showrooms. Separate dealerships will likely come later.”

By then, Genesis will have a broad lineup of vehicles distinct from Hyundai and luxury competitors.

“Genesis is only the second luxury brand to launch in the 21st century, and we believe this is an opportunity to redefine what luxury means for modern-day consumers,” said Erwin Raphael, general manager of Genesis USA.

The mid-luxury G80, aimed at favorites like the BMW 5-Series, Cadillac CTS and Lexus GS, is available with a 311-horsepower V-6 or 420-horsepower V-8 and rear- or all-wheel-drive. Interiors are swathed in leather, wood and aluminum. Lexicon audio systems, head-up displays, and crash avoidance systems bolster technology while nimble handling makes it fun to drive. Prices rise from $41,400.

Up a class is the G90 flagship sedan targeting the BMW 7-Series, Audi A8, Cadillac CT6, Lexus LS and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The full-size sedan focuses on ultimate passenger comfort with available heated and ventilated rear executive seating, exquisite wood and turbinelike acceleration with a 365-horsepower twin-turbo V-6 or 420-horsepower V-8. Drive modes customize the suspension, steering and throttle from “Smart” to “Sport.” Prices start at $68,100.

Genesis is garnering artistic praise, as the G90 received the Good Design award from the Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design, and was a finalist for North American Car of the Year, an honor awarded by a group of automotive journalists.

While stylish, neither of these cars surpass class leaders in dynamics or fit and finish. The G80 is no 5-Series and the G90 is no S-Class. That may change with the 2018 G80 Sport harboring a 3.3-liter V-6 from the G90, but delivering enhanced performance and styling.

But Genesis vehicles come with only one available trim for each drive train. And the trim packages are fully loaded, so unlike the German competitors’ piecemeal approach to trim levels and features, the Genesis shopping experience is simplified and clear. Selecting one exterior color over the five other options isn’t going to cost any more money, for example.

Looking at sales reported by Automotive News, this is only a start of what Genesis needs to step into the supercompetitive luxury space where brands take years, if not decades, to establish the cachet to charge a premium price. Last year, combined Genesis, Equus, G80 and G90 sales reached just 31,539 cars.

By comparison, Mercedes-Benz sold 374,451, Lexus sold 331,228 and Cadillac sold 170,006. Genesis needs more than two large sedans.

“Genesis needs luxury SUVs to be successful,” Acevedo said. “The G80 and G90 aren’t necessarily volume vehicles in the luxury space. They need an entry luxury car, like a (BMW) 3-Series competitor. The next vehicle will be the G70, and then a crossover built off of it. It looks like Genesis is pursuing dedicated platforms.”

Dedicated rear-drive platforms separate Genesis from Hyundai, but deny it the ability to quickly tap the Santa Fe or Tucson for crossovers as Lexus does with Toyota. We’ll have to wait.

Future brand direction was communicated through two bold concept vehicles debuted during the 2016 auto show cycle. The New York concept flaunts aggressive fastback design with a long nose and raked windshield stretched over a long wheelbase. There’s a distinct scallop running under the belt line from the front wheel to the rear. It uses a 241-horsepower hybrid powertrain that hints at the upcoming G70.

The similarly styled Vision G coupe imbues personal elegance with deftly integrated wood, leather, and connectivity. It sports the 420-horsepower V-8 engine used in the G90.

To realize these visions, Genesis recently hired 33-year old ex-Bugatti designer Alexander Selipanov as chief designer.

“We have dedicated design and engineering resources for Genesis and a diverse product plan through 2021,” Raphael said.

“We are looking forward to the G70 near-luxury sedan, mid-luxury SUV, near-luxury sport coupe, and entry luxury SUV in the next few years. Hyundai is 100 percent committed to establishing the Genesis brand long-term.”

Genesis’ vision goes beyond competitive vehicles. It extends free scheduled maintenance, roadside assistance and valet service, for which the dealer will pick up and return the customer’s vehicle, for 3 years/36,000 miles. Genesis adopts Hyundai’s 10-year/100,000 miles powertrain warranty. Value pricing and premium content continue to be Genesis calling cards.

“As a brand, Hyundai vehicles were running across the spectrum from Accent to Equus,” Acevedo said.

“Hyundai has people who have read the situation and think Genesis will be a fruitful venture. Their challenge will be overcoming the loyalty of luxury buyers who return to the same brand in a leasing culture. They have an uphill battle, but if they stick it out (and) bring crossovers quickly, I wouldn’t bet against them.”

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