Genesis G90

What makes one brand of car more special than another? Is it 22-way leather seats, hand-crafted wood accents? A 420-horsepower V-8? Or perhaps its hood ornament. Plenty will pay extra for the Mercedes-Benz tri-star or BMW spinner. But what about the winged badge adorning the new Genesis G90?

The name doesn't ring a bell? Genesis is the new luxury arm of Hyundai. Yes, that Hyundai, the same company that produces plebian models like Accent, Elantra and Veloster. It's not entirely new to the luxury game. It first used the Genesis name a decade ago on a midsize sedan aimed at the likes of the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes E-Class. And it was good enough to be named North American Car of the Year by a panel of 50 U.S. and Canadian journalists. It was followed by the even bigger and more lavishly appointed Equus.

Earlier this year, Hyundai spun off its luxury lineup, repurposing Genesis as the name of the new brand. And to confuse things a bit, the old midsize model became the G80. The larger model, aimed directly at the likes of the vaunted Mercedes S-Class, returns as the new Genesis G90. It's more than just a change of names, however. Hyundai has completely redesigned the car that badge is bolted to.

And it has pretty much all the things you'd expect of a car in this class. There are the 22-way massaging, heated and cooled seats, the wood accents and the big V-8. If you'd prefer, there's a more technically sophisticated twin-turbo V-6 as well that delivers great mileage yet still manages 0 to 60 in five seconds, even with the full-size Genesis G90.

The new Genesis G90 deserves credit for its distinctive and handsome look. It's not just a European clone and, ironically, credit goes to the team led by Peter Schreyer, the one-time styling capo at Audi who now oversees design for all of the Hyundai empire. Its cabin is filled with all the classic luxury cues, though it doesn't quite match the array of high-tech safety and infotainment systems found on either the Mercedes S-Class or BMW 7-Series. Does that matter? To all but the most tech-centric shoppers, probably not. The more likely shortfall is the absence of those well-recognized badges and the prestige that goes with them.

Indeed, Genesis officials concede they'll need time—and a lot more solid products—to prove they're valid competition to the established luxury order. In the meantime, they're lifting a page from the original Lexus playbook. With a base price just under $70,000, the G90 is a veritable bargain. Will S-Class buyers trade in? Not many. But Genesis has a good shot at grabbing first-timers who otherwise couldn't afford something this big or lavish. Add a suite of customer services, including valet pickup when the G90 needs service or repairs and Genesis just might prove itself a serious contender.

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