A little over 25 years ago, Toyota launched the Lexus LS400, kicking off Japan’s assault on Europe’s monopoly of the luxury car market. For the LS400 to succeed, it needed to outperform its Old World rivals in almost every way, and it did. A quarter-century later, Lexus, Infiniti, and Acura have all since proven that the Japanese market can rank among the world’s best.
Unfortunately, that open-mindedness hasn’t been extended to South Korean automakers. Yet.
Hyundai is in a similar position that many Japanese automakers were in roughly three decades ago. After an explosive decade of sales, the brand (and its sister company Kia) has truly graduated from bargain-basement economy cars to a global automotive power. And as it’s grown in stature and reputation, the company has begun to dip its toes in the highly profitable – and brutally competitive – luxury market. In 2008, the company launched the Genesis, a BMW 5-Series fighter, and followed it up with a Mercedes S-Class fighter, the Equus, in 2009. At the time, these cars summed up Hyundai’s ethos to a tee: They were beautifully built and competitively equipped cars – and undercut their rivals by thousands.
But sales of the Genesis and Equus have been slow – partially because of their uninspiring styling (something it’s worked to correct on the current-model cars), but mostly because luxury car buyers don’t want to be seen in a Hyundai. So the brand is taking a page out of Toyota’s playbook, and spinning Genesis off into its own luxury brand. That also means the Equus is a thing of the past. Come 2017, it’ll be replaced with the G90, an elegant range-topper that could be the closest thing we’ve seen to a first-generation LS400 this side of the Clinton administration.
In a 1989 review of the Lexus LS400, the Chicago Tribune declared, “Toyota took the BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes, separated the good features from the bad, then reassembled the parts and components into one machine using only the best features from each.”
Today, replace Toyota with Hyundai, and Jaguar with Audi in that equation, and you’ll get the G90. From the two renderings Hyundai has shown us, the influences are pretty clear. Yes, it’s done a great job developing a front fascia that’s recognizable as its own, but from the side you’ve got Audi to the A-pillar, a BMW greenhouse, and Mercedes lines bringing up the rear.
The design itself is based on Hyundai’s handsome Vision-G concept, and if that car was any indication of Genesis’s direction, it looks like Hyundai just might have a contender on its hands. The company says it “… created the Genesis brand for a new generation of discerning consumers. Capitalizing on its success in the fast-growing global car market, Hyundai Motor will launch six new Genesis models by 2020.” We sincerely hope this potential BMW 6-Series/Audi A5/Mercedes S-Class Coupe fighter is one of those six.
But in the meantime, we’ll have the G90, and while its hero worship may be a little transparent, it’s by no means a bad thing. There’s no word on technical specs yet, but Hyundai describes the Genesis line as embodying “Athletic Elegance,” so at the very least, we can expect it to keep up with its European and Japanese rivals. But that’s the biggest danger for Genesis: to succeed, it can’t just keep up with the Joneses. The LS400 established Lexus 25 years ago because it was simply a better car than its rivals. It was faster than the BMW 7-Series, better built than the Jaguar XJ, more advanced than the Mercedes S-Class – and cheaper than all three. It’s only natural that its ascendence to major automaker status, Hyundai launches a luxury brand. Only time will tell if it can take the lessons of the past to make Genesis the premium brand of the future.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.
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