Hitting on all six pistons with the windows down and the sound of a dual-port exhaust howling in your ears, there’s something unequivocally righteous about the feelings bubbling to the surface. I’ve spoken before about how far Korean cars have come in the past few decades, and while the stigma that they are just cheap economy cars for people who want a 100,000 mile warranty still lives on, the quality of the cars that both Kia and Hyundai are cranking out nowadays are quite good.
This leads me to my review vehicle for the week, which is perhaps the sharpest incarnation of the Genesis Hyundai has ever birthed and is the reason why my hair is in absolute disarray as we speak. Bred and purpose-built at Hyundai’s tech facility near the Nürburgring, this stripped-down, rear-wheel drive, 348-horsepower coupe is not just a performance-oriented automobile on paper, it really holds its own on the asphalt against base versions of the 370Z and the Mustang.
What started off with an unassuming thirty minute cruise alongside the Ohio River quickly turned into a three-and-a-half-hour back-road bonanza, with every imaginable curve, bank, ramp, and dip in the book being explored and conquered in swift fashion. It was an eventful day of driving to say the least, and while this car certainly isn’t something I would want to roll around in on a daily basis, the mere fact that you can get this much fun for $30,000 just screams common sense when you spend an hour carving around town in it.
The R-spec may not be the most refined, revolutionary, or rev-happy vehicle I’ve reviewed over the years, but was it a blast to drive. It’s a vehicle that is virtually no-frills in the tech department unless you choose to upgrade to the Ultimate Package, it only comes equipped with a stick (so too bad if you can’t drive one), and has staggered 19-inch wheels — because rear-wheel drive sports cars deserve this sort of thing. Naturally, there were a few issues with it along the way, including how freaking thirsty its engine is, and this car left me feeling a bit torn as I felt like I genuinely wanted more out of it, all while just wanting more time in it.
My review would not be complete unless I mentioned how much I like the standard features on this car. The R-spec has automatic temp controls, keyless entry, hill start assist, heated mirrors, satellite radio, automatic headlights, LED running lights, and Bluetooth controls that are steering wheel mounted. It’s also got a clever little cubby that houses the USB/iPod/AUX ports behind a trap door, the visibility is absolutely fantastic in every direction, and while 6-foot fellas like myself may have some headroom issues in the back, the seats were comfy enough and shoulder space wasn’t half bad back there. This cabin also had a surprisingly sincere sense of serenity to it if I didn’t hammer on the throttle too much, which lasted all of 12 seconds until I was on it again.
While the powerband in this car is adequate and the fun-level is undeniably there for the right dollar amount, it’s important to recall that as car enthusiasts we tend to get hung up on the numbers game and forget that insane amounts of torque don’t have to be present for you to have a good time. Much like the Miata, S2000, and FR-S/BRZ, the Hyundai Genesis R-spec gives you a close-ratio gearbox, track-tuned independent rear suspension, and enough grunt to get the job done when passing an autonomous semi on the interstate. It also rocks an extremely controlled, non-electric steering system, so feeling connected to the road is never an issue with this thing.
Other favorite features included the center stack-mounted trio of info pods that showed fuel consumption, torque, and oil temps in real time, and that the seats in the R-spec are the perfect blend between aggressively bolstered and sumptuously snug thus keeping one’s back and buttocks comfy for the entire ride. But probably the best part of this car — to me, at least — is how it hugs the road and the way in which the traction control works in tandem with both the stability assist and the Torsen limited-slip to give you the perfect entry to an apex before blasting out the other side. Strut tower bars are important additions to any sports car, so thanks for that little addition Hyundai, and for recognizing that having the shift knob at just the right height is something guys like me appreciate — achy elbows are never fun after a long day of spanking all six gears.
But maybe the greatest aspect of this automobile has nothing to do with power, control, clutch, or cabin, but safety. The Brembo big brake package on this thing is one of the most balanced setups I have encountered in all my years of driving. The brake bias is perfect on this vehicle, so there is no severe nose-dive under deceleration, and tapping the brakes thankfully does not result in any form of whiplash.
So what are my issues with the R-spec if I think it is so good? For one there’s its aesthetics. While the Genesis Coupe has received a facelift in recent years, this car still looks pretty much the same, with lines that are just a bit… basic. It isn’t a bad looking car at all, it just seems a little too simplistic with its beefy, black center-mount bumper bits, lip-less lower air dam, predictable rear curves, and absolutely pointless faux hood vents.
The R-spec also suffers from some interior issues, with noticeable rattles in the cabin becoming apparent after just 6,000 miles on the odometer — no doubt a direct result of the sport-tuned suspension and America’s love affair with unkempt potholes. There also is no back-up camera or navigation on the R-spec, and the Multi-Info Display (MID) will not give you stats like miles-per hour in digital form, or any other number of useful info other than how many miles you have until empty. I also noted that while the steering wheel is indeed wrapped in genuine soft leather, it almost seems too supple, and upon arrival I immediately noticed all of the little wrinkles and tears in the material, which is not good considering the vehicle’s extremely low mileage.
Then there is the issue with the power. Without a turbo or supercharger, it’s hard for most buyers to take something with a name like “R-spec” seriously. This leads us to another issue; while the Bridgestone Potenza summer tires were superb on those backroads, a popup squall caused me to quickly recall how many airbags this thing has when the car refused to find traction in the rain when accelerating, fishtailing around every chance it got. It also has a clutch that refuses to play nice sometimes, causing you to really focus if smooth shifting is the goal for your commute.
But outside of those few complaints, I think that Hyundai has a car that is slowly but surely edging in on higher-end performance vehicles, all while offering that infamous Korean bang for the buck incentive that cannot be ignored. However, not having a turbocharged option available does hurt their overall score, as this car would be fantastic with an EcoBoost-style twin-turbo layout and some wider wheels and tires.
So if Hyundai can address these issues and oversights, and maybe outfits the R-spec with a special aero kit, differently designed wheels, and fully functional hood scoops, we would totally give it a five-star rating. As it stands, and even with how bloody good it is to drive, deep down inside it is just a four of five star sports car. Personally, we cannot wait to see how much of the N 2025 Vision Gran Turismo gets instilled in this platform down the line, and that’s why these cars keep getting better.