THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Best value in the full-size luxury segment, magic-carpet ride, beautifully tailored cabin.
- What’s Bad: Infotainment not as good as in rivals, boat-like handling.
Is the only path to a large, tech-laden luxury sedan found in Germany? Is a price tag deep into six-figure territory a pre-requisite for keeping your tushie, cushy?
Burning questions to be sure but if you want the very best in oligarch transport you need look no further than the Mercedes S-Class. Dictators and heads of state alike have been using them for decades. But you already knew that and the S-Class really doesn’t need an introduction.
The Genesis G90 does.
You probably don’t know it, and you’ve probably never seen one on the road. But the G90 is the flagship of Genesis, Hyundai’s newly formed luxury division. And we won’t blame you if you haven’t heard of them either. Partly because they haven’t been around very long, and partly because their lineup, prior to just recently, consisted of three vehicles. And none of them were SUVs. Which probably made their website one of the least visited on the Internet.
Although, I suspect they’re about to get more popular. Mainly because that long-anticipated SUV is here (I got your attention now, didn’t I?) and if the G90 is any indicator, it’s going to be very good indeed.
Thankfully, this review isn’t about another new SUV, it’s about the G90 sedan and sedans are good and we need more of them. And it must be noted that this G90 isn’t new, even though it looks completely different than last year’s model.
Rare but not new
Genesis G90 sightings are rare. The only one that I’ve seen in the wild so far was the one I drove, the same one you see here on this page. And this isn’t Hyundai’s first big luxury car. They made the Equus, and it had exactly zero Hyundai badges, using instead its own badge, which looked like a vague rendition of a winged creature… or maybe it was a tuning fork?
It wasn’t sold here or in the U.S. for the first 10 years of production but the redesigned second-generation Equus did come to our shores in 2009.
While its primary targets were the S-Class and the BMW 7-Series it was priced much lower but still offered similar levels of equipment. What it didn’t offer was a desirable badge and when you make it to the top, you go for custom Armani, not off the rack. Still, the effort put forth by the fledgling brand didn’t go unnoticed.
The Equus never really went away either and when Genesis officially formed in 2015 it soon unveiled the G90 as its first model. A full-size luxury sedan designed to challenge the top dogs from Germany once again.
More than a facelift
The G90 went on sale for the 2017 model year, so here we are three years later with what appears to be a completely new one. But appearances can be deceiving and automotive facelifts aren’t usually this thorough.
Normally the lighting gets an update. You might get a slash of trim here or a new set of wheels there. Wheels can do a lot for a car and the G90’s new dubs are drop-dead gorgeous. Retro-modern in the best of ways, with a unique cross-hatched diamond face not seen on a new car since 1992.
But it goes far deeper than that. The new front grille is large, very large. You think your grille is big? This one’s bigger. The front fascia is pretty much a giant grille with just enough room left over for the headlights. Which are also cool and completely new, with a long thin turn signal that slices through the middle and around the corner. They’ve become my new favourite turn signals. The whole face of this car screams “motorcade” and all that’s missing are two tiny flags on the fenders. You’re either gonna love it or hate it, and I’m firmly in the former camp. And if you are too you’ll be pleased to know that this is the new face of Genesis and, sure enough, the upcoming GV80 SUV will sport a similar schnoz.
Even the back is completely different with a thin light strip that runs the length of the trunk lid underlining the Genesis script with what is quickly becoming one of the fastest-growing trends in automotive design. Subtlety be damned. And in this case it’s a good thing because 2019’s G90 was basically a ghost. Even if one did drive by, you wouldn’t notice it. Like how you tend not to notice that extra bit of weight you packed on over the holidays. But you will notice this one, and that lettering on the tail will let you know what you’ve just seen. According to Genesis, the only bits (on the outside) that have been carried over are the roof, doors, and glass. The mechanicals and underpinnings are unchanged.
It’s not all-new inside, though, with only material and trim tweaks but the 12.3-inch infotainment screen has been updated with its own colour palette, faster processing speeds, and the added functionality of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The rotary controller remains and the screen is now touch-enabled for an added layer of control.
The G90 Experience
We get one engine choice here in Canada, the Hyundai Group’s Tau V8, first used on the Hyundai Genesis when it was introduced in 2008. It’s a 5-litre direct-injected motor that makes 420 hp the good old-fashioned way, sans turbo. And it’s perfect for the G90. If you must, a 3.3-litre turbo V6 can be special ordered and while it doesn’t give up much on the power front it just doesn’t seem appropriate in this car. Both engines get linked to a buttery 8-speed automatic and power is routed to all four wheels through the standard AWD system.
The big V8 is impeccably smooth and refined, gives off a pleasant, soothing burble, and produces torque in big velvety wallops. Just like a good V8 should. It gives the G90 an effortless comportment, an old-school luxury car vibe not felt since Cadillac and Lincoln stopped making big V8 land-barges.
That’s what driving this G90 reminded me of. An old DeVille updated with 2020 tech, power, and engineering.
Where it’s a hundred times better than that old Caddy is the materials and finishes. There’s not much between this and an S-Class. Wood, metal, and leather intertwine finished in various shades of brown with brown stitching and brown switchgear. Even the headliner is finished in, you guessed it, brown. This is Willy Wonka’s chocolate fantasy cabin and from the other available choices (black and beige) it’s the one I’d have.
Twenty-two-position heated and ventilated front seats are so supple and so comfortable that once you sink into them, you might never be able to get up again. Not that you’d want to.
Controls fall readily to hand and the e-shifter is in the shape of a traditional gear lever and it’s wonderfully tactile to use save for the big “P” button to put it into park.
In terms of the full luxury car experience, there’s nothing missing here. That’s the good news. But the better news begins in the back. The G90 is a long-wheelbase car that’s not advertised as such, but it shares the same proportions as the S-Class long-wheelbase. This means that rear passengers are treated to acres of legroom. They’ll also appreciate the yards of leather and all manner of power controls.
Pull down the hefty centre armrest and you’ll be treated to more switchgear than you’ll find on stage with Tiesto. With those buttons, rear-seat passengers can control their own climate, the stereo, and even turn off the driver display if they so wish. Both rear seats are also heated and cooled and are also fully power-adjustable. The one behind the driver moves 12 ways, but the best seat in the house is behind the front passenger. It gets 14-way adjustments and will even move the front seat out of its way to afford the lucky passenger extra room to fully stretch out. Maybe even take a snooze. Sitting back there, I sure wanted to.
Driving the G90 is a very calming experience. Dual-pane acoustic glass, active noise cancellation, and improved insulation isolate passengers from the outside world. Need even more privacy? Integrated power sunshades will see to that.
On the move, wind noise and tire roar are completely absent and the fabulous 17-speaker 900-watt Lexicon stereo can better strut its stuff. It was easily one of the best systems I’ve heard in a car, the type where it can make a song you’ve heard 1000 times before sound new again.
The road with all its scars and potholes disappears underneath you like the G90 is actually a Maglev train levitating just above the road. Ride quality is on par with what you’ll experience in an S-Class or 7-series. I thought the G90 was riding on air springs but the suspension is conventional springs with adaptive dampers that do a shocking job (sorry) of smoothing out the worst winter-damaged asphalt. It’s not horrible in the corners either. Once you get past the weight and the body roll, you’ll find the steering light and precise and able to make this big boat change direction rather quickly for its size.
In keeping with Hyundai tradition the G90 comes as-is. Every single thing is included, even the stately rear thrones. There are no options to speak of and at just under $90,000, the cheapest S-Class is $20,000 more. The 7-Series is even more expensive and if you try to load either of those with a similar level of kit, that price will continue to shoot up into the stratosphere.
Only the beginning
So it’s significantly cheaper and you don’t lose much. So what gives? How are they able to pull this off? For one, even though you can compare a G90 to a Mercedes S-Class, it’s likely not much of a threat. An S-Class is still the more refined automobile. The materials and build are of an even higher quality. And it’s more planted, more stable at higher speeds with that typical German bank-vault solidity that’s absent in the Genesis. Then there are things like heated armrests and massaging seats that cannot be had in the G90 at any price and the infotainment system isn’t nearly as good. You can also customize German saloons to your heart’s desire, and again there’s badge prestige that the Genesis doesn’t have and no amount of money will fix that.
You won’t see many G90s on the road and I suspect that Genesis knows this. But I don’t think the point here is to try and outsell its rivals but rather to showcase what the brand is capable of. They’ve proven, to me at least, that they can build a car that’s as good as what the Germans make, and they haven’t been at it for a hundred years. And now with their new SUV about to hit stores they’re giving the public exactly the vehicle they’re looking for. Genesis is just getting started.