In the late 80s and in the entire 1990s, Hyundai locally was considered to be the equivalent of a sports league's bottom trawler, a mere afterthought in an industry then dominated by US, German, and Japanese marques. A radical attempt to change its image from market afterthought to second or third tier option began by the start of the 21st century, and by 2005 Hyundai was starting to show increased improvement in certain segments. By 2008's end almost all arenas had representation by the Korean company, save for the sports coupe section. Yes, there was the Hyundai Tiburon/Hyundai Coupe, but the manufacturer decided to give the said sector a new genesis, one that would change Hyundai's image forever.
That beginning - known specifically as the Genesis Coupe - officially arrived in the country last month, and showed pundits, motoring journalists and motorists that the automaker's zeal to make itself a world class brand has apparently reached its zenith.
And Hyundai showed that it was good.
The Genesis Coupe is light years better than its Tiburon/Coupe forebears, especially when you drive it. You get into the powerband at an amazingly low 2,100 rpm, and by 4,000 rpm onwards the throaty growl from the twin exhausts becomes a loud, deep-from-the belly roar. It's probably close to the soundtrack of a 1989-1996 Nissan 300ZX when you stomp the throttle, only that the Z's 3.0L uses two turbos to reach its 300 hp and 383 NM of torque. In contrast the Genesis Coupe has 800 cc more of displacement and needs no forced induction method to reach its power stats. Incidentally, Hyundai claims that the Genesis Coupe's benchmark is also a Nissan product - the wildly popular US-market Infiniti G37 coupe.
Although there's a manual transmission variant, the unit supplied for this test drive was a five speed slushbox, with a sequential manual mode. However, it's best to use the default "(D)rive" setting for best acceleration results, as the a/t's manual mode gear indicator and the gear ratio actually used don't match. Occasionally there will be a slight delay in gear movement using the sequential approach, but the tranny is willing to downshift at half throttle effort. The wide low end kick manages to overcome the a/t's quirks, and helps in delivering a 0-100 kph run in 6.4 seconds.
When it comes to roadholding, the Genesis Coupe has a long way to go before it can claim dominion over its rivals in the sport coupe segment. Traction breaks at 145 kph, but there's a dint of skittishness in lateral motion. Initial turn-in is more biased towards understeer, but once the nose passes the apex the rear tends to fishtail, needing doses of opposite lock. Given the front engine/rear wheel drive setup of the coupe and a Torsen limited slip differential, there's plenty of potential for drifting. The steering tends to be twitchy on medium to hard turns, and you find yourself sawing at the wheel a lot to get the line right. The ride is a bit stiff due to the 19-inch rim/tire combo - 8.0J x 19" Hyper Silver alloy and Bridgestone Potenza RE050A 225/40s (front), 8.5J x 19" Hyper Silver alloy and Bridgestone Potenza RE050A 245/40s (rear) - but not as bad as that of the E60 BMW M5 or pre-dual clutch, 997 chassis Porsche 911 Carrera models.
Much like any coupe, the Genesis' safety system is topnotch. It's got parking sensors, and it's a good thing since rearward visibility from the electro-chromed rearview mirror is limited. It's not Mazda MX-5 small, but rearward visibility be compared to the first generation Audi TT Coupe. Exterior lighting is bright, and the handbrake requires a 10-degree pull for decent bite. The foglight button under the leftmost aircon vent is hard to reach, since it's parallel to the driver's lower ribcage. Far better for the foglight on/off feature to be located on the turn signal/headlight on-off stalk on the left side of the steering column, similar to most Japanese vehicles. Most importantly, the stoppers grip when you need them, but the middle pedal feels a little soft. The good news is that you can get a Brembo brake setup fitted unto the rims as an option. This writer, though, feels that the Brembo brakes should come standard, given the Genesis Coupe's sideways performance.
Whether in motion or at rest, the car's exterior and interior have immense "wow" factor. The front and rear profiles are similar to the aforementioned G37. To this writer the front fascia has a Cheshire grin to it, as if to convey that Hyundai - and the Genesis Coupe - is no longer a figure of fun and must be taken seriously. On the other hand, the cabin evokes spaciousness and has a dint of luxury, as observed by myriad features - including a push button ignition, a one touch forward/backward motion sunroof, iPod/external MP3 player/Bluetooth capable audio entertainment (with decent sound to match), supportive leather seats and a suppository for the key fob to be placed (aside from the cupholders behind the a/t stick) so that you don't lose the fob within the cabin. The aforementioned cupholders can accommodate even a one liter bottle, and the center console swallows three to four paperback books stacked side by side and upright. There's also a proper trunk, and it can fit a golf bag and a large duffel bag. However, given the unusual aperture design of the trunk cavity, tossing in the aforementioned luggage or its equivalent (plus additional small items) requires some brain cell stimulation. There are other interior quirks too - small gauge cluster fonts/indicators, small menu screens within the upper middle dashboard and between the speedometer and rev counter, and a steering wheel design that looks like it was borrowed from its i30 relative. Oh, and since it's a coupe, you can forget about tossing in an adult or two in the rear; the back cabin section is just good for cargo and kids.
Then there's the price. At P 1.85 million, it's significantly cheaper than a Mazda MX-5 (Php 2 million) and a Subaru Impreza STi (Php 2.398 million), plus it has two more pistons and more than a liter of displacement to boot. The Mitsubishi Eclipse might present a good case for itself - since it also has a 3.8L V6 engine - but it's P650,000 dearer and is only front wheel drive. The Volvo C30 can also present a good option to its Hyundai counterpart, since its base model variant is Php 1.688 million (with a 2.4 inline five pot), and a range topper that's Php 2.188 million (and has a 2.5 inline five piston turbo). However, the C30 feels claustrophobic inside, and the rear styling leaves something to be desired.
The Genesis Coupe heralds a new chapter in the book of Hyundai, one where its past is left behind big time and its future becomes as bright as the midday sun.