In tough economic times, large premium cars aren't big sellers.
But Hyundai is undeterred. The South Korea-based company is upgrading its 3-year-old, rear-wheel drive Genesis sedan with a new model that has Hyundai's most powerful engine _ a 5-liter, direct-injection V-8 generating 429 horsepower.
The 2012 Genesis 5.0 R-Spec also comes with a new, eight-speed automatic transmission, stylish light-emitting diode headlight trim, big, 19-inch wheels and sport-tuned suspension.
All this, plus heated front and rear seats, navigation system with sizable, 8-inch display, rearview camera, power rear sunshade, standard lane departure warning system to help keep drivers in their lanes, 10 years/100,000-mile warranty coverage on the powertrain, five-years/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper coverage, and wealth of other standard features, comes at a base retail price of $47,350.
The value price compares with the $57,975 for a base, 2011 Mercedes E550 with lower-power, 382-horsepower V-8 and no navigation system, rearview camera, power rear sunshade or lane departure system. The E550 also is smaller than the Genesis.
Another competitor, the 2011 BMW 750i sedan that's some 3 inches longer than the Genesis, has a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge and federal government-mandated gas guzzler tax, of $86,175 with a 400-horsepower V-8.
The touted highlight of the R-Spec is the engine, which is used in only one other Hyundai sold here _ the flagship Equus.
But the real story is how this newest model doesn't mess up an already comfortable, roomy sedan.
Auto enthusiast magazines knock the R-Spec for not really being sporty, and I agree the name R-Spec triggers expectations that this car doesn't meet. But I like that the R-Spec retains Hyundai's usual "pack-everything-inside-for-a-value-price" character while not adding harshness or cheap, boy-racer customized looks.
As an example, the R-Spec's suspension tweaks for sportiness _ the rear stabilizer bar now is 19 millimeter in diameter, up from 18 millimeters, for example _ are mild.
Yes, this Genesis rides better, with a more even, solid feel than the earlier Genesis cars. The test R-Spec moved over road bumps competently, not with any fuss or unsettled jarring.
But anyone expecting the R-Spec to have an overtly firm, taut ride like a BMW or twitchy steering like a Porsche will be disappointed. And, at some 4,100-plus pounds, the R-Spec four-door also doesn't feel as ponderous as some German competitors.
On the outside, there's not a lot to differentiate the R-Spec from other already attractive Genesis sedans. The biggest change is special, 19-inch wheels that are less sparkly than those that come with lesser Genesis models, which have maximum 18-inch wheels and tires.
The R-Spec comes standard with those LED trim lights by the headlights, which add a jeweled look to the front but are a rip-off of Audi's LED-headlight styling.
Actually, you can find many things on the R-Spec that remind you of pricier German luxury sedans. The front end, even though it's subtly freshened on all Genesis cars for 2012, looks a lot like the front of a Mercedes. The electroluminescent gauges in the instrument cluster are similar looking to those in a Lexus, and the thick, cut-pile carpeting could rival that in an Audi.
The interior remains quiet, with engine sounds from the 5-liter, double overhead cam, direct-injection V-8 not growing to anywhere near a roar or growl even when a driver puts pedal to the metal.
Power was smoothly delivered in the test R-Spec. The considerable 376 foot-pounds of torque came on by 5,000 rpm, and 0-to-60-miles-an-hour times peg the performance at a strong 5.3 seconds. A new, eight-speed, automatic transmission that's in all 2012 Genesis models manages power well while aiding fuel mileage.
But premium fuel is needed for peak performance, and with a big, 20.3-gallon gasoline tank, the R-Spec will drain the wallet by some $80 for a fill-up, at today's prices.
I managed about 18 miles per gallon in combined city/highway driving, which is less than the federal government's combined rating of 19 mpg. The R-Spec has the lowest fuel economy rating of all Genesis models _ 16 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway.
But this isn't out of line with other premium large cars with V-8s.
There's no major change in the car's interior. Thankfully, the R-Spec doesn't come with form-fitting, sport seats in front. Rather, the wide, premium leather-trimmed seats from other Genesis cars remain and fit just about everyone, though a bit more firmness and support in the cushions would be nice.
The back seat's 38.6 inches of legroom and 37.7 inches of headroom were comfortable for me and another passenger, but watch out for the hump in the middle of the rear floor. The back seats are heated.
Large buttons and other controls on the dashboard are easy to understand, windows on the doors are sizable, and I liked the soothing blue lighting for the window buttons and many other controls.
Many luxury brands offer lane departure warning systems and monitored cruise control. But they are often options. In the R-Spec, they are standard equipment, along with front head restraints that electronically position themselves to reduce and prevent whiplash injuries in a rear-end crash.
Not much is missing from the Genesis R-Spec. The spare tire is a compact, not full-size. An iPod cable is an extra $35. There's no all-wheel drive, and trunk space of 15.9 cubic feet is smaller than expected in a large car.