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The 2017 Genesis G90 is a luxury sedan at an incredible bargain

Mack Hogan | CNBC
Key Points
  • The G90 looks and feels like a flagship luxury sedan.
  • This $70,650 Genesis 5.0 Ultimate is an incredible bargain.
  • The only concern is that the G90 may not be enough to boost the Genesis brand.

"Is that a Chrysler?" my friend asks when I pull up in the G90. Hmm, no.

But if you're still asking that question, then Hyundai corporate hasn't done enough to impart the Genesis brand on the American consciousness. Does that mean I have to? Well, they gave me one to test for the week, so I suppose it's the least I could do.

Look at the promo material for the brand, and you won't be surprised that it hasn't become a household brand. It says Genesis is a brand that focuses on "'human-centered' luxury through a range of new models that feature the highest standards of performance, design and innovation."

What does that mean? Nothing.

So I've taken it into my own hands to create a definition of the brand. Genesis, at its core, is the final step in Hyundai's transition from a low-rent, back-of-the-Hertz-lot Korean import to a full-fledged, full-line carmaker. It's the first time that the Koreans have split their luxurious aspirations into a separate brand.

Tell someone this at a party, though, and you'll come off as a bore. So make it quick and tell them it's Hyundai's version of Lexus. If done right, a flagship like the G90 can catapult a brand into relevance. If done wrong, it can mean doom. Let's find out whether the folks at Genesis have sealed their own fate.

Exterior: Smart and distinct, with a lame badge

Mack Hogan | CNBC

I don't think it helps that Hyundai launched the brand from two models already in it's lineup. The Hyundai Genesis became the Genesis G80, and the Hyundai Equus became this, the G90.

The G90 got a major refresh so that it looks like the old Genesis. The old one didn't get much of a makeover, so it looks the same. You have two models that look almost identical.

Confused yet?

Well, get over it, because it doesn't matter. This car is gorgeous. You can call it derivative, but it has a unique style that looks smart and elegant. It has presence, which is a difficult target to hit. Even established players with cars that cost six figures sometimes lack that visual magnitude, so a $70,650 G90 Ultimate pulling it off is impressive.

The main issue with the exterior is the badge, which looks enough like a Chrysler emblem to throw off the average passerby or, as I found, my friend.

Interior: Genesis finally gets it

Mack Hogan | CNBC

This is where the illusion usually falls apart when a nonpremium automaker tries to make a premium product. The car looks classy, the option sheet stretches into the ionosphere and its engine suits the job well enough. But tug on the door handle and you'll immediately feel the hollow roots of a car not built for the big leagues.

Not so in the G90. The interior looks like a modern Lexus, which I love, without the fussy Lexus infotainment system, which I hate. It has a unique look but Genesis definitely borrowed some inspiration from other automakers. You can't really make an interior look that different without compromising its usability.

Mack Hogan | CNBC

Good on Genesis for that, as the layout makes everything simple to use. There are enough tactile buttons to do most of your core functions, with a BMW iDrive-like controller for everything else. There are some minor nuisances. To hide the fact that it's slow to connect to Bluetooth, the Genesis always starts with radio playing even if you were streaming from your phone. This gets extremely annoying after a few days, and if you're like me, you start using the radio instead just to save yourself the annoyance.

There's also no Android Auto, but to be honest I think I prefer the Genesis UI to that anyway. Finally, material quality isn't up to German levels. Accents that look like metal are often plastic, and the wood isn't nearly as nice as what you'll get from Mercedes or Audi. Pricing also isn't up to German levels, so that may be a wash.

Driving Experience: Your car awaits, sir

Mack Hogan | CNBC

The best experience is reserved for backseat passengers. On this "Ultimate" trim, you get reclining rear buckets with a full suite of climate, audio and position controls in the center console. The passenger-side rear seat also has the option of sliding the passenger seat out of the way, allowing the rider to extend his or her legs even further.

You won't find better backseat thrones in anything but flagship luxury cars that often hang out around the $100,000 mark or much more. For $70,000, the backseat is exceptional. Move to the front though, and you're unlikely to be blown away.

Mack Hogan | CNBC

Power from the 5.0-liter V-8 is ample, and steering is predictably average. The ride is soft, but there's a minor tremble that comes from the rear axle at speed that makes the car feel nervous. It's quiet inside, but not underground-bunker quiet. It handles competently, even if the tires love to scream when you take a corner with any verve. The self-driving feature is solid, but nothing better than anyone else's.

Unless you're in the back, it's a completely average driving experience. For most people, it's absolutely good enough and won't distract you from the rest of the package. But for $70,000, I'd expect a bit more.

Value: Perfect score

Mack Hogan | CNBC

The Genesis has yet to earn a perfect 5 in any category. It's inherently compromised, with less impressive driving dynamics and materials than its competition. It may be hard to imagine why you'd want one, even if it's a bit cheaper. The good news is it's not just a "bit" cheaper.

It's absurdly inexpensive. This $70,650 Genesis 5.0 Ultimate has every option besides AWD, which can be had for $2,500 more. Despite this, I've driven 7-Series BMWs that have less equipment than this and cost $20,000 more. Sure, they likely have better ride and more power, but most people don't notice these things.

Mack Hogan | CNBC

Compare the G90 to the 5 series that I reviewed. The G90 is a full class larger than the 5er, has more power, more torque, more cylinders and the same number of driven wheels. All four outboard seats are heated and cooled, while the 5-series lacks even front-seat heating. They're both equipped with semi-autonomous tech, they both have 360-degree cameras and they both ride on adjustable suspension. Despite all of this, the G90 costs $3,000 less than a BMW a full class below it. It's an unbelievable bargain.

Final Thoughts: It's great, but is it enough?

Mack Hogan | CNBC

I'm a detail freak, and I noticed the minute ways where Genesis cut costs to deliver this product at this price. But for most of my stewardship, the G90 just felt like a flagship luxury sedan.

While it may not have ever come off as class-leading, it certainly never felt like a knockoff or a store-brand solution. It felt like an honest-to-God luxury car, and a great one at that.

Mack Hogan | CNBC

I'd certainly recommend one, but my only concern is that the G90 may not be enough. To launch a brand, you need something that grabs headlines and slays kings. It needs to deliver 100 percent of the luxury experience, not 95 percent, and do it on a budget. It needs to be cool, something you'd talk about at cocktail shindigs. I don't think the G90 is that car. While I think it's a lovely machine, I worry it may not do what Genesis needs it to.

Exterior: 4
Interior: 4.5
Driving Experience: 2.5
Value: 5
Overall: 4

Price as configured: $70,650

Mack Hogan | CNBC
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