Not content with selling gazillions of well-built, affordable, mainstream cars, Hyundai is targeting the juicier profits enjoyed by BMW, Audi, Merc et al with a standalone premium brand of its own – Genesis – launched a little over two years ago.
Trouble is, while Genesis’s efforts to date have all sold well (by offering luxury for less), they’ve also taken the form of rather uninspiring executive saloons. Enter the Essentia concept, revealed at the New York Motor Show, to right said wrong.
If you’re not purring involuntarily or dribbling onto your keyboard about now, you might want to clean your glasses, because startled front grille aside, this is a remarkable design U-turn.
If you want to infuse your premium brand with desirability, a sportscar is what’s required (see Jaguar and the F-Type), but the Essentia goes one step further by showing Genesis can go toe-to-toe with the big boys not just in terms of swoopy lines and excitement, but future-proof tech, too.
But why are we surprised? The names behind the Essentia include brand boss Manfred Fitzgerald (former director of brand and design at Lamborghini), design boss Luc Donckerwolke (former design director of Bentley, Lambo and Audi) and the man in charge of all Hyundai’s performance vehicles, Albert Biermann (former head of BMW’s M division). Strong squad.
We sit down with Fitzgerald. He’s an impressive bloke… it’s easy to see why he was offered the plum job: “I was given the task of positioning the Lamborghini brand back in 1999, just after Audi acquired it in 1998. That’s where Luc Donckerwolke and I met. In 1999 the brand was nowhere; bringing it up and positioning it where it is now was quite exciting, and qualified me for this, to bring this new Genesis brand to life.
“I think the need for this type of car is pretty self-explanatory. We rolled this brand out and with the G90, G80 and now the G70 – for me, those are the basics, the fundamentals. But we need an emotional component, and a two-door GT car is the most exciting product you can do. This is our take on what the future will hold, and our interpretation of a GT car for the 21st century.”
Back to the car, a 2+2 all-electric GT with a fully transparent Zagato-style double-bubble canopy and bonnet (exposing the beautiful in-board pushrod suspension) and proportions to die for.
No corners have been cut in the pursuit of performance credibility – there’s a full carbonfibre monocoque chassis, carbonfibre body panels and a battery pack not spread thinly under the floor like a Jaguar I-Pace or Tesla, but crammed into a central spine to allow the seating position and roof to be set as low as possible.
That’s great and all, but will any of this make it past the accounts department? “Should the company green-light this product, which I truly hope it will, most of what you see on the car will be feasible,” says Fitzgerald. “How long will you have to wait? Well, let’s see what happens after the show…”
Genesis claims a theoretical 0–100km/h in 3.0 seconds, but no word on power yet, only that the batteries are “high density” and the electric motors “multiple”. Solid-state cells and four-wheel drive is as good a guess as any at this stage. “Why an EV?” we ask Fitzgerald. “I don’t think it’s anything new that in one shape or another electrification will come. It’s just a matter of how soon.”
Aero hasn’t been ignored, either, with intakes either side of the unnervingly mouth-like grille smoothing air flow around the front corners – a journey mimicked by the two-stripe Genesis Quad headlights bending around and past the front wheels. At the rear, a proper diffuser sits below the digitised Genesis badge.
And the theatre goes on. McLaren 720S-style butterfly doors that take a section of roof with them are activated by a sensor in the B-pillar, with both fingerprint and facial recognition. It can also converse with your smart home systems, to turn on lights when you arrive home or turn the boot into a safe haven for package deliveries if you’re out.
Inside, it’s a mix of minimalism and high fashion, with screens instead of buttons and an eye-popping combo of cognac leather seats with herringbone quilting, oxford blue leather on the centre console and back seats, blue velvet for the headliner and intricate 3D-printed weblike patterns on the sills and doors.
It’s ambitious stuff, but as Fitzgerald explains, he doesn’t see his company having to play catch up – in fact, he’s holding the cards: “Our advantage is that we have a clean sheet of paper. The incumbent players are pretty much in a corner, which they have positioned themselves in for good or bad, but it’s not easy to come out of that corner. We don’t have that; we don’t have any baggage to carry around. We can tap into the resources of the mother company when we need it, but just concentrate on making quality, desirable products.”
Hyundai isn’t mucking about here: six new Genesis models will launch by 2021, three of them are sedans we’ve already seen. That leaves three more – we suggest a pair of SUVs and a production version of the Essentia would give him a nice spread. He pauses and smiles, “I’ll leave that one open.”
STORY Jack Rix
PHOTOS Alex Howe