Genesis still a value among luxury sedans

— -- The Genesis sedan, launched in June 2008 as a 2009 model, proved that value-oriented automaker Hyundai could craft a premium sedan to rival pure luxury brands.

Exactly three years later, the 2012 version of the Genesis sedan went on sale in June with notable updates to the exterior and under the hood.

Updates to the Genesis coupe that followed the sedan are "in the pipeline," Hyundai says.

The sedan's cosmetic changes include new window trim and rocker panels and modified front and rear ends with new lighting.

More meaty: drivetrain changes that include adding direct injection to the base V-6, giving it V-8-like power. Also a rambunctious new 5-liter, 429-horsepower V-8 with direct injection.

The 5-liter powers a new top-of-the-line R-Spec model with some heavily sporting features.

The 4.6-liter V-8 continues in the middle-of-the-line model, and it has the advantage of delivering more power when you burn premium, yet runs just fine on regular. But it doesn't use direct injection (which precisely squirts fuel directly into the cylinder), so these days it can be considered an older-technology engine.

All engines are mated to a Hyundai-designed eight-speed automatic.

The test cars were a well-optioned 3.8-liter V-6 model and the new R-Spec 5-liter.

Quickie: R-Spec seems too firm to be lux, too soft to be sporting. Specifically, the steering is heavy, the ride nearly harsh. And the suspension has a sloppy feel in quick maneuvers. It's confused, and not a good representation of either the silk-stocking or lead-foot intentions of the brand.

Most miles were accumulated in the more pleasant 3.8-liter version. Generally, it is smooth, inviting and quite luxurious in feel and persona.

The (optional) scrumptious leather upholstery and the classy leather panels on the dashboard were eye-candy and pleasing to the touch.

Based on these attributes, it's a car you should consider if you're in this price and size class.

However, there are ways in which the new Genesis isn't just-so:

•Jiggly ride. Bumpy, busy, but possibly because the test car was shod with optional 235-50Rx18-inch-diameter tires. The standard 225-55Rx17s would have a bit more "give" in the sidewalls and thus soak up bumps better. Yes, that's at the cost of some handling crispness, but Genesis is supposed to be luxurious more than sporty, and it's sporty enough even so.

•Awkward screen controls. We lament moving away from buttons and switches for each function, even when it means a lot of individual controls. Screen-based controls just aren't as elegant or easy or sensible.

Here's an example from Genesis: If you have the XM Satellite Radio screen displayed, you must joggle sideways on the central control knob on the console, then rotate it to get to your station presets. Six or eight electromechanical radio preset buttons on the center of the dashboard would be better. Just push 'em.

Steering-wheel controls give you some shortcuts, but you can't do as much with them as with the main control.

•Tricky climate control. Too cool or too warm in the 3.8-liter test car. Especially troublesome when trying to defog the windshield on rainy or humid days in the 70s. Almost always creates a strip of fog along the bottom of the windshield.

•Lazy trunk lid. Doesn't pop wide open when you hit the unlatch button on the remote. Gives you a tiny space under the edge to slide in a finger and lift the lid. No good when both hands are full of groceries, luggage, Little League gear, etc.

•Superfluous tech. The so-called smart cruise control (keeps you a certain distance from the car ahead, putting you at the mercy of the slowpoke and the lane jumper) and the lane-departure warning — both available on most premium vehicles, not just Genesis — continue to seem more like gadgetry than gift.

•Off-putting price. At the starting price of about $35,000, the V-6 Genesis seems quite appealing. But lard on the options — many of which you'd want — and the V-6 test car's $44,000 sticker isn't such a no-brainer.

Most of the options become standard features if you get a V-8 model, which starts at $45,250 with shipping for the 4.6-liter. So if the extra power of the V-8 is worth a little money to you, figure you're also getting a lavishly furnished car as part of the bargain — even if perhaps you don't want the high-intensity discharge headlights, stiffer-sidewall tires, smart cruise control and so forth.

Overall, the Genesis continues to look, feel and perform like a car priced at least $10,000 more, so perhaps the gripes fade to gray when you consider that.

About the 2012 Hyundai Genesis

•What? Styling, drivetrain and chassis updates to the Genesis — a full-size, four-door, rear-drive premium sedan.

•When? On sale since June.

•Where? Made in South Korea almost entirely from Korean parts.

•How much? 3.8-liter V-6, the model most people will buy, starts at $35,050, including $850 shipping. 4.6-liter V-8 starts at $45,3850. 5-liter V-8 R-Spec, $47,350.

•Instead of what? Hyundai sees rivals as the Lexus GS 460, Infiniti M56, Mercedes-Benz E550.

•What makes it go? 3.8-liter V-6 with direct injection rated 333 horsepower at 6,400 rpm, 291 pounds-feet of torque at 5,100. 4.6-liter V-8 rated 378 hp at 6,500 rpm, 324 lbs.-ft. at 3,500 (regular fuel), or 385 hp, 333 lbs.-ft. (premium). 5-liter V-8 rated 429 hp at 6,400, 376 lbs.-ft., at 5,000.

All are mated to eight-speed automatic transmissions.

•How big? 196.3 inches long, 74.7 in. wide, 58.1 in. tall on 115.6-in. wheelbase. Weighs 3,824 to 4,132 lbs. depending on engine and equipment.

Passenger space, 109.4 cu. ft.; trunk, 15.9 cu. ft.

Turns in 36 ft.

•How thirsty? V-6 rated 19 miles per gallon in town, 29 highway, 22 in combined driving. 4.6- and 5-liter V-8s: 17/26/20.

V-6 test car registered 16.1 mpg (6.21 gallons per 100 miles) in suburbs.

Tank holds 19.3 gallons (V-6) or 20.3 gal. (V-8s).

•Overall: You gotta love this democratization of luxury.