Wind your mental clocks back just over three decades. The year is 1985, Ronald Reagan just began his second term in the White House, and a new Korean car company was selling a Giugiaro-designed hatchback for the low, low price of $4,995.
Americans couldn’t pronounce the name of the brand (Hun-dee? Hi-yun-day? Hoon-dye?). And its little Excel did anything but. The wheezy econobox’s most notable performance credential was the LAPD’s dubious—later retracted—claim that Rodney King was driving one at speeds of 110 to 115 mph.
Fast-forward to the present. How beyond belief is it that that same cheap and cheerful automaker—Hyundai—not only has launched a luxury brand but has also built a better BMW 3 Series fighter right out the gate than the Japanese luxury brands have in numerous attempts?
That car is the Genesis G70, and we have voted it the 2019 MotorTrend Car of the Year. That’s all pretty unthinkable, right? Unthinkable, that is, unless you’ve been paying attention.
Hyundai launched Genesis Motors two years ago with the impressive G90, a full-size luxury machine that humbles cars such as the BMW 7 Series and Lexus LS. However, the G90 doesn’t really do much against the 4,700-pound German silverback in the room—the mighty Mercedes-Benz S-Class. And although the quite-fine Genesis G80 is a capable midsizer, it doesn’t exactly send shivers down the backs of engineers in Stuttgart or Nagoya. It isn’t, as we like to say, a needle mover.
The G70, however, is. The segment the G70 competes in—entry-level compact luxury sport sedans—has long been defined by the BMW 3 Series. However, for the past decade or so, the Bavarian’s claim of supremacy has been in doubt. That has opened the door for a plethora of stellar sedans from half a dozen countries, ranging from Audi to Cadillac to Jaguar to last year’s COTY, the Alfa Romeo Giulia. Despite comparison tests showing BMW is no longer in ascendency, when creating segment benchmarks, automaker product planners still circle back to, “We want to create a 3 Series fighter.”
“What’s remarkable about the Genesis is the Koreans have done what Toyota, Nissan, Honda, and GM have all failed to do: build a legitimate BMW 3 Series competitor,” international bureau chief Angus MacKenzie said.
If Genesis can extend its product line with SUVs similar to the excellent new G70, it stands poised to take over the world of mainstream luxury. Some will focus on the flaws of this first serious effort. But those folks are the ones with their noses up against a tree, missing the whole dang forest.
For now, however, let Genesis Motors bask in the glory of accomplishing the near impossible: It built a better 3 Series. I’ll let Angus summarize: “It hits all the right notes: Punchy powertrains and an agile chassis that’s a ton of fun, sporty exterior styling with strong graphics, and a well-appointed interior. Look out, BMW. It’s the real deal.”