Hard to believe, but the 260hp Hyundai Genesis Coupe traces its lineage (sort of) to a humble little two-door back in the early '90s. Its four-cylinder engine made all of 140hp, and it had the rather optimistic moniker of "Tiburon" (Spanish for "shark") in other markets. By all accounts, the little shark acquitted itself well against other entry-level "sporty" coupes like the Ford Probe and the non-aspirated Mitsubishi Eclipse, but nobody back then could have imagined that the sporty coupe from South Korea would eventually mature into a bona fide predator.
Actually, that's not quite bang-on. Hyundai stopped production of the Coupe in 2008 and disavowed any connection to it when the Genesis Coupe first reached US dealerships a year later.
The Tiburon was front-wheel-drive, while the Genesis Coupe is rear-wheel-drive. And having two all-new engine options--turbo 4 or naturally aspirated V6--meant it was aiming higher up the food chain, a territory traditionally ruled by V6 models of the Ford Mustang and the Chevrolet Camaro. An all-new design, this was Hyundai pressing the reset button in its sports-car portfolio, and it did a very good job. The new coupe may have shared not even a single bolt with the old car, but lessons learned with the Tiburon through the years undoubtedly influenced the engineering of the Genesis Coupe. (Note: Apparently realizing there was still a market for an FF coupe, Hyundai subsequently came out with the three-door Veloster in 2011.)
Isn't progress wonderful? Now in its midlife, the current Genesis Coupe underwent a facelift last year that bestowed upon it an angrier, snarlier face, a retuned suspension, and some other refinements to make it a sports car you can either take as is or modified with all sort of Vin Diesel upgrades. In any case, this is a serious sports car now, and it takes an experienced driver to get the most out of the package.
There's only minimal turbo lag with the 2.0-liter, and it spools up quickly and with a visceral whine that complements the combustion noises happening behind the firewall. If you like a more refined burble, get the V6. But if you like your sports car sounding hot and heavy all the time, the 2.0T is your kind of beast. Outfitted with the Track package--consisting of firmer shocks, 19-inch tires, and Brembo brakes--the Genesis Coupe can be a bit of a handful on public roads but quickly comes alive when the road opens up.
Operating the heavy-duty, dry-sump clutch takes some time to get right, and the six-speed stick feels sturdy but could feel a tad more precise. The driver's bucket seat is shaped like a Recaro, bolstered in all the right places to hold you snug in the corners, and you get good sightlines all around except for directly behind where the rear wing bisects the view. Pumping the Brembos inspires confidence as they exhibit very little discernible fade and have lots of stopping power to save yourself from stuffing it all up. Although the suspension is decidedly firm, Hyundai has done a nice job of tuning the damping so high frequency micro-bumps are filtered through. It's stiff, but not so harsh that your back will be aching to get you out of the car after a few hours. I got stuck in traffic for three hours and didn't have any problems sitting in the car for that long--aside from the boredom, of course.
Predictably, the car handles like a solid, rear-drive machine with minimal body roll and dive, and progressive understeer that you can induce into power oversteer with a healthy dab of throttle if the corner is tight enough and if the stability control is off. High-speed stability is also a strong suit with the car tracking reliably even on relatively poor or bumpy surfaces. The only thing you'll get tired of is the drone of the engine, which isn't nearly as nice to listen to at a constant engine speed as the 3.8-liter V6. A big flywheel also means revs climb up the tach resolutely rather than race car-quick, and then tend to hang an extra half-second as you upshift.
As viscerally satisfying as the Genesis Coupe is, what's more remarkable is how it feels like a real car you could drive every day; it's not something you'd keep in the garage and only take out on Sundays. Two Asian-size adults can fit in the two-place backseat with minimal complaints; the luggage area is decent for a couple of soft bags; and interior fit-and-finish is on a par with Hyundai's impressive Sonata. Ingress and egress from the front seats are only a little harder than getting into an Elantra, thanks to the wide door openings. Perhaps it's even a little too civilized. If you were blindfolded, placed in the front seat, then had the blindfold removed, you'd be forgiven for thinking you were in an Elantra and not an out-and-out sports car. Only the center stack gives a clue as to the car's orientation, with gauges for oil pressure, boost and acceleration.
Whereas the Toyota 86 cockpit feels shrink-wrapped around the driver (for better or worse), the Genesis Coupe feels expansive by comparison. If you are, ah, less than svelte or trim, you won't have a problem getting some breathing space in this car.
Some other minor quibbles, too, may detract from the car's overall appeal. The hood scoops actually aren't, as they're just cosmetic blanks to add some flair. And as fierce as the Genesis Coupe's face may be, it doesn't quite have the cohesive sensuality of the 86.
Still, it's hard to argue in the face of such a dynamically exciting package. It's not the most subtle approach to making a sports coupe, but you'd be hard pressed to find another car at this price point with so much performance right off the showroom floor.
Photos by Andy Leuterio