Growing up, my Sundays were spectacularly dull. Filled with thrills like wriggling in a church pew, monotonous chores, and burying my nose in AP textbooks. The latter half of my weekends scarcely warranted anticipation. Monday mornings were an ironic relief from the tedium.
So for me, Hyundai’s 2009 Super Bowl ad struck a personal chord. “Hyundai. Like Sunday,” it boldly stated, after their flagship sedan-the Genesis-had won the North American Car of the Year award.
I agreed with them, but not in a way their marketing team intended. Hyundais back then did echo my Sundays-dull and tedious.
In fact, many professional car pundits were surprised by the Genesis’ victory.
That’s not to say Hyundai’s historically made bad cars. The South Korean automaker stands on a lesser-known reputation of dependability, safety, and sensibility. But the lack of a soul has long plagued their fleet.
If cars had parties, Lexus and Mercedes would take selfies together, Dodge would challenge Chevy to a push-up contest, and Hyundai would sit in the corner in a beige sweater vest, playing with the dog.
But as Buick and Kia have showed us in the past decade, it’s never too late for an automaker to find their stride and become worth talking about. Much to the automotive world’s excitement last year, Hyundai finally announced their plans to inject some much-needed personality into their cars.
I wondered-will 2017 be the first year I wholeheartedly recommend a Hyundai?
No. It’s the year I recommend two, and that’s just so far.
The first I tested was the 2017 Elantra, an exciting refresh, bearing fangs on its grill, as if to growl at the competing Civic and Corolla.
Inside, Hyundai has wisely ditched the LCD-overdose you get in other Eastern cars for a much simpler, VW-esque look. The Elantra’s interior feels neither cheap nor luxurious; just sleek and practical.
Plus, you can load this car with options without touching $25k. Power seats, CarPlay, blind-spot monitors, visual upgrades, and a dose of leather all come standard in the $22,350 Limited Trim. Toss in premium audio, a power sunroof and a few other goodies for another $2,500 in the Tech Package, and you’ll still save a couple grand over a similarly-loaded Mazda3 or Civic.
Blessedly, the new Elantra is also a blast to drive. The improved suspension confidently gobbles corners while the low-end torque from the turbo-four makes the 8-second 0-60 time feel much shorter.
I used to let out a sad sigh when I saw a lone Elantra awaiting me in the rental lot. Now, I’d happily dive into one.
2017 Santa Fe
This is Hyundai’s mid-sized SUV. While the family hauler didn’t receive a head-to-toe makeover like the Elantra, Hyundai stayed true to last year’s promise by taking several leaps in the right direction.
The ’17 ‘Fe receives a holistic visual upgrade over its predecessor, and Hyundai’s slick 7″ infotainment system comes standard. Multiple drive modes allow better connection with the potent V6 engine, and comfy captain’s chairs in the second row give this SUV more breathing room than the tighter Mazda CX-9.
But the new Santa Fe sees its most significant upgrade in safety. Between 2016 and 2017, the base Santa Fe leapt from a 9.0 safety rating to a 9.7. The SE Ultimate trim adds even more safety tech, such as blind-spot monitors and lane departure warning, for under $39k. An equally-safe Honda Pilot Touring will set you back $2,000 more.
In a year, the Elantra and Santa Fe have gone from “blah” and “meh” to “sleek” and “safe.”
2017 Genesis: Should it really be ‘Car of the Year’?
At first glance, the Genesis G80 checks many of the boxes required for the “luxury” label-a gaping chrome mouth, a lavish interior, over 300 horsepower, power and leather everything, and the looks to fit in at the country club. Ride quality checks out, as the suspension gracefully glides over potholes, and gear shifts are buttery smooth.
How, then, are Genesis’ selling for $10,000 less than the closest competition?
The mystery ended when I took my first hard corner and let out an audible “ah…” This fancy Hyundai handles quite un-athletically. At nearly two and a half tons with a chunky driver, the Genesis clearly needs to shed its love handles before going toe-to-toe with anything from Germany.
So while I can’t recommend a Genesis yet (maybe next year’s Sport model will sway me), I’m thrilled for Hyundai’s new direction. They’ve clearly shed the beige sweater vest and are producing cars worth talking about.
Hyundai is working its way up in the automotive world, while still charging less than their competition.
Today, Hyundai is less like Sunday and more like Thursday-able to provide some fun, with an air of anticipation.