South Korea’s flagship sedan finally has the presence it deserves

For 2020, Genesis has performed a styling update that makes the 2020 Genesis G90 look a decade newer than last year’s model. The new design, along with some other updates, make the G90 more worthy of its flagship status. Still, this is a Korean car with a base price of $72,200 — a combination that’s going to be a tough sell regardless of the vehicle’s merits, and despite the fact that its closest competitors are even more expensive. What does Genesis do to earn these big bucks? We spent a week in a top-of-the-line G90 5.0 Ultimate to find out.

2020 Genesis G90 - Driven Exterior
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When Hyundai created its Genesis luxury division in 2017, it introduced a traditional full-size sedan as its flagship vehicle. The 2017 Genesis G90 had rear-wheel-drive and an available V-8 engine. It was 205 inches long, longer than a Cadillac Escalade SUV. It featured many high-end interior materials, tons of luxury features, and an extra-quiet ride to justify its $70,000 price tag — which was already significantly lower than European competitors. In theory, this was a fantastic luxury conveyance, especially if you’re being chauffeured in the back: an eight-tenths ultra-luxury sedan for perhaps seven-tenths of the price.

But the 2017 G90 had a problem: It was dull. Its massive size and upright shape meant it wouldn’t go unnoticed; huge sedans are rare today. But nor did it announce itself. Its cautiously curved headlights and taillights could have come from a subcompact Hyundai Accent.

Defenders argued that this conservative design made the G90 perfect for buyers who wanted luxury without showing off, but its sheer size and lavish cabin appointments seemed to call that into question.

2020 GENESIS G90 - EXTERIOR

2020 Genesis G90 - Driven Exterior
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Genesis scrapped nearly every exterior body panel for the G90’s mid-cycle refresh. Good riddance.

The overhauled 2020 G90 remains stately and conservative, not aggressively modern like the latest Lexus LS. But its details now complement the strength of its big, blocky shape. Say goodbye to the apologetically rounded headlights, the ones that drifted upward toward the windshield like you’d find in an economy car. Genesis brought the headlights lower and made them more rectangular, and — as an added flourish — bisected them with a horizontal LED strip. It replaced the old model’s generic chrome grille with an intricately honeycombed inverted pentagon. The big grille and the new wheel design edge toward bling, but we’d say they stay on the right side of tasteful.

2020 Genesis G90 - Driven Exterior
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Around back, meanwhile, an illuminated lightbar runs between the two taillights, which are now horizontally oriented instead of last year’s vertical ones. Genesis can’t be accused of poaching this design from a competitor, and the look works from most angles. Dead-on from the rear, though, the Genesis looks narrower than it is, so you wouldn’t take it for a full-size flagship. The front end would also look even better stretched across a wider, more imposing body, but that would be purely a cosmetic benefit; there’s no functional need for the G90 to get any bigger.

Genesis G90 exterior dimensions
Length 204.9 in.
Width 75.4 in. (without mirrors)
Height 58.9 in.
Wheelbase 124.4 in.

2020 GENESIS G90 - INTERIOR

2020 Genesis G90 - Driven Interior
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Inside, the G90 is a mixed bag, at least for a $70,000-plus automobile. That is to say, it’s splendid by most standards, and downright breathtaking in others, but it leaves some room for improvement given the price.

The dashboard is elegant yet user-friendly, a tough combination to pull off. New open-pore wood trim removes the overly glossy feel of last year’s G90, and it liberally coats the dashboard, console, door panels, and even the front seatbacks and the fold-down center rear armrest. Rich Nappa leather upholstery and a microfiber suede headliner are standard. And Genesis boasts that buttons feature “genuine chrome plating.”

This year also brings an updated infotainment system, with more features in the big 12.3-inch touchscreen; previously, Genesis just stretched out normal functions across the big screen, but it now lets you show multiple displays at once. The system also now supports Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration. You can operate it using the touchscreen or buttons and knobs located on the center console between the front seats.

2020 Genesis G90 - Driven Interior
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For everything that’s outstanding, though, there’s a nit to pick. To start, the infotainment system, while comprehensive and user-friendly, isn’t luxury-car amazing.

This is an era of luxury cars whose huge screens integrate with the gauge cluster, offer augmented-reality GPS directions, or respond before you can even touch them. The G90’s is more like that of a well-executed mainstream car, like the Hyundai Sonata and Palisade that have a similar infotainment system.

An imperfect finish around the front seat cupholder lid, a wobbly turn signal stalk, and cheap-feeling interior door handles round out the niggles that detract from the G90’s overall cabin ambiance. We don’t mean to say that any competitor is absolute perfection, just that the G90 still shows a few traces of its Hyundai roots.

2020 Genesis G90 Interior
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The good news is that if you’re chauffeured in the back — either in your own vehicle or if a car service has picked you up in a G90 — you should have few complaints.

The expansive rear seat offers power fore-aft and reclining adjustments, its own set of climate controls, and even its own pair of 10.3.-inch infotainment screens mounted to the front seatbacks. Each rear passenger has a switch to raise or lower both rear windows, or to raise and lower each window’s twin power-operated sunshades. There are rear controls to slide away the front passenger seat to create more rear legroom. And the soft-close doors let you gently shut the door to a partially latched position, with the car pulling them the rest of the way.

The main complaint in the backseat is that foot space is limited under the front seats, so the massive-looking legroom isn’t quite as generous as it looks. Also, the G90 doesn’t offer a panoramic sunroof for extra light throughout the cabin, leaving a traditional sunroof only over the front seats. That’s an odd choice given that the car was clearly designed for many VIPs to sit in the backseat rather than behind the steering wheel.

A final miscue is that you get just two USB ports, one for the front seat and one for the back, plus a front-seat wireless smartphone charger; the last thing you want is competition for chargers among your high-rolling passengers. Trunk space is useful but not massive at 15.7 cubic feet — about the same as a midsize Honda Accord — with Genesis wisely prioritizing the rear seat.

Genesis G90 interior dimensions
Passenger volume 113.2 cu. ft.
Cargo volume 15.7 cu. ft.

2020 GENESIS G90 - DRIVING EXPERIENCE

2020 Genesis G90 - Driven Exterior
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From behind the wheel, the G90 drives like the Lexus LS used to, back before Lexus tried to make it into a sports sedan, when comfort and quietness remained a top priority.

Genesis didn’t achieve perfect isolation — you feel a few unwanted jittery motions on a smooth highway — but it’s quiet and cushy without approaching queasiness. Active noise control and an adaptive suspension are standard features.

We were most pleasantly surprised by the G90’s handling. That’s not because it’s great exactly, but because it’s not at all bad, especially for such a big car. Korea’s first flagship luxury sedans — the 2011 Hyundai Equus and 2015 Kia K900 — set expectations low. These cars were meant only to be driven slowly and gently. The G90 (and the second-generation K900) display a rapid engineering advancement, with well-checked body roll, accurate and responsive steering, and the overall ability to go fast around a winding road. It has all the handling poise most folks need from a full-size sedan for anything but bragging rights.

2020 Genesis G90 - Driven Exterior
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In a straight line, the G90’s motivation comes from a 3.3-liter turbocharged V-6 making 365 horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque. Our test vehicle had the optional 5.0-liter V-8 with 420 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque.

With either engine, 60 mph arrives in about 5.5 seconds, with the V-8 offering a slightly richer sound and — according to those who’ve tried them out on a racetrack — superior triple-digit acceleration. Both engines use an eight-speed automatic transmission.

The throttle is calibrated to gently but effortlessly build speed, rather than leap ferociously off the line. And most full-size flagships are available with ridiculously powerful engines that Genesis skips. This isn’t slow, but it’s no performance sedan. We’d happily pick the V-6 except that some luxury features are reserved for the V-8 model.

Genesis G90 drivetrain specifications
3.3T Premium 5.0 Ultimate
Engine 3.3-liter turbocharged V-6 5.0-liter V-8
Power 365 horsepower, 376 lb-ft. of torque 420 horsepower, 383 lb-ft. of torque
Transmission 8-speed automatic 8-speed automatic
Drive wheels Rear-wheel drive (standard) All-wheel drive (optional) Rear-wheel drive (standard) All-wheel drive (optional)
EPA estimated fuel economy 17/25 mpg (RWD) 17/25 mpg (AWD) 16/24 mpg (RWD) 15/23 mpg (AWD)

EPA fuel economy estimates are 17 mpg in the city, 25 mpg on the highway, and 20 mpg overall with the V-6 engine and either rear- or all-wheel-drive. The V-8’s numbers slip by one mpg with rear-wheel-drive (16 city/24 highway/19 overall) and 2 mpg with all-wheel-drive (15 city/23 highway/18 combined), both on premium-grade fuel.

That compares to 22 mpg overall from the V66-powered Mercedes-Benz S450 and 21 mpg from the V-8 S560, or 21 mpg from the Audi A8 V-6 and 18 mpg from the Audi A8 V-8. Our G90 test vehicle was the RWD V-8, and we averaged 20 mpg in a mix of freeways, suburbs, and winding rural roads with little stop-and-go.

2020 GENESIS G90 - PRICING AND FEATURES

2020 Genesis G90 Exterior
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The 2020 Genesis G90 starts at $72,200 (plus a $995 destination charge) for the 3.3T Premium trim level with rear-wheel-drive. The 5.0 Ultimate trim costs an extra $3,400, while all-wheel-drive costs an extra $2,500 on either model.

What’s more, unlike competing European brands, Genesis provides all the equipment standard at each of those trim levels — those prices aren’t going to rapidly inflate like a BMW’s.

Standard equipment on the 3.3T Premium includes heated and ventilated front seats with 14-way adjustability, heated rear seats, tri-zone automatic climate control, rear power-operated sunshades, a navigation system with a 12.3-inch infotainment display, a 17-speaker Lexicon surround-sound system, wireless smartphone charging, a power trunk lid, soft-close doors, the adaptive suspension, a surround-view parking camera, and a full complement of advanced safety features.

2020 Genesis G90 Exterior
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Considering the relatively modest price bump, we’d pick the 5.0 Ultimate for its rear infotainment screens, power-operated rear seats, and ventilated rear seats. Unless no one worthwhile is going to ride in the back — and really, why would you buy this car if they’re not? — you’ll want the full executive experience. The $3,400 upcharge is enough to justify either the V-8 or the extra features, and it provides both at once.

At $78,200 for the AWD 5.0 Ultimate, the G90 is fully loaded for less than the base price of most competitors.

An Audi A8 starts at $75,450, a BMW 7 Series at $86,450, and a Mercedes-Benz S-Class at $94,250. The Lexus LS 500 is closer to the G90 at $75,450, but the Lexus and the Europeans all have many extra-cost options and packages that inflate their prices into the six figures.

2020 Genesis G90 Interior
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Another key to the G90’s value is its warranty. All luxury cars are packed with elaborate features that can be expensive to repair if anything goes wrong. Genesis has the longest luxury-car warranty, shared with its Hyundai parent: 10 years or 100,000 miles on the engine and transmission, and five years or 60,000 miles on everything else.

What’s more, Genesis and Hyundai have increasingly developed a stronger reliability record than most luxury brands — understandably so, since they typically experiment more with brand-new technology and design their cars for higher levels of performance driving.

Genesis also provides three years or 36,000 miles of free maintenance with a valet service that picks up your vehicle and leaves a complimentary loaner car. And a new “concierge” also delivers a Genesis vehicle to your home for a test drive or when you purchase it.

2020 GENESIS G90 KEY COMPETITORS

2020 Kia K900

2020 Genesis G90 - Driven
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If the Genesis G90 is an eight-tenths ultra-luxury sedan at seven-tenths of the price, the 2020 Kia K900 is nine-tenths of a G90 at eight-tenths of the price. (Doing the math, that makes the K900 a seven-tenths ultra-luxury sedan at six-tenths of the price.) The two sedans share a platform and the same V-6 engine, though the K900 is slightly smaller and sold only in V-6 AWD configuration. The K900 is also more anonymously styled than the newly dressed-up G90, and it remains part of the Kia lineup rather than spun out into a luxury brand like Genesis. That means you not only have a Kia badge, but also a Kia dealer instead of Genesis’ white-glove efforts. But the K900 costs $59,900 compared to $74,700 for an AWD V-6 G90, with most of the same features. When badge and style aren’t top priorities, or extra conservatism is actually welcomed, the K900 has even more substance for the money than the G90.

Read our full review on the 2020 Kia K900

2020 Lincoln Continental

2017 Lincoln Continental High Resolution Exterior
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Another big luxury sedan that’s not priced like a Mercedes is the Lincoln Continental, the modern version of an American classic. The Continental brings a traditional luxury badge at a much lower base price than the Koreans: $46,305. It also has graceful styling and an expansive interior. But it’s much farther than the Genesis or Kia from the ultra-luxury standards for driving dynamics and build quality, using engines and a front-wheel-drive platform borrowed from less-expensive Ford models. It feels lighter and less substantial. And it keeps the base price low by offering far less standard equipment than the G90 or K900, with much less of a price advantage once you’ve added all the extras.

Read our full review on the 2020 Lincoln Continental

2020 Lexus LS 500

2020 Genesis G90 - Driven
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The Lexus LS used to be precisely the G90’s type of stately, refined, user-friendly luxury. Lexus took the latest iteration in another direction, emphasizing sporty performance and dynamic styling. The result is a big sedan without the huge rear seat or extra-smooth ride typically associated with a big sedan, and like many recent Lexus models, its controls can be cumbersome to operate. If you liked the old LS, you’d likely be right at home in a G90 or K900 — more so than in a new LS.

Read our full review on the 2020 Lexus LS 500

2020 Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, and Mercedes-Benz S-Class

2018 Audi A8 High Resolution Exterior
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The German luxury trio consistently push boundaries of technology and performance, while the G90 is content with the “basics” of luxury — good looks, lots of space, lots of features, and a quiet ride. If a buyer is even open to a Genesis over a Benz, these different approaches can determine which is the better fit. Or, in some cases, which one he or she can actually afford. Plus, even without considering the price difference, the G90 is truly excellent for its rear-seat accommodations.

Read our full review on the 2020 Audi A8, BMW 7 Series, and Mercedes-Benz S-Class

2021 Genesis G80

The 2021 Genesis G80 Finally Debuts, We See a Second-Gen Mercedes-Benz CLS Exterior
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Genesis recently unveiled a redesign of its smaller, less expensive G80 — which is still a full-size sedan by some measurements. It’s sleeker and more modern-looking than the G90, and it promises a less sedate driving experience. Plus, it will be much less expensive. When the rear seats don’t have to be as nice as the front seats, it will likely be the better Genesis.

Check out more details on the 2021 Genesis G80

2020 GENESIS G90 IN A NUTSHELL

2020 Genesis G90 - Driven Exterior
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The 2020 Genesis G90 is a throwback to a time when more luxury sedans were about cosseting comfort and isolation rather than exhilarating performance. But it also brings modern suspension composure, modern features (if not quite everything you’d find in a six-figure BMW), and extra-special rear seating. It’s less about brilliance or inspiration than most flagships, and more about supreme comfort and refinement. When sporty handling isn’t important for your flagship full-size luxury vehicle, yet you haven’t joined the throngs picking SUVs over other body shapes, the G90 might be the right flavor at an even more appealing price.

Brady Holt
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