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AUTO REVIEW: Genesis shows Hyundai branching out

Sometimes a new car tells you something unexpected about how an automaker views its customers. The bland 1997 Chevrolet Malibu, for instance, suggested General Motors thought Chevy buyers were blind narcoleptics. The elegant and well-equipped 200...

Sometimes a new car tells you something unexpected about how an automaker views its customers.

The bland 1997 Chevrolet Malibu, for instance, suggested General Motors thought Chevy buyers were blind narcoleptics. The elegant and well-equipped 2008 Malibu proved it was GM that had needed the wakeup call. It sold like slushies in Amarillo, winning new buyers and praise for a Chevrolet midsize sedan.

The enjoyable new 2010 Hyundai Genesis coupe reveals that the Korean automaker values the new customers it hopes to attract more highly than the folks who are already its most passionate and committed owners.

Hyundai swathed the Genesis sedan in soft, elegant materials to draw new buyers accustomed to the finer things. Conversely, Hyundai's strategists figured the enthusiastic young drivers who made its Tiburon sport coupe a hit would overlook the Genesis coupe's Spartan interior because of the car's lovely styling and terrific handling.

That's a risky proposition. People don't like to be taken for granted. The Genesis coupe's lively rear-wheel drive chassis is far better than the Tiburon's, but the coupe must compete with tough customers like the nicely appointed Ford Mustang, the smooth and fast Chevrolet Camaro and the roomy Dodge Challenger.

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The Genesis coupe's daring styling, responsive rear-drive layout and good fuel economy make it a competent competitor for those legendary sport coupes, but Hyundai falls a few refinements short of making the Genesis the benchmark among affordable performance coupes.

Prices for the 2010 Hyundai Genesis coupe start at $22,000 for a base 2.0T model with a 210-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission. Adding a five-speed automatic raises the price to $23,350. The Genesis coupe also offers a 306-horsepower 3.8-liter V6. A Genesis coupe V6 with a six-speed manual goes for $27,500; a six-speed automatic raises the ante to $29,000.

I tested a four-cylinder Genesis coupe with the manual transmission and optional Track package suspension upgrades that stickered at $26,826. All prices exclude destination charges.

The four-cylinder Genesis coupe's price pits it directly against V6 versions of the Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger and Ford Mustang. The Camaro and Challenger V6s have significantly more power, but the four-cylinder Hyundai beats all three on fuel economy.

The Genesis coupe is the best-handling and most entertaining car Hyundai has ever built. Its fuel-efficient turbocharged four-cylinder engine shows how rear-drive performance cars can survive as small engines gain popularity and fuel prices rise. The car I tested rated an impressive 21 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway in EPA tests. Hyundai recommends regular gasoline for the four-cylinder, a major money saver compared with the premium fuel many automakers require or recommend for turbocharged engines.

The four-cylinder engine revs quickly, but its torque output of just 223 pound-feet forces the driver to shift often and quickly to wring maximum performance from the able chassis. A balky manual shifter complicates that, making shifts slower and more laborious than ideal.

The four-cylinder engine's output falls well short of the 304 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque produced by a V6 Camaro that costs just $245 more.

The Genesis coupe's handling is delightful. Fast and precise steering encourages quick maneuvers and road-hugging suspension makes tight curves and sharp turns a treat. The ride is a bit harsh over bumpy surfaces.

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While the interior materials are mostly hard and unappealing plastic, the front seat offers plenty of room, the controls are easy to reach and use and the gauges are clear and legible. Rear legroom is minimal, and the 10 cubic-foot trunk is smaller than the competitors'.

The Genesis coupe looks absolutely wonderful. The low profile, wedgy shape and sleek lines scream youthful performance. The complex, twisting surface where the doors flow into the rear fender looks like something Dali or Escher penned on a good day.

The 2010 Genesis 2.0T coupe's styling, fuel economy and excellent rear-drive handling make it more than good enough to delight the buyers who made the Hyundai Tiburon a favorite among budget-constrained young enthusiasts, even though it lacks the polish of the breakthrough Genesis sedan.

2010 HYUNDAI GENESIS COUPE AT A GLANCE

Rear-wheel drive, four-passenger sport coupe

Engines: 2.0-liter turbocharged DOHC four-cylinder producing 210 horsepower at 6,000 r.p.m. and 223 pound-feet of torque at 2,000 r.p.m.; 3.8-liter DOHC V6 producing 306 horsepower at 6,300 r.p.m. and 266 pound-feet of torque at 4,700 r.p.m. Six-speed manual, five- or six-speed automatic transmission

Price range: $22,000 to $31,000 (excluding destination charges)

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