Ex­cuse Me While I Dis­ap­pear

Automobile - - Drives - by BASEM WASEF pho­tog­ra­phy by WIL­LIAM WALKER

Glid­ing across Cal­i­for­nia in our sweetly anony­mous, supremely ap­pointed Korean Lux­ury sedan

IIF A PRE­MIUM Korean sedan drives through the Cal­i­for­nia desert, does any­one hear it? The ques­tion cir­cles my mind as I spin our Four Sea­sons Gen­e­sis G90’s Nappa-wrapped wheel away from Los An­ge­les and into the vast­ness of the Anza-Bor­rego Desert State Park, a fit­ting move since I can barely hear any out­side noises within the hushed cabin.

Be­tween the mur­dered-out G-Wa­gens and chrome-wrapped i8s, L.A. car cul­ture can be an op­pres­sive place for re­flec­tion. So for bet­ter or worse, I’m set­tled into a 22-way ad­justable driver’s seat for a 2,000-mile quest to un­ravel the rid­dle of a cer­tain $71,575 Gen­e­sis G90 3.3T AWD. De­part­ing the city’s au­to­mo­tive bat­tle royal is the most ef­fi­cient way to strip away those twisted met­rics and eval­u­ate a ve­hi­cle for its merit, not its pre­tense. Con­text is vi­tal. When viewed against the bet­ter-than-ever Mercedes-Benz S-Classes, BMW 7 Se­ries, and Lexus LS 500s of the world, the oh-so-gray G90’s de­riv­a­tive styling wields all the vis­ual im­pact of a gen­tly lobbed down pil­low. My plan is to spend two solid days of qual­ity one-on-one time in the desert, then load up the fam­ily for a road trip be­yond L.A.’s sta­tus­con­scious hul­la­baloo into Napa Val­ley.

As in­con­gru­ous as it might seem to start a week­long road trip solo, the me time al­lows your nar­ra­tor to ab­sorb the G90’s cu­ri­ously quiet cabin while framed by the glo­ri­ously ex­pan­sive Cal­i­for­nia desert. Credit goes to its dou­ble-paned acous­tic glass and triple-sealed doors, which shut with a gen­tle tug. An­cil­lary sound is also re­duced thanks to res­o­nance cham­bers within the wheels, help­ing form a tomb­like ab­sence of road noise. The ef­forts are par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive on In­ter­state 10, the soul­less su­per­slab that runs along­side the high­way pre­vi­ously known as Route 66. In con­trast to Route 66’s rose-col­ored his­tory, the Gen­e­sis cabin feels pleas­antly an­o­dyne, its Nappa leather, gloss wal­nut wood, and un­provoca­tive lines of­fer­ing a bythe-book im­per­son­ation of what a con­ven­tional lux­ury sedan ought to look like. It’s not that it doesn’t work; it’s just that it doesn’t sparkle or in­tro­duce any­thing un­ex­pected to the ex­pe­ri­ence, like a job in­ter­vie­wee who’s too con­cerned with giv­ing the “right” an­swer to let his or her per­son­al­ity shine through.

But as the of­fenses of the G90’s in­of­fen­sive cabin fade away, my wan­der­ing mind re­mem­bers my hope­lessly op­ti­mistic buddy, who we’ll call Al­ton. “Do you think I could drive an S-Class iron­i­cally?” Al­ton mused once, imag­in­ing him­self some sort of un­likely sin­gle hip­ster in a honk­ing car. The im­age was pre­pos­ter­ous be­cause Al­ton, like me, is on the cusp of mid­dle age. Helm­ing a late-model land yacht, no mat­ter how young at heart you might be, will al­ways make you look more Wall Street jerk than cheeky en­thu­si­ast to some ob­servers. But in­ter­est­ingly enough, those sup­po­si­tions start to fall away as the city re­cedes, re­placed by a let­ter­boxed hori­zon and rus­tic road­side at­trac­tions like the Warner Springs Glid­er­port, which has dot­ted the sky with quaint, un­pow­ered air­craft since 1939.

Now I’m just a dude driv­ing a car, notic­ing how the adap­tive air sus­pen­sion soaks up bumps quite nicely in straight lines, even bounc­ing a bit like a Cadil­lac Fleet­wood Brougham d’El­e­gance circa 1984.

But when I hit the wind­ing roads that skirt the ragged edges of the Cleve­land Na­tional For­est, the 4,784-pound sedan feels like it weighs, well, right around 5,000 pounds. I’ve got plenty of time on my hands, so I delve into the multimedia sys­tem’s menu op­tions via a palm-sized wheel that some­what re­sem­bles a less ex­pen­sively ex­e­cuted ver­sion of Mercedes-Benz’s COMAND sys­tem. It takes more fid­dling than I would like, but I even­tu­ally man­age to switch it to Sport mode, which still leaves a bit to be de­sired in terms of body con­trol in high-speed cor­ners.

But when you’re driv­ing some­what briskly yet not in a ter­ri­ble hurry, it just takes a bit of step­ping back and trim­ming of speed to find a com­fort­ably quick pace in the G90, its hon­eyed en­gine play­ing re­mark­ably nice with the smooth-

Ev­ery stretch of high­way here seems end­less, and the G90 con­sumes the open road with such vo­ra­cious­ness that I hit Slab City, some 75 miles away, in what feels like no time.

shift­ing trans­mis­sion. Press the drive-mode but­ton near the shifter (which is dif­fer­ent from the sus­pen­sion/ AWD/steer­ing ad­justa­bil­ity via the multimedia sys­tem), and that Sport mode squeezes quite a bit more re­spon­sive­ness and power from the 3.3-liter twin-turbo V-6, uti­liz­ing its full 365 hp and 376 lb-ft of torque. There’s a sur­pris­ing amount of thrust avail­able when you wring this quiet puppy out, ca­pa­ble of shoot­ing the sedan to 60 mph in a scant 5.4 sec­onds. Try that in an ’84 Caddy. The ass-whoop­ingly quick ac­cel­er­a­tion feels breezy and easy enough to make me se­ri­ously won­der why any­one would spring the ex­tra $3,500 for the thirstier 420-hp V-8.

Mon­tezuma Val­ley Road wig­gles its way through a rugged moun­tain range re­plete with herds of bighorn sheep be­fore it crests, of­fer­ing a stun­ning 2,500-foot vista of the 600,000-acre Anza-Bor­rego Desert State Park. If the G90 didn’t dis­ap­pear enough in L.A., nearby Bor­rego Springs is quite pos­si­bly the per­fect place to slip into sweet anonymity. The town, pop­u­la­tion 3,429, was the sec­ond place in the world to be de­clared a Dark Sky Com­mu­nity by the In­ter­na­tional Dark-Sky As­so­ci­a­tion, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that fights light pol­lu­tion and seeks to keep night skies clear, nat­u­ral, and un­ob­structed by the tom­fool­ery of hu­man­ity.

Ram­bling along these hy­per-ru­ral roads oth­er­wise pop­u­lated by Sil­ver­a­dos and Ex­plor­ers, the Gen­e­sis seems like a mys­te­ri­ous emis­sary from an­other con­ti­nent, a stealthy luxo-cruiser of in­scrutable ori­gin.

Ev­ery stretch of high­way here seems end­less, and the G90 con­sumes the open road with such vo­ra­cious­ness that I hit Slab City, some 75 miles away, in what feels like no time. This sun­baked desert com­mune at­tracts a mot­ley ar­ray of bo­hemian itin­er­ants liv­ing out of RVs, trail­ers, and aban­doned ve­hi­cles, choos­ing to oth­er­wise shun the way con­ven­tion­ally struc­tured so­ci­ety op­er­ates. There’s a pro­lif­i­cally spray-painted shell of a burned­out bus near a gen­tle­man, emerg­ing from his wheeled domi­cile, who makes a lava­tory of out of a trash heap. Sud­denly my South Korean sedan isn’t the un­der­dog in an up­hill lux­ury bat­tle. It’s the es­tab­lish­ment. The pow­ers that be. The man. Con­text once again be­ing key, I pay a visit to Sal­va­tion Moun­tain, the gar­ishly ef­fu­sive sculp­tural ode to the love of a higher be­ing that was fea­tured in the film “Into the Wild,” which por­trayed the life of a starry-eyed (and ill-fated) no­mad named Christo­pher McCand­less.

On­ward I drive to the Sal­ton Sea, but not with­out stop­ping first to set the GPS be­cause the G90 can’t trust oc­cu­pants to op­er­ate the nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem while in mo­tion. These strange dances with per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity take on a cer­tain irony when I pull up to Bom­bay Beach, a once-sprawl­ing re­sort town that now more closely re­sem­bles a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic waste­land. These dystopic shores are lapped by pol­luted wa­ters where fish car­casses wash up by the thou­sands, their de­cay­ing flesh pro­duc­ing a ran­cid hy­dro­gen sul­fide odor. So­ci­ety’s aban­don­ment has left de­crepit struc­tures plas­tered in graf­fiti and over­run by pi­geons, a vac­uum of hu­man­ity where na­ture seems to have taken over. Here my four-door steed takes on an even more strangely fu­tur­is­tic ap­pear­ance; it’s like an al­ter­nate re­al­ity where Stuttgart, Mu­nich, Mo­dena, and Detroit fell off the planet and Seoul just kept churn­ing out as­pi­ra­tional lux­ury cars.

Just an hour north of the Sal­ton Sea’s de­cay is the mid­cen­tury oa­sis of Palm Springs, where tidy ar­chi­tec­ture and the in­sin­u­a­tion of dis­tant Rat Pack nos­tal­gia draws more than its share of Range Rover-driv­ing res­i­dents and rental Mus­tang con­vert­ible-wield­ing vis­i­tors. Although the G90’s cooled seats, still not show­ing any signs of in­duc­ing fa­tigue, as­suage me against the es­ca­lat­ing blaze of the mid­day sun, my non­de­script sedan once again fails to make an im­pres­sion among the la­bel-lov­ing lo­cals. No bother; by midafter­noon it’s time to loop back to L.A. and scoop up my wife, mother-in-law, and 6-year-old son for the drive up north.

It’s a butt-numb­ing 422 miles from Pasadena to Napa Val­ley but also an ex­cel­lent op­por­tu­nity to hear other opin­ions on the car’s qual­i­ties, namely the rear seats, which seem to be de­signed for marathon road trips. An­other un­ex­pected test: the car’s radar-based adap­tive cruise con­trol sys­tem, which comes into play dur­ing an in­ex­pli­ca­ble slow­down along a hope­lessly te­dious stretch of Cal­i­for­nia In­ter­state 5. The ex­cel­lent sound in­su­la­tion once again comes in handy when my wife de­cides to drill the bam­bino with flash cards for spell­ing; nary a voice needs to be raised in or­der to be heard, even when I’m tak­ing ad­van­tage of wide-open stretches of noth­ing where the ab­sence of traf­fic means el­e­vated cruis­ing speeds.

I’m not one for semi-au­ton­o­mous driv­ing un­less the car can take an equally skill­ful stab at pi­lot­ing, and the G90’s lane keep­ing as­sist sys­tem man­ages to re­in­force my skep­ti­cism. Although it keeps the car cen­tered at slower speeds along straight stretches of road, when the road bends, the sys­tem has a ten­dency to pin­ball within the lane and time out ev­ery 15 sec­onds with an an­noy­ingly loud chime. At least the radar-based cruise con­trol works smoothly, re­duc­ing stress dur­ing much of the in­ter­state slog.

My 6-year-old son de­clared the G90 “the best car ever.” The kid has rid­den along in Lam­borgh­i­nis, McLarens, and Rolls-Royces.

North­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s his­tory, like the time­less­ness of the Anza-Bor­rego desert, has a way of in­tro­duc­ing an el­e­ment of per­spec­tive that can get lost in fre­netic, celebrity-ob­sessed cities like L.A. Want to feel small? Drive your big, fancy sedan to a place like Arm­strong Red­woods State Nat­u­ral Re­serve, where you can drive right up to Colonel Arm­strong, a 308-foot-tall, 1,400-year-old tree; sud­denly, your com­plaints about how your Gen­e­sis lacks valet cache seem lame. A day trip to Sil­ver Oak, the new­est winery in Healds­burg, shines yet an­other kind of per­spec­tive on your plight. The just-opened fa­cil­ity fea­tures a se­ries of sleek black build­ings with 2,595 so­lar pan­els and a ded­i­cated mem­brane biore­ac­tor that en­ables the LEED Plat­inum­cer­ti­fied com­plex to re­claim most of its wa­ter and gen­er­ate more en­ergy than it con­sumes, mak­ing our ob­served fuel econ­omy of 21.4 mpg seem pid­dling.

I of­ten lean on my pas­sen­gers for feed­back on ve­hi­cles I’m test­ing. The G90 elicited near-uni­ver­sal praise from the adults aboard, who ap­pre­ci­ated the com­fort­able and spa­cious rear seat­ing area and de­tails like the built-in sun­shades and smooth ride qual­ity. My 6-year-old son, how­ever, pricked my ears when he de­clared the G90 “the best car ever.” The kid has rid­den along in Lam­borgh­i­nis, McLarens, and Rolls-Royces, sam­pling some of the mean­est, plush­est, and most un­apolo­get­i­cally sta­tus-savvy ve­hi­cles on the planet.

What did he love so much about the Gen­e­sis G90? “All of the but­tons!” he ex­claimed, re­fer­ring to the seat, cli­mate con­trol, and multimedia con­trols that heav­ily clad the rear fold-down arm­rest. Some­times it takes the hon­esty of a child to put that pesky brand snob­bery into per­spec­tive once and for all. AM

No irony here. Just a man and a (some­what anony­mous) car get­ting lost in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s An­za­Bor­rego Desert State Park.

Against Palm Springs’ tableau of mid­cen­tury sparse­ness, the Gen­e­sis G90’s styling feels mish­mashy and de­riv­a­tive.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.