Excuse Me While I Disappear
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.