Monday, August 10, 2009

Hyundai Genesis abuse at TMS

Last month I got a piece of snailmail from Hyundai explaining the event ("hey, come drive the snot out of our new sports car") and giving a website for registration. I registered and marked it on the calendar.

The event was structured like autocross, and a majority of the attendees appeared to be autocross drivers. In events like this a tight, technically-challenging course is laid out on a large slab of concrete (usually an airstrip or large parking lot). The path is marked with paint and/or cones; the object is to get the fastest time with fewest errors.

My time was 10:30am. The festivities had started earlier in the morning and I could hear the tires screaming and engines howling before pulling into TMS from the access road. This should be fun, and a bit scary for people like me who do not race on the weekends.

As I was signing in there was a particularly long, lurid tire scream and I looked up to see a fellow spinning one of the cars across the course. Oopsy Daisy. The Hyundai rep smiled and said "you don't necessarily have to do it like that." We'll see how it goes.

There were six Genesis coupes running, a mixture of manuals, autos, and one beta paddle shift car. I drove the 6spd manual with a 3-point-something 304hp V6.

The tour was called the Adrenaline tour and I was a little amped up as I was pointed to my car. Introduced myself to the Hyundai co-driver that was in each car and noticed that the AC was on and the car was quite comfortable. Neither AC nor passenger weight are conducive to a sporting experience, BTW.

The clutch had decent spring to it; it felt like a competition clutch that should be able to take some abuse. I launched off the starting line down a short straightaway and let off the gas about 3/4 the way down the strip to prepare for the upcoming hard left turn. The co-driver indicated I should keep my foot in the throttle. More. More. More. OMG. That turn is right... there.... ohhhhhh...

Terms like "opposite lock", "throttle induced oversteer" or "drift" are best for describing what happens on a course like this when you drive at your limits. There is a vid at the bottom that indicates what this looks, feels, and sounds like in the car. It's not an experience you get on a milk run to Kroger.

The whole run went that way. I kept trying to stay within sane, non-cerebellum-melting limits and the co-driver was on me to keep it floored long, long after my lizard brain wanted to brake. In a situation like that you trust the professional and remain open to the outcome. I will admit to no small amount of fear, but I followed the co-drivers guidance, made a respectable pass without hitting any cones or spinning out. :-)

The verdict: this is much more car than I expected going in. Serious grunt from the engine, serious grip from the tires, excellent suspension. The car never felt unsettled even in the most violent maneuvers. It's absolutely a better car than I am a driver. I believe this car would win over even the most vocal Hyundai doubters. If all cars in their line were like this then the Japanese makers would have to pay real respect to the dangers presented by their Korean competitor.

And what about the jaded weekend racers with their modified performance cars? They got in line again and again. It was like watching children at Six Flags riding the same ride over and over until they get sick. I didn't hear a single negative comment about the cars from those racers. That's saying something.

This is not my vid, but it is a vid from the same event before it came to Dallas. It will give you an idea how the track is laid out and what it is like to drive it. The camera work is very shakey -- it's violent inside the car when you are tossing it around like that:

It takes huevos for an underdog car company to flog their new model all day in front of their most critical audience. The cars worked perfectly, the event was well-handled, and the drivers (read: customers) were all happy. That's how an underdog kicks market leaders in the shins. And it will leave a mark.

Here is the official Hyundai Genesis promo site.

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