In Aretha Franklin's monster hit, she cried out for a little "R-E-S-P-E-C-T." The one thing you could say about that song and Hyundai's similarly named Genesis "R-Spec" sedan is that they both have plenty of soul.
Hyundai has confounded more than a few critics with the success of its full-size rear-wheel-drive four-door that was launched for the 2009 model year. How could the company that brought us the lowly Excel and subsequent econo-runners dare to think that it could run with the big dogs from Detroit, Germany and Japan?
The Genesis was a gutsy call for the Korea-based automaker, especially when fuel prices were surging and the economy was losing steam.
But the car's luxury leanings and comparatively modest price tag (probably aided by a reassuringly lengthy warranty) have allowed the Genesis to carve out a niche. It also spawned the larger and even more luxurious Equus.
For 2012, Hyundai is branching out the Genesis, taking it on a path that involves the development of a performance brand dubbed the R-Spec. Forget the rather unoriginal "R" and "Spec" to denote performance, and consider that this car actually has real performance.
The heart of the transformation to R-Spec from an ordinary Genesis sedan sits between the front fenders. The displacement of the automaker's Tau-branded V-8 has been increased to 5.0 liters from 4.6 and the horsepower/torque rating to 429 and 376 pound-feet from 385/333. For comparison, that's 17 horses more than the much-celebrated-by-Ford-fans 5.0 in the Mustang GT.
The new Hyundai 5.0, which is now the standard engine in the Equus to create some separation for the standard Genesis, uses an equally new eight-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode to direct power to the rear wheels. That same transmission is mated to the base 3.8-liter V-6 (also power-enhanced by 43 more horses for 2012) and 4.6-liter V-8 versions. It replaces the previous six-speed automatic.
Despite the power bulge, the R-Spec still returns reasonable fuel economy of 16 mpg city and 25 highway, while the 4.6 Genesis remains rated at 17/26. On the performance front, Hyundai expects the R-Spec to run zero-to-60-mph in the low-five-second range, which is pretty decent for a 2-ton sedan.
Hyundai has also worked on the chassis tuning, employing larger-diameter front and rear stabilizer bars to help reduce body lean during cornering. The front brake rotors have been increased in diameter for more stopping leverage and the steering system is re-calibrated to perform in concert with the tires, which are Bridgestone Potenza summer sneakers fitted to 19-inch wheels.
Visually, all Genesis sedans receive a mild makeover that includes a new grille, enlarged air intake and redesigned headlamps and light-emitting-diode (LED) taillamps. R-Spec models get their own unique headlight pods and rear badging.
The R-spec theme continues inside with "tuxedo black" leather combined with bright trim surrounding the control panel and shifter. And of course Hyundai's bells-and-whistles department has included most every desirable item, virtually all of which are shared with the 4.6 Genesis. That means you can count on a power sunroof with power rear sunshade, memory settings for the power front seats, heated front and rear seats, lane departure warning, front and rear parking assist, auto-cornering headlights and 17-speaker premium sound system and navigation.
That, of course, is just the tip of a fully loaded iceberg and, just as Hyundai intended, rivals some other big sedans costing significantly more than the $47,400 commanded by the R-Spec, which is only a $2,000 premium above the Genesis 4.6.
That alone would be reason enough to climb into an R-Spec for a test drive since this kind of performance in that price range is rare. And since getting you into the car is half the battle, respect should follow pretty closely once the door is shut. Recall Aretha's opening line that proudly proclaims, "What you want, baby I got it."