New year, new car

For me, driving is a question of balance. Over the last 30 years, I’ve owned many cars (that’s the subject of another post), and I’ve tried to balance the practical and the playful, the economic and the expressive. At one point I tried to cover the bases by having two cars: a sensible one (for commuting, shopping, passenger-hauling) and a toy (for scooting around with the top down and the wind in my hair). Alas, such an approach doesn’t work well in New England except in summer. In my final Boston-area car, I tried to have it both ways, with the Subaru Legacy GT: a practical four-door sedan with excellent power and handling. That was a good car; I hope that my son Chris is still enjoying it.
When I moved to Seattle, I was living in the city, and I didn’t need a car. A ZipCar membership (or was it Flexcar then?) meant that I could use whatever kind of car I wanted when I really needed one, from a Mini to an SUV. That was neat. But in 2009 I came to California, where a car is essential. The question of balance returned with a vengeance. After looking at a number of cars, I decided to buy a Toyota Prius, as a way of combining geek technology and prudence about “peak oil”.
The Prius served me well. It’s a good, efficient, economical car. But it has to be said: it isn’t fun to drive. Acceleration, handling, stability (especially on poor pavement in the rain): it always felt “just enough”, with no reserves. A week ago, we were in Monterey for a short break, and I drove up Carmel Valley Road and then across the Laureles Grade to Laguna Seca. That’s always been one of my favourite drives, but when I lived in Massachusetts I could only experience it in rental cars. (Unfulfilled dream: I always wanted to take the Miata across the Grade.) Alas, the Prius couldn’t really do justice to the swooping, twisting road. It wasn’t fun.
Genesis Coupe after pickupAnd so yesterday I drove up to Burlingame and bought a new car: a Hyundai Genesis Coupe. I test-drove the 3.8 V6 and the 2.0 I4 Turbo; both were really nice, but the equipment level on the (Grand Touring) 3.8 was outstanding, so that’s what I bought. It’s the first rear-wheel drive car I’ve owned since the Miata, and it really feels like an outstanding value.
Is it fun? Yesterday all I did was to drive it home and read the manuals. (A big manual for the car, a slightly smaller one for the navigation system, and quick reference guides for both of them!) Today was grey and wet, with low clouds and drizzle: not the ideal conditions for cruising in a sports coupe. But what the hell… let’s see what it can do. So we drove down to Santa Cruz, including the challenging twists of Highway 17. (We didn’t see much of the scenery, because we were in the clouds most of the time.) Then up Route 1 along the coast to Half Moon Bay, stopping briefly at Pigeon Point to see if there were any whales inshore. (There weren’t.) Lunch at Cameron’s (the pub with the two English buses outside), then home on I-280. Traffic on 17 was moderate, and everybody was cautious because of the mist and the every-present Highway Patrol. By contrast, route 1 was wide open, and I was able to cruise at a steady 65. And yes: the Genesis Coupe is fun. Plenty of power, precise steering, excellent suspension, and a decent 6-speed automatic transmission (with paddle shifters and a limited slip differential). And comfortable: I really like the driving position. (I’m not sure how Hannah will feel about the vestigial back seat, though…)
The geek factor is also high. When I paired my iPhone, the car sucked in the address book, and I was able to voice-dial entries by name from the address book. I was also able to browse the iTunes tracks on my iPhone using the car stereo UI. The navigation system is very nice; it gets traffic info through Sirius XM, and the UI is excellent. (Recalc is almost instantaneous – in fact a less hasty response might be easier to absorb.)
Why the Genesis Coupe? Well, what other choices are there for a RWD coupe under $30K? The Camaro is really ugly, the Mustang is technically OK but I don’t really like the 40-year old retro styling. (Can we declare “retro-everything” over? Please?) The Dodge Challenger? Sorry, I can’t bring myself to suspend disbelief and buy a Chrysler. That’s it. (Sad but true.) And Motor Trend’s four-way shoot-out is pretty compelling: their verdict on the Genesis Coupe:

The only one that looks and feels like a sports car. Surprise, we liked it best.