Henry Payne Blog

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Payne: The N-spired Hyundai Elantra N is a tattooed terror

Posted by Talbot Payne on March 20, 2023

Hell, Michigan — Hell has frozen over, but the roads are clear.

So I took my 2023 Hyundai Elantra N tester out for exercise on my favorite Michigan curves. On summer tires. In the middle of February. Hyundai’s hellion is more proof that pocket rockets are the best all-around cars in autodom. Though I may, ahem, put all-seasons on the N were this my own car — and save the terrific soft-rubber, barely-treaded Michelin Pilot Sport 4S’s for summer autocrosses. February blue skies don’t last long.

The N is the latest tattooed terror from the Korean brand — replacing the gonzo three-door Veloster N. It brings big personality to the pocket rocket segment as well as a lot bigger backseat than Veloster offered.

Like a Corvette Z06 wannabe, the N’s steering wheel bristles with features to encourage performance bedlam: Drive Mode paddle, N-Mode paddle and a sort of nuclear red button for stick-shift rev-matching. Yes, unlike the ‘Vette, the Elantra N comes standard with a glorious short-throw, six-speed manual so you can row the sedan’s gearbox to your heart’s content.

After a pleasant, smooth ride west to Hell on I-96, I poked the N-mode paddle to awaken the beast within. The engine’s voice got deeper, the steering wheel firmed and the compact chassis noticeably stiffened, its suspension following the asphalt’s every contour.

Welcome to Hell. Detroit News auto columnist Henry Payne took the 2023 Hyundai Elantra N to Michigan's best twisted roads for a little fun.

C’mon , Payne, what are you waiting for?

The roads were empty on a college basketball Saturday afternoon, and the N was eager to show me its own open-court athleticism. Hustling west on Doyle Road, I flung the N into a 90-degree left onto Unadilla, the chassis flat as a pancake. The Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires scrambled for grip across the cold asphalt, but grip they did. Visions came to mind of King Civic, Honda’s handling benchmark for the sedan segment. Unlike Elantra Sport pocket-rocket pretenders of the past, the N is fully engineered for back-roads mayhem with limited-slip differential and sticky tires.

And it has plenty of grunt to back it up. While Civic Si has resolutely stuck to its 200-horsepower formula for the last two decades, N comes with a major upgrade over Elantra’s standard equipment with a punchy 276-horse, 289-torque turbo-4. Where the Si leaves you yearning for more, N delivers with a wave of torque.

The 2023 Hyundai Elantra N sprouts steering wheel "satellite" buttons like more expensive Porsches and Corvettes. The stick-shift N (pictured)  offers buttoms for rev-matching (red) and drive modes. The automatic N replaces the red button for a Grin Shift mode for 20 seconds of over-boost. Hee hee.

Heading south, Unadilla turns into Hadley Road, opening up into fast, undulating sweepers like the epic Nurburgring race track from which the N takes its name. Though the four-banger has half the cylinders of ferocious Corvettes and Mustang GT350s that I’ve tested in these hills, I still ran out of road before I ran out of power. Learning from those V-8 monsters, Elantra N-mode delivers a soundtrack for its action sequences (it’s not AC/DC’s “Hells Bells,” but it’s pretty good).

In N mode, the digital instrument display placed the tachometer at the center of my vision. The turbo-4 is free-revving, and the tac’s rim illuminated in orange — then red — as I approached redline so that I didn’t need to take my eye off the road. Like the dash of a modern race car, the colored lights — not a harder-to-read RPM number — told me it was time to shift. I recommend the stick, but buyers who prefer the dual-clutch automatic (a $1,500 upcharge) also get a cool toy: Hyundai’s Grin Shift feature, which, like a Porsche sports car, will give you 20 seconds of engine over-boost to, say, blow by slower traffic on Hadley Road.

All this swagger is wrapped in an equally outgoing wardrobe.

The 2023 Hyundai Elantra N gains unique low-profile wheels married to sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summer tires.

Unlike sleeper rockets Mazda3 Turbo and Civic Si, my Elantra wears an eye-searing dress right out of the Lamborghini catalog: knife-edge body stamping, shard-like headlights, low-profile 19-inch spider-web wheels, silver-tipped dual exhaust pipes the size of cannons. To add to the menace, the face is masked black and a 360-degree, blood-red line traces the body’s hem.

From the Ioniq 5 to the Sportage to the Elantra, Hyundai has some of the most distinctive designs in the market, and N is another standout in the portfolio.

The 2023 Hyundai Elantra N features Elantra's signature Lamborghini-like body stampings - then adds hot wheels and a red skirtline that wraps around the car.

But while the wardrobe can’t be turned off, N drivers don’t always have to drive in full N-uke mode. N offered a serene setting for the long highway ride back from Hell. Beyond the stylish N-badged black Alcantara sports seats, my $33,745 Elantra sported a similar digital interior as the $21,000 base car I raved about in the warmer temps of Naples, Florida, last year.

The Elantra N's transverse-mounted tubo-4 engine puts out an impressive 276 horsepower and 289 pound-feet of torque.

High-mounted dash screen, generous console room, intuitive control knobs. The Elantra N upgrades these features with a fully-digital instrument display (for that cool N Mode), a 10.3-inch infotainment screen (up from the standard 8-inch model) and one downgrade: the larger screen isn’t compatible with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Weird.

This meant that, on my return journey home, my Dairy Queen onion rings container had to share the console cubby with my Android phone cord (whereas in the standard Elantra, I could just keep my phone in a pocket).

The playful 2023 Hyundai Elantra N in its natural habitat: Hell, Michigan's twisty roads. Here, the driver can explore the pocket rocket's high horsepower, nimble handling and terrific brakes.

Also lacking is adaptive cruise control, which comes standard on N competitors like the Civic Si, Mazda3 Turbo and VW GTI. Again, it’s an odd oversight on a car equipped with state-of-the-art safety systems like lane-keep assist and redundant blind-spot assists in both the instrument display and mirror.

On I-96, I dialed the N’s drive mode to whisper-quiet ECO and made some phone calls over my Bluetooth-connected phone.

Readers of this column know I prize hot hatches, a body style with which Elantra N is not offered. Nor does it come equipped with all-wheel drive like the comparably-priced, 310-torque Mazda3 Turbo hot hatch.

With comfortable bolstered suede seats, electronic features and plentiful interior room, the $34K 2023 Hyundai Elantra N is at the bargain end of the pocket rocket segment.

But no warrior in the pocket rocket colosseum has everything. My favorite — and longtime-class-standard-bearer Volkswagen Golf GTI — comes at a premium $37K sticker price. The Mazda3 Turbo is a more reasonable $34K (loaded with tech and winter-taunting AWD) but has compromised rear seat room and doesn’t offer a manual. The Subaru WRX beast is a $32K bargain with AWD, a great manual and plenty of interior room — but is less engaging with no rev-match and no SPORT mode. King Civic? A $30K bargain with room, style, crisp handling, crisp manual — but noticeably down on power compared to its 250 horsepower-plus competitors.

So shop them all, then pick the one that makes your heart beat the fastest. The talented Elantra N is hard to miss with outsized styling, performance toys and power. Hell, yeah!

Next week: 2024 Dodge Hornet

2023 Hyundai Elantra N

Vehicle type: Front-wheel-drive, five-passenger performance sedan

Price: $33,745, including $1,095 destination charge (manual as tested)

Powerplant: Turbocharged 2.0-liter, inline-4 cylinder

Power: 276 horsepower, 289 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual; 8-speed dual-clutch automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.8 seconds (Car and Driver est.); top speed, 155 mph

Weight: 3,186 pounds (as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 22 mpg city/31 highway/25 combined (manual); 20 mpg city/30 highway/23 combined (automatic)

Report card

Highs: All-around talent; stick shift standard

Lows: Polarizing face; adaptive cruise control and wireless Android Auto, please

Overall: 4 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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Payne: Flying low around Thermal Raceway in the winged Porsche 911 GT3 RS

Posted by Talbot Payne on March 9, 2023

Palm Springs, California — The quiet desert around this small, California resort town would seem an unlikely place to showcase the ferocious cutting edge of automotive performance. In early February, I was an hour north of Palm Springs at the King of the Hammers off-road festival testing something entirely novel: a competition-focused, sand-slinging Ford Bronco DR.

A week later, I was an hour southeast of Palm Springs on Thermal Raceway. But this time, I was testing a familiar formula: the latest Porsche 911 GT3 RS. While the Bronco DR is intent on conquering a new desert frontier, the GT3 RS is already the supercar standard for on-track performance.

With its 2023 model, Porsche has raised the bar again.

Incorporating state-of-the-art aerodynamics and digital wizardry, the GT3 RS is a significant leap from the last-gen car that I tested at Road America three years ago. While the $225K cyborg will be enjoyed by a few (some of whom came out to watch our test with mouths agape) at exclusive tracks like Thermal, its technology will ultimately trickle down to more affordable performance cars. Consider the 911-inspired, push-to-pass button on the steering wheel of the $33K Hyundai Elantra N that I tested recently.

For this generation, Porsche has innovated the ability for drivers to adjust suspension settings on the fly with four “satellite buttons” on the steering wheel. Kinda like my own Lola race car.

I dialed in shock rebound on my yellow GT3 RS tester to allow for more feedback on Thermal’s fast, flat North-Desert Circuit, and dove into a 19-turn lap.

The GT3 RS is instantly familiar as a 911. Neutral and easy to drive, its predictability allows you to focus on learning the track. I was up to speed quickly — chasing Porsche endurance ace and RS development driver Jorg Bergmeister lap after lap.

Race car. The 2023 Porsche 911 GT3 RS offers multiple chassis settings - all accessed via steering wheel "satellite" buttons.

But where the ‘23 RS transcends its predecessor is in prodigious downforce. With a gobsmacking 1,897 pounds of maximum downforce — double that of the 2019 model and nearly 50% of what a modern IndyCar possesses — the GT3 offers neck-straining capability at high speeds. At 135 mph into a sharp 90-degree Turn 4, I left my braking waaaay later than in a standard 911 — my eyeballs bouncing off the front windshield — before rotating into the corner apex.

Credit massive 16-inch front brake rotors — and a dual-element, swan-neck rear wing the size of a Boeing 737 that snaps shut under braking, effectively throwing a parachute behind the car.

Through high-speed sections, the wing works in tandem with a rear diffuser, nose cavity, sub-nose winglets and an array of wheel-well barge boards — the RS looks like a 911 and a Formula One car had a baby — to suck the car to the pavement.

That’s where the massive 12-inch-side rear and 10.8-inch front Michelin Sport Cup 2 gummies can really do their work. Through the Turn 12-13 esses, the RS changes direction as if on rails. Yet all this fighter-jet tech doesn’t compromise the Porsche’s solidity, and I flatten curbs like balloons at 105 mph. It wasn’t long ago that I was on Thermal in the 2017 Ford GT, which sported the supercar segment’s most-advanced chassis with carbon-fiber tub and F1-inspired keel-wing nose. Yet that car generates just 450 pound-feet of downforce compared to the RS’s Herculean 1,897 pounds.

Between sessions, we rolled back into the pits to awestruck Thermal race club members who own prior-gen RSs that are already the alpha males of a club awash in McLarens and Lambos.

The rear wing on the 2023 Porsche 911 GT3 RS has two active elements, which would be illegal in pro motorsports.

“These cars are really desirable out here,” said Don Cusick, 66, who tracks a pair of previous-gen RSs and covets the ‘23 model. “This generation’s changes are significant. The Porsches are fast, easy to maintain, bulletproof.”

A big part of that reliability is the tried-and-true 4.0-liter flat-6 out back that is little changed (518 horses) over the 503-horse GT3 that I tested at Road Atlanta in April. As I dealt with the relentless G-forces and curb-jumping heroics of the aero-package, the engine was almost an afterthought — even at a stratospheric 9,000 rpm redline — so instant is the throttle response, so quick is the 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Unlike the GT3, the GT3 RS is not offered in a manual since the latter would slow a beast optimized for lap times.

Helping stick the 2023 Porsche 911 GT3 RS are fat Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires.

It’s still important to note that, unlike that Bronco DR I flogged in the desert, this thoroughbred is street-legal. Track it Sunday, drive it to work Monday.

In contrast to the 9,000-rpm Porsche sports cars I’ve raced, the 911 GT3 RS didn’t require I wear plugs (lest my ears be shattered), stuff my knees into the dash or brace my back for a washboard ride. The RS cockpit is equipped with interior sound-deadening, Alcantara-wrapped luxury seats and exhaust mufflers that isolate the shrieking flat-6 behind me.

And you don’t need a race track to feel its thrust. Porsche says it will go 0-60 mph out of a stoplight in just 3 seconds. Zero-100 blows by in 10.9 seconds.

Still, this is a track-focused car. Rear seats are deleted whether you opt for a rollbar or not, the frunk has been replaced by a huge radiator (replacing three units in the GT3 model) that sucks air through the nose then spits it out over the fenders and greenhouse for maximum downforce. Needless to say, there is no adaptive cruise control.

The comfortable cockpit of the 2023 Porsche 911 GT3 RS.

The stereo? I never touched it. Like the Bronco DR’s V-8, the best soundtrack is that glorious Porsche flat-6.

The 2023 GT3 RS’s dramatic evolution is necessary to stay in front of the supercar segment’s relentless competition. The aforementioned Ford GT got a Mk II upgrade in 2019 with similar swan-neck, big-wing aero improvements for 1,900 pounds of downforce. Cost? $1.3 million. The GT3 RS delivers the same capability for a quarter of the price.

For half the price of the Porsche, here comes the mid-engine, 670-horse, 8,700-rpm Chevy Corvette Z06 that just shredded the last-gen GT3 RS’s Car and Driver Lightning Lap record for a normally-aspirated car at Virginia International Raceway by, ahem, three seconds.

The 2023 Porsche 911 GT3 RS reduces the three front radiators to one which replaces the frunk and creates a downforce cavity in the front hood.

Your turn, RS. Bergmeister has already shattered the normally-aspirated record at Germany’s legendary Nurbugring race track with a 6:49 minute lap — seven seconds under the last-gen RS.

Said Bergmeister afterward: “In the fast sections in particular, the 911 GT3 RS is in a league of its own.”

High wing, high bar.

Jorg Bergmeister, development driver for the 2023 Porsche 911 GT3 RS, set a new lap record at the Nurburgring for a naturally-aspirated, production sports car.

Next week: 2023 Hyundai Elantra N

2023 Porsche 911 GT3 RS

Vehicle type: Rear-wheel-drive, two-passenger supercar

Price: $225,250, including $1,450 destination charge ($274,890 as tested)

Powerplant: 4.0-liter flat-6 cylinder

Power: 518 horsepower, 342 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 7-speed, dual-clutch automatic (PDK)

Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.0 seconds (mfr.); top speed, 184 mph

Weight: 3,268 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 14 city/18 highway/16 combined

Report card

Highs: Tenacious handling, flat-6 from the gods

Lows: No backseat, no frunk; a track toy, mostly

Overall: 4 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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Posted by Talbot Payne on March 9, 2023

Payne: Groovy, baby! Ford Bronco Sport Heritage is rockin’ retro Bronco wannabe

Posted by Talbot Payne on March 3, 2023

Johnson Valley, California — The Ford Bronco is awesome. It features retro-cool styling like a Mustang, useful two- and four-door variants, easy-to-use rotary controls, and doors that come off for when the sun shines. If you have the urge to go deeper into nature, it sits on a tough ladder frame and 37-inch Sasquatch tire package. And for the really ambitious, there’s the 418-horsepower Raptor that will bounce around Silver Lake’s sand dunes like a golden retriever off the leash.

But the best thing about this bad boy may be its Mini Me.

Like its more rugged big brother, the 2023 Ford Bronco Sport comes in a Heritage Edition with Oxford White grille, roof and wheels to honor the original '60s Bronc.

Mini Me, aka Son of Bronco, aka Ford Bronco Sport. Bronco Sport is the love child of Bronco and Ford Escape. The Sport is built on the same bones as Escape, but its spirit comes from Papa Bronco. The result is a handsome, affordable SUV starting at 30 grand but that still has an instinct for off-roading.

And while Mini Me — er, Bronco Sport — doesn’t have a Raptor variant (yet), it shares with Bronco a new Heritage model for 2023 celebrating the iconic look of original 1960s Broncs.

On a visit to the King of the Hammers races in Johnson Valley this February, I got a chance to test the full Bronco family, from the race-prepared, V8-powered Bronco DR (DR for Desert Racer) to the twin-turbo V-6 Bronco Raptor to the 2.0-liter turbo-4 Bronco Sport Heritage Limited. The DR and Raptor are some of the most ferocious SUVs the Blue Oval has ever made, but it was remarkable how naturally Bronco Sport fit in.

Melissa Clark of Moab, Utah has twice won the all-female Rebelle Rally in a Ford Bronco Sport.

The Mojave Desert north of Palm Springs demands respect with its endless washboard terrain, deep sand dunes and rocky trails. Off-road driver Melissa Clark is a veteran of the Jeep Easter Safari in Moab and has raced the all-female Rebelle Rally since 2015. She has won the event twice in the X-Cross (unibody SUV) class in a Bronco Sport and has enormous respect for Junior’s capabilities.

“We raced a stock SUV across 1,500 miles of desert,” she said standing next to her 2022 class-winning Bronco Sport, “and this thing is amazing.”

To prove the point, we retraced some of Johnson Valley’s formidable terrain — some of the same terrain that she’d navigated in the ’22 rally. Her winning red-and-black Bronco Sport Badlands was still decked out in race livery complete with sponsor decals and #200 sign boards.

But my yellow ’23 Mini Me was a fashion plate.

Decked out in Oxford White steely wheels with Oxford White fascia and roof, the Heritage model looked like it had just stepped out of a 1966 Bronco catalog. Except … with its digital screens, Apple Car Play and Android Auto app compatibility, four doors, leather seats and eager 250-horse turbo-4 engine, this car is light years beyond the OG in amenities and comfort.

In the Mojave Desert, the 2023 Ford Bronco Sport Heritage Edition  chases after Rebelle Rally champ Melissa Clark and her Bronco Sport racer.

True to the original, my Sport could fling some sand. The steelies were wrapped in all-terrain tires, and I chased Clark across the desert, charged up sandy hills, crawled over rocks.

Most impressive was the Sport’s performance over the Mojave’s high dunes. Imitating Papa Bronco, I put Mini Me in SAND mode using the G.O.A.T. mode dial — a big, meaty Go-Over-Any-Terrain dial in the center of the console that adjusts for a variety of surfaces.

SAND mode increased throttle response, loosened traction control and threw more power to the rear wheels, which is where my model’s secret sauce was kept. The Heritage Limited’s 2.0-liter turbo-4 gets a twin-clutch pack out back capable of slinging torque to either rear wheel depending which needs it most. That is to say: real torque-vectoring. My favorite Ford Focus RS (alas, RIP in the U.S.) track rat used the same equipment for high-speed cornering.

To get better traction in the Mojave Desert, use SAND mode in the 2023 Ford Bronco Sport Heritage Limited Edition.

The Bronco Sport uses it off-road and I slid Sport this way and that over the dunes with ease. Key to sand-driving is to, ahem, keep moving lest you sink, but that’s actually easier to do in the 3,700-pound Mini Me compared with the 5,700-pound Bronco Raptor.

The sand was also easier on the Bronco Sport than the stone-choked sand pits of Holly Oaks back home where I had learned (the hard way) that too much aggression can suck rocks into the wheels and pull the tire beads right off the rim (so that’s what bead locks are for). So I resisted the urge to get too aggressive in the middle of the Mojave.

I could not resist, however, the urge to pose the fashionable Sport on top of dunes like a Star Wars movie shoot. Most Heritage model owners won’t have the chance to take their four-wheeler to the top of a dune, but its timeless design will turn heads anywhere.

The 2023 Ford Bronco Sport Heritage Limited Edition surveys Johns Valley, California - home of the King of the Hammers off-road race. Note the mud flaps and all-terrain tires.

Also head-turning is the Heritage Limited model’s price. It’s a stiff $46,895.

That’s the same price as the standard Bronco Heritage, which boasts a 300-horsepower 2.4-liter turbo-4 and meaty, 37-inch Sasquatch all-terrain tire package. Oh. Mini Me at the same price as Bronco Sr.?

For those who want something more affordable, Bronco Sport comes in a base 181-horse, 1.5-liter three-banger Heritage edition that lacks the Heritage Limited model’s grunt, all-terrain tires, and twin-clutch rear clutch packs — but still comes loaded with standard features like AWD, upgraded suspension, blind-spot assist, and adaptive cruise control. All that, 3 mpg better fuel economy, and a more appropriate Mini Me $35,485 sticker price.

The 2023 Ford Bronco Sport Heritage Limited Edition offers a sunroof and leather seats and sophisticated torque vectoring drivetrain for $46k.

Melissa also helpfully pointed out that overlanding isn’t just about flinging sand in the sandbox. Under its fashionable wardrobe, the Sport features practical SUV goodies like rear floodlights to illuminate your campsite, spare tire, rear carabiner hooks to anchor gear and a square cargo roof so that you can store two bicycles — upright! — back there. The front quarters may be tech savvy but they are also equipped with lots of storage bins and cargo nets.

Take a bow, Mini Me. Papa Bronco would be proud.

Next week: 2023 Porsche 911 GT3 RS

2023 Ford Bronco Sport Heritage Edition

Vehicle type: All-wheel-drive, four-door, five-passenger SUV

Price: $34,890, including $1,595 destination charge ($46,895 Heritage Limited model as tested)

Powerplant: 1.5-liter turbocharged 3-cylinder; 2.0-liter turbo-4

Power: 181 horsepower, 190 pound-feet of torque (1.5 liter); 250 horsepower, 277 pound-feet of torque (2.0 liter)

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.8 seconds (Car and Driver est. for 2.0 liter); towing, 2,200 pounds

Weight: 3,713 pounds (as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 25 mpg city/28 highway/26 combined (1.5 liter); 21 mpg city/26 highway/23 combined (2.0 liter)

Report card

Highs: Retro good looks; off-road capability

Lows: Heritage Limited gets pricey

Overall: 4 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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Payne: Genesis G80, you’ve come a long way, baby!

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 23, 2023

Oakland County — I’m old enough to remember the Hyundai Genesis.

Introduced in 2008, the first-generation sedan was the seedling for Hyundai’s eventual luxury brand. Like early Lexus models, the Genesis was a derivative value play. A Rolex knockoff. With midsize proportions at a compact luxe sedan price, the attractive 2015 model borrowed heavily from German styling (Audi and BMW) to gain market credibility. Stuffed with the latest tech — including then state-of-the-art adaptive cruise control — the sedan topped customer loyalty charts for its Lexus-like quality and handsome looks. A star was born, and in 2017, it was renamed the G80 as Hyundai launched Genesis as a separate premium brand.

Fast forward to 2023, and this week’s tester is a Genesis G80 Sport. You’ve come a long way, baby.

“Whoa, that is a good-looking car,” said businessman friend Mike after I parked the G80 in front of his restaurant.

No one mistakes the G80 for an Audi anymore. With the help of former Lamborghini designer Luc Donckervolke, the midsize Genesis is one of the most distinctive luxe designs on the road today with sleek lines, goatee grille and split head-and-taillights. My tester’s flat Makalu Grey paint scheme helps, too.

The distinctive split taillights of the 2023 Genesis G80 echo the split headlights.

This sedan has swagger, a trait shared by its lookalike G90 and G70 siblings. “That GV80 SUV is a knockout, too,” said Mike of the brand’s best-seller. A longtime Jaguar owner, he likes the G80’s unique looks — and bargain price. While its sticker has inched up over the years — the base $50,595 G80 is still $5,000 shy of a BMW 5-Series.

And the G80 you want to get if you have $72,595 in the bank — my Sport model tester upgraded from the standard turbo-4 with a 375-horse, 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 — is a healthy 10 grand shy of a comparable, inline-6-powered BMW 540i.

You’ll love the Sport’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality.

In COMFORT mode, the G8 is a sweetheart: quiet, smooth. Select SPORT or SPORT PLUS (an add-on with Sport Prestige package) and the sedan’s personality changes dramatically. I fingered SPORT and the seat bolsters tightened in anticipation of the fun ahead.

The adaptive shocks firmed, and the 8-speed transmission selected a lower gear for more torque. I four-wheel-drifted through a 90-degree right-hander onto Inkster Road and squeezed the gas. VROOOOOOM! The heretofore sleepy Genesis reared back its head and let out a roar.

The 2023 Genesis G80 Sport's twin-turbo V-6 puts out 375 horsepower. Alas, the V-8 is gone.

The nannies are coming for multi-cylinder engines, and the V-8 that once motivated the top trim G80 has been put out to pasture, but the turbo-6 has plenty of emotion. The Genesis gulped asphalt, its firm steering instilling confidence.

The G80’s new chassis shed 163 pounds from the last-gen, but the sedan’s 4,495-pound girth must still be respected. It’s fun to drive fast, but not nearly as nimble as its smaller G70 sibling.

Most of the day, the G80’s duties are as a passenger car. As in commuting down the Southfield Freeway to pick up Mrs. Payne at the airport.

The handsome cockpit of the 2023 Genesis G80 includes red leather and driver-centric digital displays.

I toggled Adaptive Cruise Control on the steering wheel, set the speed to 75 mph, and the G80 virtually drove itself. A luxury feature? Hardly. When the Genesis debuted in 2015, this feature was state-of-the-art tech, but today it’s common on mainstream Hyundai models too. Indeed, it is standard on the $27,745 Hyundai Tucson SUV, the Korean brand’s best-seller.

I’ve tested the Tucson for miles on I-75 hands-free, and the G80 was just as effortless — centering in the lane, slowing for slower cars up ahead. The Genesis system is not completely hands-free like Cadillac’s Super Cruise, nor does it automatically change lanes like Tesla’s Autopilot. Determined to build a safety cocoon around me, G80 has multiple ways to let me know cars are sharing my space: red ripples in the head-up display indicating a vehicle in my blind spot; blind-spot indicator in my mirror; or a side-mirror camera that relays video of my blind spot in the instrument display when I activate the turn signal. Dude, you have no excuse if you cut someone off.

The blind-spot video innovation is so clever (first seen on the mainstream Hyundai Sonata) that my Tesla Model 3 received the feature via an over-the-air update last year.

With all this attention to tech, it’s curious when the Hyundai lags. For example, the G80 lacks wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto even as they are standard on a $21K Hyundai Elantra compact car. Or the G80’s voice command system that struggles with voice navigation (Android Auto is much superior).

The interior of the 2023 Genesis G80 features room, vroom and a full-length moonroof.

Interior materials, however, are first-class. My Sport tester was dressed in stunning red leather with a handsome carbon-fiber weave on the console. At the airport, Mrs. Payne slipped into the rear seat and immediately adjusted the seat warmer. To stretch her legs, she toggled a switch on the side of the front seat that automatically moved the seat forward. Console design is elegant — witness the recessed infotainment screen or bejeweled rotary dial controller.

Alas, the controller’s looks are more inviting than its clunky operation.

Such shortcomings are not found in the German competition — think BMW’s exquisite iDrive. Happily, G80 gives you options just like its multi-way blind-spot features. Don’t like the rotary controller? Lean forward and use the touchscreen. A multi-page menu is easy to swipe through whether you need radio channels or system settings.

You'll know the SPORT model of the 2023 Genesis G80 by its twin rear exhaust.

The G80 Sport, in other words, was never a dull date.

With its myriad control and safety options, it invited interaction as I learned what best suited my driving style. When traffic cleared out and I was alone in the twisties, G80 was an eager dance partner. And I never tire of the G80’s lean silhouette, long hood and unique eyes. Eight years after it wandered uncertainly into the luxury club, the Genesis is a timid newcomer no more.

The G80 belongs.

Next week: 2023 Ford Bronco Sport Heritage Edition

2023 Genesis G80 Sport

Vehicle type: All-wheel-drive, five-passenger luxury sedan

Price: $50,595, including $1,095 destination charge ($72,595 Sport Prestige as tested)

Powerplant: 3.5-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6

Power: 375 horsepower, 391 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 4.7 seconds (Car and Driver); top speed, 155 mph

Weight: 4,495 pounds (as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA 17 mpg city/26 highway/20 combined

Report card

Highs: Head-turning wardrobe, throaty V-6

Lows: Clunky rotary controller; wireless Android Auto, please

Overall: 3 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

Cartoon: Balloon shot down

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 19, 2023