Surprisingly, yet inevitably, the most original interpretation of modern luxury doesn’t come from Germany – but South Korea: The rather stupendous Genesis Mint.
Creating a ‘premium’ car brand is no walk in the park. It takes decades, unique flair, racing success (Jaguar), billions and a great many wise product decisions (BMW, Audi) to achieve this. Anything less than boundless commitment to the cause is bound to fail (Infiniti, Acura). It was therefore a brave/reckless choice, courtesy of Hyundai, to try and establish a luxury brand nobody had asked for with Genesis.
Originally just a model name, the Hyundai Genesis evolved into a dedicated brand only two years ago. Back then, ‘to Infiniti and beyond’ may have been one of the more approving reactions to a move most would consider utterly superfluous. For why should the South Koreans succeed where the Japanese (Lexus excepted) so unreservedly failed?
The first string of concept cars shown after the marque had been established reinforced the suspicion that Hyundai hadn’t learned the lessons taught by the failed Japanese luxury marques. The large coupé, large sports saloon and SUV designs unveiled at either Pebble Beach or the New York Auto Show (hence suggesting which market they were primarily aimed at) all turned out as expected, in that they sported slightly too ‘expressive’, big-grilled designs that very much adhere to the current standard styling idiom, and obviously belong to categories of cars in which the established (European) ‘premium’ brands traditionally excelled. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
It wasn’t until the Genesis Essentia concept car was unveiled last year that one could get the impression that Hyundai’s noblest brand wouldn’t simply repeat what has come (and gone) before. For while the category of car it represents – that of the luxurious GT – obviously is a luxury automobile staple, the execution of its design was surprisingly fresh and stimulating.
Juxtaposing traditional elements like the cab-rearward profile and dihedral doors with cutting edge features like the thin, bulb-free light units or air channels where one would’ve expected a big internal combustion engine a few years ago, the Essentia was very much a traditional sports car on the surface that rewarded closer inspection, upon which its original elements could be discovered.
One year later, and still under the impression of the Essentia, the teaser photo published by Genesis prior to the 2019 New York International Auto Show suggested that the South Koreans would have another interpretation of the performance car in store.
Given this context, the Genesis Mint turned out to be very refreshing indeed. For not only is it by far the most radical deviation from the ‘premium’ brand establishment formula so far, but also the most interesting, original take on a truly modern ‘premium’ car since Jaguar’s fabulous R-D6 concept car from 2003.
Created at Genesis’ Frankfurt studio, the Mint explores sophisticated motoring beyond Nürburgring lap times or plutocratic luxury. Just like BMW’s New Mini tried to define how a small car could be aspirational (and, of course, expensive) in 2001, the Mint tentatively answers the questions regarding the future of privileged short-range personal mobility in an age of inner city combustion engine bans and ever denser traffic.
So while its footprint may be small, its accoutrements are anything but barren – as with a traditional luxury vehicle, Mint’s cabin features plenty of leather and metal. Even its colour scheme – green exterior and tan cabin – is as classical as it could possibly be. And yet the Genesis exudes a very modern minimalism at the same time, featuring just one display (rather than a home cinema’s worth of flatscreens), bench-like seating (instead of the token/superfluous bucket seats) and a calm, rather than busy overall ambience.
Some might still be unconvinced by the Mint’s qualities as a small car, given it’s not particularly space efficient or as practical as it could be (the dehidral openings of the rear luggage compartment being obviously there for show purposes, rather than everyday usability). Yet unpretentious utility is decidedly not what this Genesis is about, but luxury and drama on a small scale. On that front, it’s an unmitigated success.
Going beyond the Genesis brand and its chances in the marketplace, it is exactly this kind of lateral thinking the automotive industry in general and car design in particular badly need right now. Orthodox approaches have resulted in bloated ranges of bloated cars, with true differentiation becoming increasingly difficult to achieve in a risk-averse environment that rewards conservatism, no matter how counterproductive the result.
While the mainstream shorthands for sophistication and luxury in car design remain constrained to the likes of a big grille, stitched leather or vast infotainment screens, Genesis have dared create something truly novel – and truly in keeping with the times.
Now here’s to hoping that Genesis’ South Korean custodians dare to be bold in the way Jaguar’s management wasn’t a-decade-and-a-half ago. After all, true originality always means providing an answer to a question that hasn’t been posed yet.
The author of this piece runs his own motoring website, which you are welcome to visit at