It’s now longer ago than I care to admit, but during the formative years of my driving career owning a powerful, rear wheel drive sports coupe seemed as unobtainable a dream as an acne-free face and a date to the prom. The biggest barriers to entry were my parents who, since they were mostly footing the bill for my insurance at the time, decided which cars made the “obtainable” list in the first place. Dreams of FD RX-7s, Supra Turbos or even lowly 240SXs were quickly dashed thanks to the sky-high premiums for my teenage male self. Even 6-cylinder Camaros or Mustangs, which I viewed as half-hearted substitutes at the time, were verboten. As a result, my path toward front-wheel drive was predestined, and a decade of Honda and Diamond Star sport compact ownership ensued. I loved those cars, but there was always a part of me that craved rear-wheel drive fun, especially when my friends began hopping on the drifting bandwagon that was all the rage in the early to mid-2000s.
Even if I had been able to sample the wares, there was a relative dearth of competent new sport compacts with driven rear wheels back then – especially for a young buyer. The S2000 had recently been introduced to great fanfare, but even for a new college grad it seemed priced to the moon. The V8-powered examples of the Mustang and Camaro were decent, but also lacked any semblance of playful handling – without a load of modifications thrown at them, at least – and the V6 versions back then weren’t very good at all. The Japanese sports car onslaught of the 1980s and 90s had mostly dried up by now, the Miata being the sole carrier of the torch for those seeking inexpensive Asian front-engine, RWD thrills. The revamped Z-car had yet to appear.
Fast forward to present day and 16-year-old me would be over the moon at all the options on the table for first- or second-time enthusiast buyers. In addition to the resurgent wave of talented FWD hot hatches, all manner of rear-wheel drive fun can be had for under $35 grand these days. That’s more than the average new car transaction price but still mostly within reach for a young buyer just starting to rise through the ranks of their career, still free of the added expense of a heavy duty mortgage and kids. The domestic players now produce thoroughly enjoyable and talented V6 sports coupes, the Camaro, Mustang and Challenger all slicing the buyer pie into thin, uniquely distinct slices. The V8-powered versions of each bring levels of firepower unfathomable to mainstream buyers 15 years ago. And for nimbler, lighter options, the 370Z, MX-5, Genesis Coupe and FR-S/BRZ twins all offer rear-wheel drive and defeatable stability control. Just the kind of fun my parents were trying to keep from me all those years ago.
I recently sampled the last two options on that list – the Hyundai Genesis Coupe and Subaru BRZ – back-to-back, and came away suitably impressed with what are effectively about the cheapest entry points into the RWD sports arena. The Genesis Coupe model we tested was the 2.0T R-Spec version, featuring as standard a 274-horsepower, 2-liter turbocharged and intercooled four cylinder, a 6-speed manual transmission, Brembo brakes and an honest-to-god limited slip diff.
From the moment I set off in the Genesis, it was already doing its best impression of the rear-wheel drive import cars of my youth – specifically the S13- and S14-generation Nissan 240SX, which when powered by the highly pressurized four-cylinder SR20DET engine bear a striking resemblance in character to the turbo Genesis coupe of today. The low cowl, quick turn-in and light, though not very feelsome steering brought me right back to driving friends’ modified S-chassis. As did the powertrain, which when pushed produces a wave of turbocharged torque but also exhibits more lag than many buyers will be accustomed to, especially if they’re stepping out of something like a GTI or Focus ST. I really didn’t mind it, and the lag is never obtrusive enough to interfere with passing or acceleration exercises. The shifter and clutch are both light in their actions, and resolve the pre-facelift Genesis’ somewhat recalcitrant shift quality. There’s also a slight feeling of elasticity to the drivetrain, exacerbated by a baked-in rev hang when you get out of the throttle. It’s likely that a computer reprogramming, lighter flywheel or a combination of the two would do away with the hang, but if you modify your shifting technique slightly you can get around it for the most part.
The Genesis isn’t a small car in the mold of the BRZ/FR-S or MX-5, and its back seat accommodations are more on par with the larger American pony cars than those that fall in the “vestigial” (Subaru/ Scion) or “nonexistent” (Nissan and Mazda) categories. Still, the back seat isn’t the first thing on buyers’ minds when it comes to two-door sport coupes, so I’ll just mention that it’s got one and leave it at that. Where its size does show up is on the scales, and with 3,300 pounds give or take, the Genesis has a good 500 pounds on the Frisbee twins and even more than that over the Miata. The Genesis 2.0T wears its weight well, though, as it never feels ponderous and turns into corners with gusto – noticeably more so than the Genesis V6, leading you to wonder just how much of the six-cylinder’s weight is hanging out front compared to the four.
The 19” wheels and Bridgestone RE050A tires that come equipped on R-Spec Genesis coupes keep the car firmly planted even when cornering spiritedly, and the R-Spec doesn’t succumb to oversteer or understeer without major lapses in judgment. With grippier rubber, the stability of a longer wheelbase and a more powerful engine, the 2.0T R-Spec will show its taillights to an FR-S/BRZ in nearly all cases. That said, it also doesn’t exhibit the playfulness of its lighter competitors through the corners. Instead, on the move the Genesis exhibits a maturity of character that the porno-red seats, row of accessory gauges and flashy wheels suggest doesn’t exist. Truth is, even on the no-frills R-Spec, the cabin is a nice place to spend time, and on the highway the Genesis proves to be a serene and comfortable cruiser. The blue-lit radio display might be a little archaic looking and the materials are nothing to write home about, but the driving position is spot on – the low dash provides an expansive view of the road like countless 1990s and early 2000s Japanese models.
Perhaps the R-Spec is facing a bit of an identity crisis – at first blush, you’d think it was pretending to be a Turbo magazine cover car, circa 2002. It’s got the turbo lag, whining fuel pump, grille-filling intercooler and bright red Brembos of any of the most memorable tuner rides. Its styling absolutely looks the part. And yet, from behind the wheel, the Genesis proves to be as quiet, docile and well-mannered as a Sonata. It’s for those grown-ups who don’t want to appear to be that grown up, perhaps wanting to revel in the qualities of the cars of their youth without having to make the associated sacrifices in noise, comfort or safety. It’s not the sexiest idea, but it makes sense – we’re not 16 anymore, after all. But there is a RWD sports coupe on the market that absolutely would appeal to our 16-year-old selves, and it doesn’t require as much sacrifice as you might think…more on that one next.
2013 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 2.0T R-Spec
Base Price: $27,375
Price as tested: $27,375
Options on test car: None
Powertrain: 2.0-liter twin-scroll turbocharged and intercooled 4-cylinder, 6-speed manual transmission; 274 Horsepower/275 lb-ft Torque
Hyundai provided the vehicle for testing and one tank of gas. Photos by the author.