In most cases, luxury sedans are limited to two of three qualities: a sporty driving experience, a roomy interior and a (relatively) attainable price.
Powerful engines and fun-to-drive handling are common in the compact and midsize luxury classes, but these models tend to be a little tight in the back seat – or at least not stretch-out spacious. Models such as the Cadillac XTS and Lincoln Continental offer plenty of room but prioritize a smooth ride over handling poise. And while a Mercedes-Benz S-Class offers exquisite driving dynamics along with a spacious cabin, it’s generally priced into the six figures.
Two recently tested sedans, newly updated for 2018, offer a compelling balance of all three qualities. One is the Genesis G80, a big but fairly priced sedan from Hyundai’s luxury brand, which is newly available in a “Sport” trim with powerful turbocharged engine and revised suspension tuning. The other is the Volvo S90, which received a longer wheelbase to improve rear seat space just one year after it debuted for 2017.
The S90, priced from $49,095, feels like a midsize European sports sedan from behind the wheel. Taut, responsive steering and agile handling make it feel light and fun-to-drive – even though it’s a big sedan that’s now as long as a minivan. Unlike a BMW or Mercedes-Benz, it has a front-wheel-drive platform, though most models will include the optional all-wheel-drive.
The tested T6 model has a hearty 316-horsepower four-cylinder engine, which is both turbocharged and supercharged for maximum performance. Despite the complexity, it delivers power with a smooth, natural feel – the big Volvo responds nicely to either gentle driving or more aggressive stabs of the throttle. It also returns an EPA-estimated 25 miles per gallon in mixed driving, impressive for such a powerful and spacious vehicle; during a week of mixed driving, the tested car averaged 24 mpg. The base T5 model gets slightly better mileage and has a still-decent 250 horsepower.
The S90 has an elegant but restrained exterior design, with slim headlights flanking a concave grille, and with big safety-first taillights around back. It also boasts a simply gorgeous interior, with ultra-plush leather upholstery, rich wood trim and metal accents, and a big 9.3-inch touchscreen. It’s a great balance between classically beautiful, high-tech modern and everyday functional. The comfortable front seats are available with a myriad of adjustments, and the trunk is spacious.
A couple of downsides interfere with the S90’s balance of performance and comfort. The ride is on the stiff side, particularly with the tested car’s huge 20-inch wheels. And although the rear seat looks positively massive, foot space can be unexpectedly tight unless the front seats are raised. But overall, the S90 is an appealing all-around luxury sedan.
While the S90 feels like a midsize sedan and looks like a work of art, the Genesis is a more straightforward big luxury sedan – though also an excellent one. Its rear-wheel-drive platform and plus-size dimensions are purely traditional, but they achieve the desired result: balanced handling and a roomy cabin.
The standard Genesis G80 is priced from a compelling $42,725 with a 311-horsepower V6 engine, while the tested G80 Sport – sold only as a fully loaded model – starts at $56,255 with a turbocharged 365-horsepower V6. (A V8 is also available.)
Every G80 is nice to drive, with both a smooth ride and reasonable handling composure. The G80 Sport adds some extra life without harming ride quality – avoiding a significant drawback to an earlier version of the model, then sold as the Hyundai Genesis R-Spec. While not a pure sports sedan, it’s capable of hustling without feeling like it just wants you to slow back down and relax.
Copper trim decorates the exterior and interior on the G80 Sport, a unique touch that not everyone will love. The exterior has a bold, powerful overall shape, but some luxury buyers may find a few of the Sport’s details to be more fussy than classy. The overall dashboard design is also premium yet user-friendly, and while the front seats aren’t as gorgeous to look at as the Volvo’s, they’re also supremely comfortable.
Fuel economy is the main downside; even the best G80 (the base rear-wheel-drive model) only hits 22 mpg in mixed driving, albeit on less-expensive regular fuel. The G80 Sport falls to 20 mpg on premium, though the tested car did beat the EPA ratings to hit 23 mpg in a week of driving.
Another contender in the sporty-but-spacious niche is the Cadillac CT6. Though it’s a bit pricier than the G80 or S90, and has some frustrating dashboard controls, it boasts even more polished driving dynamics than these models. It starts at $55,090.