How far they’ve come
When people talk about Korean cars, they often look at how far the mainstream models have come and compare them to the Pony. How about the top end?
Every now and then, though admittedly it has happened far less often today, whenever Hyundai releases a new C-segment car, there’ll be some comment on how far the company has come from its first model, the rear-wheel-drive, ItalDesign-clothed, and Mitsubishi-engined Pony.
With total respect to the company, it has been a relatively short time for them to go from the Pony to the i30. However, there is often far less talk of how far Korea has come with the large car segment, probably because its earliest ones—licence-built Ford Granadas and Opel Rekords, for instance, weren’t sold outside the home market, and weren’t considered true, indigenous efforts.
Still, those Fords and Opels (the latter as Daewoos) found buyers in the 1970s, and as the 1990s dawned, your rich Korean insisting on a chauffeur-driven motor would have probably chosen a Daewoo, who had made numerous permutations on the Rekord E. The fanciest was the Daewoo Imperial, with a formal roofline that seemed inspired by the 1980s’ Chrysler Fifth Avenue.
As the 1990s went on, the Rekord had permutated into a few more models—the Prince, the Super Salon and the Brougham—all of which had a six-light body, and the Brougham even sported a Mercedes-Benz pastiche grille.
Going formal: the Daewoo Imperial
The Daewoo Brougham, almost the fanciest Opel Rekord you could buy
When I visited Seoul in 2001, I must have stumbled across a plutocrats’ luncheon, as outside were a bunch of black saloons, chauffeurs at the ready. However, by this time, buyers had cottoned on to just how old the Daewoo models were. If you really wanted to show off how important you were, you had something far better than any Daewoo: you bought yourself a Ssangyong Chairman. This out-Mercedesed the Brougham by actually having Mercedes tech, the Ssangyong cheekily outfitted the E-Klasse-based model with an S-Klasse-like body.
The 2018 Genesis G90L, with the brand’s crest grille
Now what do the same powerful Korean business people have? Most likely, based on the sales, the Genesis G90 long-wheelbase, and prior to that, the Genesis EQ900 (the name it had in Korea before the facelift), from Hyundai’s luxury brand. There might be a few plasticky bits and the leather isn’t the best, but Genesis has shown it has the cohones to take on S-Klasse Mercs and BMW Siebeners. Its replacement, due this year, might deal with all the criticisms levelled at Genesis in the west. And then, we can talk about just “how far they’ve come”.