On Autos: Two new models are traditional large luxury sedans

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The 2017 Genesis G90 is a Korean full-size luxury sedan that's priced from $69,050. (Brady Holt/The Current)

For 30 years, the term “town car” broadly referred to a big, cushy luxury sedan, often chauffeured and painted shiny black.

But the ubiquitous sedan that lent its name to that genre — the Lincoln Town Car – was discontinued in 2011, leaving room for a fresh crop of vehicles to fill that void. Such models offer an alternative to the six-figure Mercedes-Benz S-Class and other pricey European flagships. They may not offer the same cutting-edge technology and responsive driving dynamics, but they still provide stately styling, a welcoming interior and a spacious rear seat.

Until recently, though, it was tough to find a truly impressive vehicle in that class. Hyundai gave it a try with the 2011 Equus, but its name screamed “budget car” and some interior details lacked appropriate polish. Lincoln’s own replacement for the Town Car, the MKS, was basically a fancier Ford Taurus — and that era of Taurus was a particularly weak starting point for a luxury car. Cadillac joined in with the XTS, but it blended in with the brand’s similarly styled, similarly named sedans. The Lexus LS — once a value leader in the class — has risen in price to nearly the Europeans’ level.

For 2017, though, this market segment got a fresh jolt from a pair of new models. Hyundai replaced the Equus with an all-new sedan and introduced a new brand called Genesis — named for the Hyundai Genesis premium sedan, Hyundai’s first successful upscale product. The Equus replacement now wears the moniker of “Genesis G90,” without the Hyundai name. Meanwhile, Lincoln replaced the MKS with a nameplate from the brand’s storied past: Continental.

The 2017 Genesis G90 is big and stately but lacks head-turning styling cues. (Brady Holt/The Current)

The G90, like the Equus before it, follows most European competitors in adopting a rear-wheel-drive design. Luxury purists say this traditional approach is crucial to proper high-end sedans, and the G90 also offers an optional all-wheel-drive system to boost winter traction — a feature that was notably absent from the old Equus. Genesis also follows the example of traditional luxury cars by offering a V8 engine, though the tested G90 instead came with a turbocharged V6 for an extra 1 mpg in EPA testing, for a total of 20 mpg overall.

The Genesis is designed for its South Korean market, where Korean vehicles command a high market share and fill nearly every market niche, including luxury cars. The G90’s imposing but understated styling plays well to Korean tastes — the design takes no edgy risks, but the car is unquestionably big and stately. However, if you had to guess, you might figure it to be five years old instead of a brand-new design. The same applies to the interior, where the G90 has a user-friendly dashboard but little design flair. A few materials feel unremarkable, too — surprising in a vehicle that’s otherwise working hard to prove itself against the established competitors.

There are few particular standout qualities, in fact. But aside from the aforementioned cabin materials, the overall G90 experience is one of supreme competence. Rarely are you truly dazzled, like you would be in an S-Class or a BMW 7 Series — Genesis doesn’t offer much that those don’t, except for relative affordability. But if you’re expecting to glide along confidently and quietly, the Genesis offers that experience at a much lower price.

The G90 has a base price of $69,050. Most imaginable features come as standard equipment, so although that starting price seems steep, even a fully loaded model isn’t much more expensive.

The 2017 Lincoln Continental is mechanically derived from a mainstream Ford sedan, but it’s larger and more visually impressive. (Brady Holt/The Current)

Meanwhile, the Lincoln Continental has a much lower base price — $45,645 — but a fully loaded model costs about as much as the G90. The Lincoln has more design flourishes, making it more distinctive than the Genesis — though the G90, despite being similarly sized to the Continental, somehow manages to look bigger.

While the G90 strove for a consistent high standard, Lincoln aimed for more notable standouts. Real estate agents sometimes advise home sellers to focus on upgrading one room that will stay in buyers’ imagination, like a jaw-dropping master bathroom. The Continental’s front seats are perhaps the automotive counterpart. Thanks to various pieces that move independently, the seats are billed as 30-way adjustable — compared to the eight-way seats found on a typical well-equipped car. Additional stylistic flair inside and out makes the Continental more memorable than the G90.

At the same time, though, the Continental doesn’t quite match the G90’s driving experience — at least based on a short drive of the Continental, provided by Koons Lincoln of Silver Spring, Md., compared to a weeklong test of a G90 provided by Genesis. The Lincoln is derived from the Ford Fusion family sedan, and although you’d never see a specific clue to those origins, the Continental didn’t seem to have the same solid serenity as the Genesis. It’s a subtle distinction, and perhaps one that won’t matter to back-seat passengers, but buyers long accustomed to high-end luxury cars might well spot the difference.

The 2017 Genesis G80, previously called the Hyundai Genesis, is a large premium sedan at the relatively affordable price of $42,725. (Brady Holt/The Current)

If the Continental’s lower price is appealing, consider Genesis’ other model, the G80. It’s also a premium full-size sedan, a renamed version of last year’s Hyundai Genesis. It has more aggressive styling than its pricier sibling and a little less room in the rear seat. It also lacks some of the most decadent luxury features, including a full set of controls for rear-seat passengers, that you’d find on the G90. However, it still has a smooth, quiet ride and a comfortable, well-finished cabin; its base price is $42,725.

The G80 mostly fills a niche at the lower end of the luxury scale, competing most directly against such models as the Buick LaCrosse and Lexus ES 350. And it’s a strong competitor, except for mediocre fuel economy ratings of 19 mpg as tested. But it can also serve as an alternative to a lower-end model in the broad Continental line.