I just did a burnout - which is nothing unusual, except ...

I did it in a Hyundai.

A rear-wheel-drive Hyundai muscle car. Six-speed stick, 306 horsepower.

The memory of stinkboxes like the '80s-era Excel have been washed from my mind!

WHAT IT IS

The Genesis is a mid-sized, two-plus-two sport coupe in the Camaro/Mustang tradition - lacking only a V-8 engine (for now) to seal the deal. Prices start at $22,000 for the 2.0 T model and run up to $32,000 for a 3.8 Track with the 306 hp V-6 engine and six-speed automatic and GPS.

WHAT'S NEW

The Genesis is a new model for Hyundai and more significantly, the automaker's first-ever rear-wheel-drive performance coupe.

WHAT'S GOOD

American-style muscle car experience at a Hyundai price. V-6 Track version is nearly as powerful as a V-8 Mustang GT - and quicker than a Dodge Challenger V-6. Better warranty coverage than Mustang, Camaro or Challenger. Lower profile lets you slide under the radar instead of drawing the attention of every cop in town.

WHAT'S NOT SO GOOD

No V-8 (for the moment) in a segment where V-8s are almost a mandatory must-have. A Camaro SS or Challenger R/T can still clean its clock in a straight line. Base Camaro V-6 has nearly as much power as the optional V-6 in the Genesis.

Doesn't have the history you get with a Camaro, Mustang or Challenger. Lacks the gaudy curb appeal of those revived retro-muscle cars.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

The Genesis can be equipped with either a turbocharged 2.0 liter four-cylinder (210 hp) or a 3.8 liter, 306 hp V-6. Both engines come standard with six-speed manual transmissions, with a five-speed automatic optional for the four and a six-peed automatic (with paddle shifters) optional for the V-6.

All versions are rear-wheel-drive.

Four-cylinder/manual versions do 0-60 in just under 7 seconds; the V-6/six-speed cuts a second off that time.

Gas mileage with the four-cylinder engine and six speed manual is rated by the EPA at 21 city, 30 highway; V-6/automatic versions register 17 city, 27 highway.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

When - not if - Hyundai puts a V-8 into this thing (the Genesis sedan already offers a 4.6 liter, 368 hp V-8) American muscle cars will be facing the first direct challenge to their 40-plus year dominance of the market for this type of car. Rear-wheel-drive performance is not unique to American brands - but two-plus-twos with throaty, big-inch V-8s in the high $20k-low-$30k range have been exclusively Detroit's turf since the 1960s all the way through to now.

That is clearly going to change.

Even with the engines it has right now, the Genesis is probably going to eat into Mustang/Camaro and Challenger sales.

The four-cylinder version weighs about 150 pounds less than a Mustang V-6 (and a whopping 700 pounds less than a Challenger V-6) and it's lighter on its feet, with quicker acceleration - and much better handling - than either of them. And you get a six-speed standard vs. a five-speed in the Mustang and an automatic-only in the V-6 Challenger. The base versions of the Mustang and Challenger may look like they're ready to dance but they have two left feet - as far as real performance is concerned. The four-cylinder Genesis, in contrast, offers some real driving zip at a still-economical price point.

You can even order an R-Spec package with the 2.0 liter engine that includes 19-inch rims with ultra-performance summer tires, high-capacity Brembo brakes, limited slip rear axle, firm-ride suspension and several exterior/interior enhancements. This package also includes manual adjusters to tailor front-end camber to you tastes.

That's pretty serious equipment and the base V-6 versions of the Mustang and Challenger don't offer anything comparable. If you want some go to accompany the show, you've got to step up to the more expensive, V-8 powered versions of these cars.

The Camaro is the only one of the Detroit Three to meet the Genesis on equal or better terms in base model trim. The Chevy's 304 hp 3.6 liter is nearly 100 hp stronger than the Hyundai's 2.0 liter four - for about the same money ($22,680 vs. $22,000 for the Genesis 2.0).

Its chief weakness relative to the Hyundai is its higher curb weight and not-as-precise handling. The Camaro will corner but it's not as tight feeling and confidence inspiring as the lighter, better balanced Genesis. It also has some pretty awful blind spots due to its stylish "chopped" roofline (more on this below).

V-6 versions of the Genesis accelerate strongly, sound really good and handle just as well as the four-cylinder versions. With 306 hp on tap, the V-6 Genesis is already within striking distance of the Mustang GT's 315 hp V-8 and when (not if) Hyundai offers the 4.6 liter, 368 hp V-8 that's currently available in the Genesis sedan, it will outclass the Mustang GT and achieve "par" with the 5.7 liter Hemi-powered Dodge Challenger R/T (370 hp).

The Camaro SS (6.2 liters, 426 hp for the bargain price of $30,745) is still The King - but for how long?

STYING & UTILITY

Looks are a point of clear departure for the Genesis relative to the traditional American muscle coupe. Though its functional layout is very similar to Camaro, Mustang and Challenger, it's not nearly as hunky-looking as they are - and it's physically a smaller car. At 182.3 inches long, it is six inches shorter, nose to tail, than the next-longest Mustang at 188.1 inches - and more than a foot shorter than the absolutely huge Dodge Challenger at 197.7 inches.

If you don't know what it is, you'd probably assume it's another FWD sport compact instead of Hyundai's first stab at building a real-wheel-drive muscle car. This was probably inevitable since neither the Genesis nor Hyundai have any history to fall back on - or retro styling cues to recall.

Genesis - as its name implies - is the start of something new.

Some buyers may like this; others not so much. The Genesis runs a much lower profile than the Heroes of the Drive Thru - who are all about getting noticed. That's great if you want everyone looking at you (cops included) but not so great if you don't. It's also possible that because the Genesis doesn't have the decades-long bad boy rep that comes with Camaro, Mustang or Challenger, its cost to insure may be less.

Size also matters when it comes to cabin space.

Despite its more compact outside dimensions, the Genesis has about two inches more front seat legroom (44.1 inches) than the much larger on the outside - and much heavier - Dodge Challenger (42.4 inches) and close to two inches more front seat headroom than the chop-roofed Chevy Camaro (39.2 inches for the Hyundai vs. 37.4 for the Camaro). I love the Camaro, but it's not the most livable car if you're over six feet tall. The Genesis, meanwhile, is easy to get into and out - and comfortable to be in - even if you're well over six feet tall, as I am.

Back seat space in all these cars is limited - it's the nature of the beast - but surprisingly, the smaller-on-the-outside Genesis has about the same back seat head/legroom as its main competition. Only the Challenger has significantly more rear legroom (32.6 inches vs. 30.3 inches for the Genesis). And the Hyundai actually has slightly more backseat legroom than either Mustang (29.8 inches) or Camaro (29.9 inches).

Pretty much the only size-related area where the Genesis comes up short is trunk room, with just 10 cubic feet vs. 16.2 for the class-leading Challenger. But Camaro and Mustang only have marginally larger trunks than Genesis - 11.3 cubic feet and 13.4 cubic feet, respectively.

None of these cars are made for carrying more than two adults comfortably - or carrying much with you in the trunk. And their rear-drive layout means they are iffy in the snow - worthless, if they're riding on high-performance "summer" tires.

Unlike most current-year cars, the Genesis has frameless door glass - and while it seals well and helps the car feel less closed-in, there is some shudder when you pull the door closed with the glass up.

To the right of the very straightforward main gauge cluster - large speedo and tachometer with large, highly legible fonts - is a kind of hokey engine torque output meter, plus a bar graph "instant" fuel economy readout that frequently reads out a very optimistic 50-plus MPGs. I'd rather have seen a set of useful accessory gauges, such as one for oil pressure and another for oil temperature.

Gadget-wise, Genesis can be ordered with touch-screen navigation and Bluetooth as well as a premium Infinity audio system with music storage hard drive.

There's also an iPod pigtail in the center console.

QUALITY & SAFETY

As a brand-new model, it is impossible to judge the Hyundai's prospective long-term reliability directly. But indirectly, one can feel confident in it because all recent Hyundais have proved to be well-built and problem-free as judged by the number of recalls and consumer complaints - which have been few. It certainly appears to be well-built, with no obvious corner cutting or evidence of slipshod construction (which you can't say about the appallingly slapped-together Challenger).

It also has the best standard and limited/powertrain coverage - five years and 60,000 miles on the whole car, 10 years and 100,000 miles on the engine and transmission. The Mustang, Camaro and Challenger all come with much skimpier three year, 36,000 mile basic warranties - although GM and Chrysler have upped their powertrain coverage to five years and 100,000 miles.

Mustang's is still just five years/60,000 miles.

At the time this review was written, crash test scores were not available.

All trims come with standard side-impact and curtain air bags, ABS, traction and stability control.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Hyundai's clearly gunning for the big boys - who no longer have an unchallenged hold on the last remaining American-only corner of the marketplace.