– St. Helena, California
Stick the word “sport” on the end of a car name and you give people pretty big expectations. For newcomer luxury brand Genesis, that suffix is being appended for the first time to its G80 sedan. The package has all of the ingredients of its rivals – biturbocharged V6, adaptive suspension, enlarged brakes, racier design elements. But while the Genesis team has cooked up a lovely sedan with the G80 Sport, it’s not as enthralling to drive as its competition.
Admittedly, Genesis does not intend for the 2018 G80 Sport to be a Nürburgring star in the vein of an M, RS, or AMG model. Instead the company is targeting the mild performance versions of other midsize luxury sedans – product planner Yuval Steiman (who previously worked at Lexus) specifically mentions the Lexus GS F Sport and BMW 5 Series M Sport as comparable vehicles.
To begin that transformation, the G80 Sport wears a new front fascia with functional brake-cooling ducts, a large grille with a crosshatch mesh design, and 19-inch wheels with copper-accented center caps. Four exhaust tips surround a diffuser panel out back, the taillights are tinted, and the exterior trim is all darkened. Interestingly, there are no “Sport” badges anywhere on the car, the only giveaway being the subtle “3.3T” engine marker on the trunk. In total, it’s a pretty standard scheme for dressing up a normal car as a sportier version, and it works well here. The G80 has an aggressive look from every angle, with a style that’s all its own rather than derivative of any rival.
A biturbocharged engine further separates the G80 Sport from its brethren, specifically a 3.3-liter V6 that is also available in the larger, heavier Genesis G90 luxury sedan. An eight-speed automatic is your only transmission choice, with both rear- and all-wheel drive on offer. With 365 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque, the Sport outpowers the entry-level G80 (3.8-liter V6 with 311 hp and 293 lb-ft), but is still outgunned by the 5.0-liter V8 model, which packs 420 hp and 383 lb-ft. (No Sport version of the V8 is planned, primarily because the biturbo six is lighter than the 5.0-liter.)
Fortunately, the Sport has a smattering of other chassis upgrades to go along with its engine. Adaptive dampers come standard, though the suspension has not been lowered. The front brakes match those of the V8 model at 14.2 inches in diameter, albeit with upgraded brake pads, while the rear rotors are enlarged from 12.4 to 13.0 inches. There’s also a higher-capacity cooling fan for the turbo engine.
Genesis does not intend for the 2018 G80 Sport to be a Nürburgring star in the vein of an M, RS, or AMG model.
With the drive-mode switch left in Normal or Eco, the G80 Sport ably hides its athleticism. Deliberate throttle mapping and supple upshifts from the automatic transmission make everyday driving carefree and comfortable. The cabin is quiet, thanks in part to the acoustic glass used for the windshield and front windows. A moderate amount of road noise plays from the Continental ProContact TX tires, but not so much as to distract from listening to the crisp 17-speaker Lexicon sound system.
In these settings, the adaptive dampers allow a decent amount of body motion before sorting things out. That results in a plenty comfortable ride, even if big impacts still transmit some harshness through the 19-inch wheels and low-profile tires. All told, the G80 Sport can be perfectly refined on everything from winding back roads to traffic-choked freeways.
Dial things up to Sport, however, to take maximum advantage of the biturbo engine. That livens up the throttle responses, forces the transmission to hold a lower gear, and stiffens the shock absorbers. The engine builds torque easily (the peak 376 lb-ft is available from 1,300 through 4,500 rpm) and revs in a firm, deliberate manner. It sounds nice and throaty under throttle, and while shifts effected by the steering-wheel paddles are not particularly crisp, the G80 Sport is plenty quick – perhaps six seconds or quicker to 60 miles per hour.
When things get twisty, though, it begins to stumble. The electric power steering offers no feeling or feedback to my fingertips, and its weighting can change unpredictably. Enter a corner and the steering effort, while never really changing as you add lock, is at least weighty enough to satisfy. But as you hold a line through a bend, the weighting twitches and fidgets; when you unwind the wheel, it feels completely different again. It’s distracting on the excellent two-lanes snaking through the Napa Valley.
Taken as a sporty car, it simply lacks the smoothness and directness to string together several corners in a row.
The chassis, too, doesn’t quite feel up to hustling quickly. With the suspension in Sport mode, the body moves plenty before things are very abruptly damped. There’s vagueness when the car settles into a bend, though the 245/40R19 front and 275/35R19 rear tires are pretty much unperturbable at legal speeds. But I keep finding myself longing for a purer, more predictable driving experience with better feedback to the driver.
Again, the G80 Sport is not meant to be an out-and-out performance car; driven at six-tenths on these roads, it acquits itself just fine. Taken as a sporty car, though, it just lacks the smoothness and directness to string together several corners in a row. For that, you’ll be better served by the aforementioned BMW M Sport and Lexus F Sport models – to say nothing of the unerringly precise way the Mercedes-AMG E43 handles twisting pavement.
Switching to an all-wheel-drive car reveals almost no dynamic differences on dry roads. The car’s system, called HTRAC, has a nominal front-rear torque split of 40:60, but can shift as much as 90 percent of engine torque to one axle in slippery circumstances. The AWD car is 156 pounds heavier and has a turning circle that’s over a foot greater than the rear-driver, but those will be of little concern to the Snowbelt buyers Genesis hopes to attract. Currently, Genesis sales are clustered in the sunnier “Smile States,” like California and the southwest, and only about 40 percent of G80s come with AWD.
The inside of the G80 is a nice place to spend time at any speed. The Sport trim wears a unique steering wheel, a suede headliner, various copper accents, carbon fiber trim on the dash and door panels, and shiny metal pedals. Sport-specific seats have enough bolstering to keep you in place through high-G bends without affecting comfort, and feature contrast stitching in that same copper color.
The G80 Sport is a great first salvo into the sportier side of the luxury-car business, with energetic styling and a strong engine that will appeal to a lot of drivers.
Sitting in back, there’s lots of leg- and headroom to keep adults comfortable on long journeys. The copper accents and carbon fiber trim continue for rear passengers, too. The generously sized trunk will accommodate 15.3 cubic feet of luggage.
Fuel economy for the Sport falls midway between the base V6 and V8 versions of the G80, at 17 miles per gallon city and 20 mpg combined for both versions, and 24 or 25 mpg highway depending on whether you get all- or rear-wheel drive, respectively.
One big selling point for the G80 Sport is that it, like other Genesis models, undercuts much of its competition. The Sport starts at $55,250 and comes pretty much fully loaded, with no option packs offered on the car; adding all-wheel drive costs $2,500. That’s far less than what you’ll pay for a German sport-luxury sedan with similar amounts of power and performance.
In fact, the extensive standard equipment list includes such luxuries as heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, touchscreen navigation, LED head- and taillights, wireless phone charging, and a head-up display. Active-safety features comprise a 360-degree camera, pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, attention assist, lane-keep assist, and blind-spot warning.
One big selling point for the G80 Sport is that it, like other Genesis models, undercuts much of its competition. The Sport starts at $55,250 and comes pretty much fully loaded.
The G80 Sport’s entry price also pays for what the company calls Genesis Experience coverage for three years or 36,000 miles. That means free navigation map updates, SiriusXM traffic coverage, scheduled maintenance, roadside assistance, and a valet service that will pick your car up and leave a loaner while your car goes into the dealership. Genesis general manager Erwin Raphael says that offering such services is perfectly in tune with the brand’s focus on customer satisfaction: “We focus on this balance between the product and the experience.”
Genesis expects the Sport model to account for 15-20 percent of all G80 sales – “But rest assured, if customers want more, we could build more,” says Raphael. The V8 accounts for only about 5 percent of the mix, with the vast majority of G80 customers picking the base V6 model that starts at $41,750.
Having only sold cars in the U.S. since last fall, Genesis is still in the process of developing its dealer network. For now, the cars are available at existing Hyundai dealers; about 90 percent of them are set up to sell the G80 (the car was already on sale nationwide as the Hyundai Genesis), though fewer than half currently offer the larger G90. Raphael says details about the launch of independent Genesis showrooms will be announced, “some time in the future.”
If you focus on the Sport badge at the end of its model name, this car will be a little bit of a letdown. It’s not as fluid or composed in back-roads driving as its competition, nor is it especially exciting from behind the wheel. In every other sense, though, it’s a very good sedan that shows a hugely promising direction for the fledgling Genesis brand. The G80 Sport is a great first salvo into the sportier side of the luxury-car business, with energetic styling and a strong engine that will appeal to a lot of drivers, while still being comfortable enough to not dissuade luxury buyers. Couple that with the fact that the G80 Sport is more affordable than direct competitors, and Genesis has the beginnings of a winning formula on its hands.
Photos: Jake Holmes / Motor1.com
Gallery: 2018 Genesis G80 Sport: First Drive
2018 GENESIS G80 SPORT