The dress rehearsal is over – it’s showtime.
The 2021 Genesis GV80 has made strong impressions since its January debut. Genesis had a hit with its 2020 Super Bowl commercial, featuring the GV80 and Hollywood power couple John Legend and Chrissy Teigen. And in May, the brand announced over 10,000 people submitted pre-orders – the company only sold 21,000 vehicles in all of 2019.
Just consider that stat: if Genesis completed every pre-order, the GV80 would represent nearly a 50 percent increase in sales. The company’s G70, G80, and G90 sedans have been around longer, but in today’s world, you aren’t an automaker unless you have a CUV. With the GV80, Genesis truly joins the ranks of luxury brands, and it does so with the kind of competitive, complete product that serves as a strong bedrock for future efforts. If you’re part of that small army of hand-raisers, get excited – this is a hell of a luxury CUV.
People come up with all manner of reasons for buying a luxury car, but there’s one simple fact at the core: They want to be seen. And in the case of mid-size luxury crossovers, the GV80 is worth being seen in. This is a striking car, blessed with a fresh look, crisp lines, eye-catching details, and a color palette from a team that appreciates esoteric vehicle shades. We want to be friends with anyone that slathers a luxury CUV in Cardiff Green (featured here) or Lima Red.
The GV80 looks like nothing else in the class, but appreciating the cohesive design and styling takes time. Take the enormous shield-shaped grille and its “G-Matrix” pattern. The contours of the grille itself pop up at the back of the vehicle in the twin exhausts, and its mesh texture ties in neatly with parts of the wheels. In the cabin, you'll see the G-Matrix look on the numerous speaker grilles, too.
The GV80 is worth being seen in.
Viewed from the front corner, there are other touches, such as the way the front wheel arches almost interrupt the headlights and side grilles. It's easy to imagine that at one point these were two continuous lines. It's a beautiful and unusual element.
On the more conventional side, the GV80 emphasizes its rear-drive base with an aggressive character line that surges downwards as it runs from front to back, and then meets with a second line to create a defined haunch. It's a popular trope to complain about the number of crossovers on the road, but if every model looked even half as interesting as the GV80, those complaints would face quick deaths.
The GV80's cabin design is attractive, but it doesn't break the same kind of ground as the exterior. A floating center console bisects the front third of the cabin and integrates the typical controls (gear selector, an infotainment knob, and a drive mode selector) before surging up to the center stack. That short element sits above a capacious cubby, which is home to an available wireless charge pad and a pair of USB-A inputs. The climate controls combine a touch-capacitive screen with haptic feedback and conventional buttons in glossy black plastic, while a huge 14.5-inch touchscreen crowns the stack.
But the conventional design belies gorgeous detailing. The range-topping Prestige models we drove had leather-covered dashes and door panels. The center console is a combo of hide and matte wood, and there's even a knee pad on the side that provides some long-haul comfort. The quality of materials here is excellent, so when Genesis says it intends to challenge the Audi Q7, BMW X5, and Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, there's little about the interior that makes us doubt it.
Put the GV80 on the road and it continues to wow. Once ensconced inside the cabin, drivers will enjoy a comfortable, supportive seat. Most variants feature 12-way seats, while every trim has heated front chairs and all but the base get standard ventilation. Upmarket trims swap in 16-way chairs with adjustable bolstering and a massage function. Regardless, whichever GV80 you buy, it comes with a good pair of front chairs.
The second-row bench is comfortable and well padded, and the wide-opening doors make for easy entry and exit, too. If you want the hard numbers, the GV80 stands up to the competition with 38.7 inches of rear legroom – the Q7 is a tenth of an inch better and the GLE comes in at 40.9, but the Genesis bests the BMW X5 (36.6 inches) handily. This CUV offers an optional third-row bench on V6-powered Advance trims, but three-row GV80s will only account for about 10 percent of total sales, so don't expect to see them often.
The GV80 takes "quiet" to a level that librarians would find excessive.
Genesis offers the GV80 with the kind of technology you need to experience. At the top of that list is the GV80's Road Active Noise Cancellation. Standard on the all-wheel-drive Prestige, this system takes the basic concept of active noise cancellation and quadruples it. Using an accelerometer at each wheel and a microphone at all four doors to feed a digital controller, the GV80 quashes nasty sounds from the tires, suspension, and engine.
So equipped, the GV80 takes quiet to a level that librarians would find excessive. We didn't test this new Genesis with a decibel meter, but it'd shock us if the GV80 weren't the quietest car in this class. Even without RANC, the GV80 exhibits excellent control of road and tire noise on all but the harshest surfaces. But despite calm conditions during our test, there was a fair amount of wind noise at highway speeds.
Even if road or engine noise gets into the cabin, the GV80 relies on an old fallback – a kick-ass audio system. We didn’t try the base audio setup (an unbranded 12-speaker system), but the 21-speaker Lexicon rig is standard on all but the lowest trim. It's excellent, providing richer sound than what you'll find in BMW or Audi's range-topping systems.
The 1,050-watt system complements a new infotainment system. While the 14.5-inch display is a modern touchscreen, the primary controller takes inspiration from… 2001? The best way to describe this interface is that it has a great deal in common with the original Apple iPod – there's a physical scroll wheel, featuring a knurled finish, for scrolling through menus, zooming in and out on the navigation, or for cycling through channels. A press at each of the cardinal directions will jump the cursor to a different element of the display, while a press at the center of the pad selects what's currently highlighted.
While the 14.5-inch display is a modern touchscreen, the primary controller takes inspiration from… 2001?
After a few minutes of vicious deja vu, we were scrolling and tapping with ease. The click-wheel functionality is extremely satisfying to use and the haptic feedback from pressing on the pad feels real, rather than a result of software. The infotainment itself, though, has a steep learning curve – the way to jump from section to section isn't always obvious. But even with that caveat, the overall system is super quick and the 14.5-inch display's graphics look great.
The big touchscreen pairs with a "3D" digital cluster on the V6 Prestige. But the 12.3-inch display is a failed party trick, using a driver-facing camera to monitor the pilot's eyes and then adjusting the graphics to (poorly) mimic a 3D effect. It's unconvincing, and to add insult to injury, there's a dramatic drop in screen resolution when the system is on. We deactivated it less than five minutes after getting behind the wheel.
Settling Down To Drive
The GV80 relies on either a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder or a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 – all-wheel drive is optional on the former and standard on the latter, while both engines work alongside an eight-speed automatic gearbox. All three trims (base, Advance, and Prestige) are available with either engine.
All in all, the base powertrain is a competent setup. The big four-cylinder's 300 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque adroitly manage the GV80's weight (4,707 pounds for the rear-drive Prestige we tested). Acceleration is smooth and predictable, with a hearty torque curve – peak twist spans from 1,650 rpm to 4,000 rpm, although thankfully the four-pot maintains its punch even at high engine speeds. The note from under the hood is pleasant, with a refined tone that only interferes during hard driving.
With 375 hp and 391 pound-feet, the twin-turbo V6 feels more natural in the GV80.
The 3.5-liter is our choice though, and despite Genesis' projections, it’s the volume engine for now. The company projected that the high-spec V6 would account for 35 to 40 percent of sales, but early sales data shows that 65 percent of customers will go for the twin-turbo model. We understand why – with 375 hp and 391 pound-feet, this engine feels more natural in the GV80.
Punchier behavior off the line pairs neatly with a smooth note from under the hood – Road Active Noise Cancellation at work – to produce a driving experience that's refined and suited to a luxury product. Put another way, if Hyundai rolled out a rebadged GV80 and only offered the 2.5-liter four-cylinder, we'd be happy. But when it comes to a product with the Genesis badge, the 3.5-liter is more appropriate for the car's position.
In both applications, the eight-speed automatic performs well, getting over some initial off-the-line hesitation before settling into a rhythm of smooth upshifts. There is some hunting for gears in heavy or sudden throttle situations, but drivers can mitigate that with judicious throttle application, thanks to the torque-rich character of these engines. The GV80 has a manual mode and wheel-mounted paddles, but like the people that will buy this vehicle, we ignored them.
Thankfully, Genesis avoided the temptation to imbue the GV80 with more of this sporting fluff. The ride is firmly skewed toward comfort. Even though cornering behavior is appropriate for a premium product – body motions are tight and predictable through corners – the GV80 is more focused on relaxing and isolating the driver.
The GV80 is one of the most comfortable vehicles in the class.
On smooth roads, the GV80 is one of the most comfortable vehicles in the class, balancing composure with an incredibly quiet character. The multi-link suspension (front and rear) hides small bumps and performs well over washboard surfaces, but bigger potholes send an unpleasant shudder through the body, even with the 2.5T Prestige's smaller 20-inch wheels (the 3.5T Prestige wears 22-inch rollers).
Budget Proposition, Luxury Position
Genesis nailed the pricing on the GV80, with a starting number that, on average, is $7,500 less than Audi, BMW, or Mercedes-Benz. The $48,700 base figure loses out only to the Lexus RX, although we'll take the turbocharged, rear-drive GV80 over that hum-drum, $45,000 front-driver any day of the week.
That said, the rear-drive GV80 is unquestionably a value play. Adding all-wheel drive elevates the starting price by $5,700, to $54,650. If you live in a warmer climate, it's worth keeping in mind the loaded rear-drive GV80 Prestige is only $3,425 more than a base all-wheel-drive model.
If you go with all-wheel drive, that starting figure can quickly swell. The Advance drives the price up to an even $59,000, while the Prestige demands $63,400. And if you want the V6, plan on spending $59,150 to start, $63,450 for the Advance, and $70,950 for the Prestige. At that point, the GV80's price advantage shrinks: a loaded X5 xDrive40i is $72,350 and a Q7 Prestige starts at $72,000.
Despite the badge cachet and similar prices of those luxury SUVs, we'd still have a very hard time passing on the GV80. Genesis engineered a charming luxury crossover that should firmly establish it as a player in the premium game. It's unwavering focus on comfort and luxury, ample tech suite, and movie-star good looks all happen at a competitive price. That’s a familiar formula, especially in today’s crossover-hungry world, but the 2021 Genesis GV80 executes it perfectly.
Gallery: 2021 Genesis GV80: First Drive
2021 Genesis GV80 3.5T Prestige