Genesis very nearly upsets the luxury SUV pecking order with its very first effort.
Genesis is a young brand within the Hyundai Motor Group family, introduced in the US market for the 2018 model year. In that short time, the luxury division has made its mark with three excellent sedan offerings: the nimble G70, midsize G80, and zaftig G90. But unfortunately, Americans don’t buy four-doors in huge numbers anymore, and Genesis needed to introduce a well-rounded luxury SUV to be successful. Luckily, the 2021 GV80 fits the bill nicely.
The GV80 marked the debut of Genesis’ future styling direction, giving the brand its most potent identity yet. It also represents a new era of interior quality and comfort, establishing Genesis as a purveyor of gentle luxury (at the expense of some twisty-road agility). In many ways, the GV80 feels like a modern interpretation of a 1960s Lincoln: attention-getting style, passenger comfort, and more than enough power joining a cushy (and sometimes floaty) suspension. While it’s not quite as zesty as some of its competitors, there’s no denying that the 2021 Genesis GV80 is an exceptional luxury SUV in many other respects.
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The GV80 is the first Genesis to feature the brand’s funky equals-sign headlamps and taillights, as well as a matching fender-mounted turn signal. A brash shield grille up front matches twin exhaust outlets with a similar shape in back. A shoulder line extends from the hood cut to the taillights, giving the GV80 a leaping stance that almost looks inspired by the streamlined autos of the 1930s, while wide hips and 22-inch wheels look muscular and planted. The winged logo, mesh grille, and overall proportions invite some comparisons to the Bentley Bentayga, but the GV80 is still a uniquely stylish machine.
That holds doubly true of the interior. A wide, mostly unadorned dashboard houses an attractively placed 14.5-inch display right on top, and the 1970s-chic two-spoke steering wheel is a refreshing change of pace from the faux-sporty three-spoke helms we’re accustomed to seeing. The high center console and well-placed door panel armrests create a cozy front row, and the dash bottom slopes forward to alleviate claustrophobia, with abundant accent lighting creating two rectilinear spaces for driver and front passenger. It’s unlike anything we’ve seen in this or any other class of vehicle, distinctive without resorting to gaudy touches.
A thin strip of metallic trim hides the center and passenger-side climate control vents, under which lies a sloping HVAC panel that dovetails smoothly into the center console. Genesis-signature lace patterns appear on the rim of the infotainment’s clickwheel and on the edges of the rotary shift selector. Quilted leather seats feel a bit dated, like Genesis looked up “luxury SUV” in an encyclopedia from 2005, but the company deserves credit for the daring Ultramarine Blue carpets, dash, and door panels, with rich Dune upholstery on the seats and accents scattered throughout the cabin.
It’s not just a slick colorway that sets the GV80 apart. Every material used in the GV80 is absolutely first rate, including a convincing leatherette dashboard and door panels with accent stitching, Nappa leather seating surfaces (part of the Prestige trim level), and surprisingly deep carpeting. Even the lower center console, where your hands will rarely creep, is hewn in soft plastic. Genesis goes as far as upholstering the door pockets with the stuff you’d find inside a jewelry box, meaning your ID badges, sunglasses, and other accouterment will ride in comfort too. Similarly priced rivals could never.
save over $3,400 on average off MSRP* on a new Genesis GV80
It’s not all roses, though, as the GV80’s cushy seats didn’t fit your author or his co-pilot as well as we were expecting. The driver and front passenger get 12-way power seats, but the seat bottom feels a bit like a dining room chair – you sit right on top, with not a whole lot of give to the padding. And while the driver gets an adjustable thigh bolster and fatigue-reducing “Ergo Seat” massage, the passenger makes do with neither. That said, other Motor1.com editors found the seats to be nearly perfect, so your mileage may vary. And all GV80s (except the 2.5T RWD Standard) get heated and ventilated front seats, added to the rears in the Prestige trim we drove.
So equipped, the second row is inarguably at the front of the class. Separate power recline, tilt, and fore-aft adjustments give each rear-seat passenger lots of control over their comfort in addition to those aforementioned temperature controls. The lucky hedonist in the right rear perch even gets duplicate controls for the front passenger seat to increase space further. The Genesis GV80 might very well become the darling of limo companies thanks to the incredible amounts of space, adjustability, and support portioned to the rear occupants.
Chauffeurs will also be familiar with the SUV’s creamy-smooth ride. The GV80 features camera-based road preview, which can detect certain obstacles like potholes or sharp expansion joints, then prime the suspension to absorb impacts more effectively. We couldn’t specifically tell if it was working, but regardless, we enjoyed the Genesis’ quiet, composed ride. Our only other comfort woe, aside from the front seat contours, was some worrying head toss stemming from an unsettled chassis when traversing broken pavement at speed.
Front head and legroom measure 40.2 and 41.6 inches respectively, giving the GV80 less headroom but more legroom than both the BMW X5 (40.8 and 39.8 inches) and the Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class (40.5 and 40.3 inches). In back, the Genesis gets 38.4 inches of headroom and 38.7 of legroom, compared to 38.7 and 37.4 inches in the BMW. The Mercedes is the class champ, though: 39.6 inches for your noggin and 40.9 for your toesies. There’s 33.9 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the rear seat, identical to the X5 and 0.6-cubic-foot up on the GLE. With seats folded, the Genesis has 84.0 cubes, more than the BMW (72.3) and the Mercedes (80.3).
The literal and figurative centerpiece of the Genesis GV80’s tech suite is its 14.5-inch infotainment display, while the driver gets to enjoy a reconfigurable 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster with 3D graphics. Also on tap are wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and device charging, as well as active noise cancelling technology that smothers wind and tire roar into submission. Multicolor ambient accent lighting is standard, allowing GV80 owners to craft their own nighttime environment, although we do wish Mercedes’ soft ebb-and-flow feature was here to enhance the GV80’s modern, spa-like cabin.
But while the technology initially impresses the driver in the showroom, out in the real world, it’s a bit cumbersome. The touchscreen is far too wide to be usable in traffic unless your passenger can operate the right side on command. Genesis made the console clickwheel a redundant screen controller, but it’s too flat to operate easily (a more comfortable raised knob is coming to the GV70, thank goodness). The infotainment screen’s map display is either too bright at night or too dark during the day, and there’s no middle ground. And the instrument cluster’s 3D function hurt our eyes at every glance – luckily, it can be deactivated.
Thank goodness there’s an excellent 21-speaker Lexicon sound system as part of the Prestige trim to keep us occupied. While it’s not quite as stellar as Acura’s ELS Studio 3D audio, it’s every bit the equal of the premium systems found in BMW and Mercedes midsize SUVs. And while the infotainment may not be overly intuitive, it’s at least very beautiful, befitting the GV80’s refined and composed personality.
Making matters even better is an incredibly sophisticated remote Smart Park feature, which can idle the SUV forward or backward out of a tight parking space with no one on board. Most impressively, though, is the GV80’s parallel and perpendicular remote park assist – the driver can get out of the vehicle once it’s detected a space that’s large enough, then use the keyfob to guide the Genesis forward or backward into the space, with the SUV handling steering on its own. The amazing technology might be more of a bauble than a useful feature, but it’s still fun to see an unmanned vehicle twirling the steering wheel to fit into a tight space.
Our tester came with a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6, which pairs exclusively to an eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. With 375 horsepower and 391 pound-feet on tap, the V6 is plenty quick for the stoplight grand prix, with almost no turbo lag before a giant wave of torque shoves the GV80 forward. Exuberant performance isn’t the metier of this Genesis though, instead going for easily accessible power and capability. Underscoring that is the V6’s unbelievable smoothness, both at idle and under acceleration. If you told us the motor mounts were actually gimbals, we’d believe you.
The ride quality over most surfaces is much the same, smothering many imperfections with nary a complaint. However, introduce the GV80 to a corner and it comes undone ever so slightly. There’s plenty of grip from the wide tires, but being a bit ham-fisted behind the wheel results in some minor oversteer – a gut-wrenching sensation in a big luxury SUV. The GV80 is also just too damn wide to comfortably place when approaching a tight corner with any sort of aggression.
And on broken pavement at speed (read: any freeway in Southern California), the chassis jitters about from side to side, requiring the driver to see-saw at the yoke to maintain a straight bearing. We’re not sure if it’s a problem endemic to the entire GV80 family or if it’s perhaps a function of the Prestige’s 22-inch wheels, but neither BMW nor Mercedes ask so much of the pilot in such conditions.
The key to hooning a GV80 is to keep every input as smooth as possible, since it doesn’t compensate for poor behavior quite as well as its German competitors. It’s better yet to drive the lovely Genesis at a more relaxed pace, allowing the suspension (and the road preview camera) more time to react before introducing the SUV to another corner or obstacle. So while it’s not a storming back-road companion, there are few more comfortable ways to cruise down the Pacific Coast than in the 2021 GV80.
Adding to its peerless feel in traffic is a very well-integrated active safety suite that includes blind spot monitoring, lane centering, adaptive cruise control, forward collision monitoring, and automatic emergency braking that also works at junctions – if you’re about to turn left into traffic, the Genesis will intervene on your behalf. Even on Los Angeles’ predominantly concrete highways, where longitudinal expansion joints can sometimes imitate lane markings, the GV80 found its place on the road and kept a steady pace and distance with surrounding traffic.
The Genesis GV80 is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ thanks to good scores in all crash tests, acceptable headlights (LEDs are standard), and superior collision prevention technology.
All-wheel drive, a powerful V6, and SUV aerodynamics aren’t a great recipe for fuel economy, but the Genesis GV80 still ekes out a reasonable 18 miles per gallon city, 23 highway, and 21 combined. Still, that’s at the bottom of the class – the BMW X5 xDrive40i and Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 achieve 23 mpg combined, while the Lincoln Nautilus gets 22 mpg when equipped with the powerful EcoBoost V6 and all-wheel drive. We saw 21 mpg indicated on the GV80’s trip computer over a week of testing, so the EPA ratings are likely realistic.
Those looking for some savings at the pump can opt for the 300-hp GV80 2.5T, which gets 23 mpg combined and can still be optioned with every luxury feature the brand has to offer. We haven’t driven one yet, but we suspect it should still be adequately powerful for most daily-driving tasks.
For the first time since the brand’s inception, Genesis has created a vehicle that doesn’t require the qualification, “...for the money.” The GV80 is a genuinely good luxury SUV with desirable styling, a high-quality interior, and good (if not class-leading) performance. But that doesn’t mean the company has forgotten how to offer its customers a good value. Standard on every GV80, including the $48,900 base model, are LED exterior lighting, a panoramic sunroof, and the aforementioned driver-assist features and climate-controlled front seats.
The top-level Prestige trim adds Nappa upholstery, active noise cancellation, a microfiber suede headliner, and some cool tech features, as well as power-operated, heated and ventilated rear seats. Our example had Adriatic Blue paint (a $400 option) and a $1,025 destination charge, leaving us with a final price of $72,345. A similarly equipped GLE 450 would cost at least $76,000, while an X5 would be over $73,000, with neither offering executive-ready rear seats or remote parking features. The 2021 Genesis GV80 offers all the panache of its competitors, but it still hasn’t lost the value that made the brand famous. Well done.
GV80 Competitor Reviews:
Gallery: 2021 Genesis GV80 Review
2021 Genesis GV80 3.5T Prestige