Hyundai had to change the way the world sees luxury. Therefore, they created the Genesis brand out of their superb rear-drive-biased mid-sized luxury sedan. They added the new-generation Equus to the lineup and renamed it. To add more context, Genesis rolled out a luxury sports compact sedan that would be more-than-competitive in its segment.
However, the automotive world has evolved in the past decade. Sedans are fine, but you need an SUV to make any money. People want SUVs. That is the drumbeat of marketing teams across the industry.
Some brands now offer an all-SUV lineup. A shame, really. They offered some compelling sedans and coupes in their lineup before they removed them from their respective showrooms.
Not Genesis. For years, they knew they had to offer an SUV. They wanted this vehicle to be designed, engineered, and executed on their own terms. They drew their own blueprints and shaped a vehicle that was unique and compelling.
The result is the 2021 Genesis GV80.
This three-row mid-sized luxury SUV is definitely unique and compelling. That is the first observation I had when it arrived for its close-up. From its massive chrome mesh grille and horizontally split LED headlamp units, you can say that there’s nothing like it on the road right now.
It does not stop there. If you signal a turn or press the hazard light button, a double set of LED lights will flash all the way around the GV80 in turn signals, which include an appearance on the chrome applique on the front fenders. The LED taillight units split horizontally, emulating the front and side lighting signatures. The roofline has a semi-fastback design, cascading down to a sculpted liftgate design.
My Advanced+ tester came with a set of 20-inch five-spoke alloy wheels, shod with Michelin Primacy Tour tires. A chrome strip sits above the rocker panel, giving this GV80 a very glamorous look overall. Again, all of this points to a very unique vehicle that can’t help but stand out in the parking lot.
As compelling as its exterior, the dramatic cabin follows a design theme that melds minimalism with a lot of unique finishes. The first thing I noticed was the steering wheel. It reminded me of one from a mid-1970s Chrysler New Yorker, a late-1970s Cadillac or Buick. Thankfully, there is a thick rim, satin chrome-finished switches for audio, cruise control, and paddle shifters – things that brings you right to the 21st Century. The instrument binnacle features an analog speedometer and fuel gauge, with a digital tachometer and information center. There is also a large head-up display that will keep your eyes on the road.
On top of the center stack is a wide tablet-like 14.5-inch screen that houses the infotainment and vehicle settings. Right below it is another digital screen for the climate control, leading towards a cascading center console with another set of buttons and two large knobs. One “knob” is a combination scroll control and touch pad for the infotainment system. The other knob is for the shift-by-wire transmission. You will find that most of the controls have a knurled texture – a sign of exceptional quality and control.
Lexicon provided 21 speakers of bespoke sound. You also get a Quantum Logic Surround Sound control providing three pre-set atmospheres. Even cooler is a screen saver that gives you the outside weather – not just the temperature – and a ghosted navigation map.
The front seats offer comfort and support, while wrapped in leather with contrast piping. Seatback bolstering is good, while you get power adjustments for thigh support. Meanwhile, the second-row of seats can be adjusted for recline and rake. My tester came with a third row of seats that is best for children with or without child seats.
Before you lower any of the second- or third-row seats, you only get 11.6 cubic feet of space to start with. Press a couple of buttons by the liftgate, and that space expands to 34.9 cubic feet. This is helpful for a couple of airport runs involving my roommate and her boyfriend. You also can lower the second row seats from that same bank of buttons. The result is a total of 84.0 cubic feet of space for longer items. Loading is flush with the rear bumper, and there is another stowage underneath the space behind the third row.
The GV80 comes with a choice of two engines. One, is a 300-horsepower turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. My tester had the 375-horsepower twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 engine. This is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and an all-wheel-drive system.
Overall, this is one rapid machine. It eases into the throttle with both turbochargers sending the GV80 into orbit. That is how I felt this SUV drove. On the flip side, I averaged 18.5 MPG for fuel economy while in my care.
While the engine is quite powerful, the GV80 maintains an even keel when it comes to driving dynamics. The ride quality is very smooth, and the suspension does a good job absorbing the worst roads around. Handling is on the soft side, for the most part. That is if you keep your GV80 in Comfort or Normal modes. Switch the drive mode knob to Sport, and there is some improvement in terms of handling. Just do not expect sports SUV cornering in the GV80.
The steering is actually pretty responsive and offer tighter turns than one would expect from an electronic system. On-center feel is solid and stays within the lane in any mode. The braking system on the GV80 was a treat! The large rotors offer a lot of stopping power, combined with solid pedal feel. The result are good stops in normal and panic situations.
Considering a recent event involving a GV80 out in the Los Angeles area, you can bet on the Genesis GV80 to save your life. There are plenty of enhanced driver assistance features, such as an augmented Lane Keep Assist/Blind Spot Monitor screen on the head-up display showing “shadows” of vehicle on either lane of traffic. I also like that Genesis made the color of the Blind Spot Monitors red instead of amber. That is a point well taken!
In fact, the Genesis GV80 just earned the Top Safety Pick + designation by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. There you go…
The 2021 Genesis GV80 lineup starts with a rear-drive, turbocharged four-cylinder model. Pricing for that model starts at $48,900. My Advanced+ tester with the twin-turbo V6 and all-wheel-drive came with a sticker price of $67,095. For the ultimate GV80 experience, select the Prestige package, with upgrades to a fully digital instrument cluster with 3D readouts, larger wheels, and better upholstery.
Looking at the Genesis GV80, I am glad that the Korean luxury car brand took a risk in terms of design and engineering. It is risky to stand out in a crowd. When you are spending the kind of money the GV80 is asking, you have to.
Besides, the Genesis GV80 is quite fashionable. It sits in the middle of “ready to wear” and “haute couture.” Luxury vehicle owners know a few things about fashion, and this GV80 fits the bill. Therefore, that is how you change the luxury vehicle market.
Did the 2021 Genesis GV80 come a bit too late to compete in this fashion-conscious market? Let me quote baseball legend Buck O’Neil here: “I didn't come along too early – I was right on time.” Or, too late, at that matter. Either way, the first SUV for Genesis arrived right on time to compete against the established brands in the luxury market. Just where I expected it to be.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Hyundai Motor America
All photos by Randy Stern