CREEMORE, ONTARIO – Launching a new car brand is a bold move, and launching it with an all-sedan lineup is an even bolder one. Yet that’s exactly how Genesis came to fruition just five short years ago. In that time they’ve expanded into the compact premium sports sedan segment, revamped their flagship to have serious presence, carved out their own brand identity and rejected the traditional dealership model for a direct-to-consumer entirely-online buying experience and yet among all this they haven’t made an SUV. Until now. Say hello to the 2021 Genesis GV80, a big SUV that’s a big deal for Genesis.
The Genesis GV80 makes a strong first impression by way of bold exterior styling. A bold shield-shaped grille festooned with brightwork and slim two-bar headlamps create a unique face while the LED indicators are carried through to the side vents, visually piercing the front arches in striking fashion. Dominating the profile of the GV80 is a chunky downswept beltline with prominent haunches that aids in a low, wide appearance without leaning on space-reducing tumblehome. The twin-bar lamp theme is carried on out back with slim LED taillamps on a wonderfully unadorned hatch.
Setting the rear license plate low in the rear bumper allows for the Genesis text to be displayed in full-width across the liftgate which looks quite nice and premium. Another expensive-looking touch is the lack of unpainted cladding which aids in a very svelte appearance. Base-spec GV80s run on 19-inch wheels but step up one trim level to the 2.5T Advanced and those get changed out for 20-inch wheels. Tick the box for the V6 and the GV80 rolls on 22-inch wheels with 265/40R22 tires that really fill out the arches.
Genesis cars have been criticized in the past for feeling a bit like Hyundais so on the inside, the GV80 shares nigh-on nothing with other products. The indicator and wiper stalks, the window switches, the gauge cluster design, the front seat belt anchors, they’re all bespoke. And what’s more, they’re extremely lovely. Most buttons are made of real metal and have a satisfying coldness and heft to them, while the rotary gear selector is actually topped with glass. Piano black is kept to a lovely minimum and despite certain climate control functions like fan speed and vent direction being operated through a touch screen, the array of hard buttons is absolutely intuitive.
What does take some getting used to is the infotainment controller. It’s a rotary controller that sits flush with the console and incorporates a touchpad in the centre. While it functions much like systems from Audi and BMW in that touchpad use is minimal, the fact that it isn’t graspable leads to a slight learning curve. Think scratching a record as opposed to tuning a radio. Thankfully, the infotainment also uses a touchscreen and the interface itself is an extremely clean array of horizontal tiles and cascading menus. Apple CarPlay is displayed in widescreen format but Android Auto isn’t, something Genesis is looking to rectify.
Also worth mentioning are the stereos. The base nine-speaker stereo is significantly crisper than similar offerings from BMW and Mercedes-Benz with fair staging, great depth and good tonal balance. Step up to the V6 engine, and the stereo becomes a 21-speaker Lexicon unit that’s simply sublime. It packs a unique party piece called on-stage mode that elevates the staging to the point where it feels like sound is coming from everywhere. Bass is thunderous, highs are crisp without being shrill and mid-range fill is excellent. It will replicate the most nuanced parts of Tchaikovshy’s 1812 Overture with lifelike accuracy and brutalize the ears of wealthy neighbourhoods with Chief Keef cranked to absolutely disrespectful volumes, all without breaking a sweat.
While the 3.5T should be the shoo-in for driving dynamics, the 2.5T is actually more fun. A more exploitable tire package, fixed dampers and less weight on the nose means that when the going gets twisty, the 2.5T really gets going. Transfer weight smoothly yet deliberately and the chassis goes taut, displaying excellent neutrality and solid overall grip. While overall steering feel is predictably isolated, Genesis used positive caster to make the GV80’s steering respond to camber changes in the road. The 301-horsepower 2.5T starts with 311 lb-ft. of torque down low and pulls strong to the top of the rev range. The four-cylinder isn’t a consolation prize, it’s a genuinely great engine that will leave few wanting.
Step into the 3.5T model and it seems as if Genesis has smothered over everything with buttercream frosting. While there is significantly more power on tap at 375 horsepower and 391 lb.-ft., it’s delivered in a smoother, quieter manner. The same pure luxury demeanor goes for the chassis. While the top-spec 3.5T Prestige model adds variable dampers, an electronically-controlled limited-slip rear differential and a low-profile 265/40R22 tire package, it rides smoother and has much higher, less exploitable limits. That’s not to say it doesn’t feel quick, but the level of isolation makes keen drivers distrust the front end. Settle down into a luxury cruise mindset however, and the V6 models become absolutely sublime.
The top-spec adaptive dampers use a camera system to read the road ahead for imperfections like speed bumps and potholes and can preload the suspension to completely absorb unpleasant bumps. In addition, the top trim gets what Genesis claims is the most advanced active noise cancelling system ever. It can pump out bespoke opposing sound waves for each part of the occupant compartment to almost completely smother road noise.
It’s so serene that at freeway speeds that occupants could nonchalantly feel that they may simply step outside for a smoke. It’s genuinely as quiet as sitting in a living room. This luxury-first focus of the top trim model is likely to win significant favour from shoppers who feel like the BMW X5 is too sporty, the Mercedes-Benz GLE is too wobbly and the Volvo XC90 is too front-wheel-drive-based and Scandanavian.
A new luxury vehicle wouldn’t be a new luxury vehicle without the latest and greatest electronic safety net, and the GV80 doesn’t disappoint there. Its adaptive cruise control actually incorporates machine learning to tailor adaptive cruise functions to the driver. If the driver speeds up and slows down smoothly and carries a respectful following distance, the GV80 will follow suit and if the driver recently turned in their lease on an Audi, the GV80 will position itself as close to the rear bumper of the car ahead as possible.
While it’s unlikely that AI-based adaptive cruise will allow for machine-generated third-gear pulls, it’s likely to make the sometimes unusual behaviours of advanced driver assists feel natural. What’s not so natural is the Highway Driving Assist which in our brief experience, doesn’t. In our mildly drizzly testing conditions, we found the system to be quite poor at consistently positioning the GV80 within a lane, often coming uncomfortably close to other cars.
Genesis vehicles have always been quite good value and this the 2021 Genesis GV80 is no exception. Pricing for the 2.5T Select model starts at $64,650, while the trim hierarchy escalates with the 2.5T Advanced at $70,000, the 3.5T Advanced at $80,000 and the 3.5T Prestige at $80,000. That puts the 2.5T models right on par with comparably-equipped Lexus RX 350s while the 3.5Ts undercut a basic Mercedes-Benz GLE 450 with the third-row seating package and leather and offer significantly more equipment. With consumers gravitating towards SUVs, it looks like Genesis should have a hit on their hands with the new GV80.