Expert Reviews

2021 Genesis GV80 First Drive Review

At four years old, most of us were messes.

We rambled incoherently, likely sharing family secrets, and we risked the total destruction of everything we touched. But many toddlers are full of confidence, speaking to everyone they pass on the sidewalk, making instant friends – and rivals – at the playground, and leaping feet first into deep, murky puddles.

At four years old, premium brand Genesis is showcasing some impressive confidence of its own, but backs it up with the kind of know-how that belies its age.

The game plan is crucial. First, Genesis is aiming well beyond safe and conservative, benchmarking the very best in the business: Mercedes-Benz and BMW. From there, the idea is to bring attractive and non-derivative designs that will catch the eyes of automotive tastemakers – the sort of people who must have a vehicle that stands out.

The brand is confident it can match that with excellent engineering but also sweeten the deal with an assortment of fancy features and technology that are rare elsewhere in the industry. And then there’s the price that usually undercuts rivals by a sizeable margin.

With its first clean sheet product, the 2021 Genesis GV80 SUV is the culmination of that strategy. It showcases the confidence and mindset of the brand. It nails the basics, hooks your gaze, and introduces several game-changing features and gimmicks. The status-quo leaders from Mercedes, BMW, and Lexus may be too proud to be publicly worried about this upstart spinoff, but they certainly should be.

Exterior Nails the Details

The GV80’s shape and styling are familiar from certain angles, but every time you look at it there’s a new detail to admire. The grille and slim quad-design headlights are borrowed right from the brand’s shield-and-wings badge, while the lighting repeats alongside the fenders as turn signals, and then again around back with the taillights. Genesis designers have a great way of subliminally appreciating their design, as the mesh pattern used in the grille is found throughout the interior of the vehicle as well. Conservative though it may be, the GV80 also features massive wheels, ranging from 19 to 22 inches, depending on the trim level.

In Canada, the Hyundai sub-brand alone manages its own sales and inventory, not a network of independent dealers. As a result, customers are encouraged to pick their preferred paint finishes rather than rely on whatever is on the local dealer lot. Brand reps tell us that the majority of GV80 pre-order customers have chosen the unique-looking Adriatic Blue and Cardiff Green, while the Lima Red is also a striking choice.

Gorgeous Interior

Where GV80 really shines is with its interior. It may look somewhat simple at first, with a clean dashboard and centre console, but there is plenty to gawk at here. Upgraded quilted leather upholstery is found on top trim level models, while lesser models manage with leather and artificial leather surfaces.

The seats are comfortable and plenty adjustable, though they thankfully fall short of the overwhelming array of adjustments in some Lincoln models. Top trims have massaging functionality to prevent dead-leg on long road trips. The rear seats lack this feature, but they can be configured with ventilation and feature a generous recline. A pair of panoramic sunroofs help to keep the cabin feeling airy.

Back to the details: the rotary gear selector uses a single piece of tempered, scratch-resistant glass. It lacks the shine of the Swarovski units found in some BMW models, but it looks and feels just as elegant. The GV80 can also be fitted with an available suede headliner and real wood accent trims.

Interior Tech and Gimmicks

Dominating the dashboard is a 14.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system with a unique look and feel. This kind of branding is significant, as past Genesis sedans shared an interface with sister brands Hyundai and Kia, breaking the illusion of a proper luxury vehicle. Fortunately, this is no longer the case.

While the large screen is touch-responsive, it requires a long stretch for the driver – especially the furthest corner, which makes using it cumbersome. There’s a classic iPod-like click wheel on the centre console to address this concern. The centre of the wheel is a giant button, but also offers handwriting recognition, although that may frustrate left-handed users. The outer ring of the controller rotates and scrolls, making navigating menus and lists easy. This outer ring can also be pressed on the outer edges for further navigation options. It takes a bit of getting used to but will eventually become a part of the routine for owners. Fortunately, there’s Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support as well.

The GV80 is full of new ideas and features, including an available 12.3-inch gauge cluster with a pop-out 3D effect to the display. Perhaps this feature is too subtle, but the system uses infrared sensors that can detect your eyes and provide a unique image to each, therefore creating a 3D look even when you move around. It’s definitely a matter of form over function, but the display changes with the drive settings, with an Iron Man-esque theme in eco mode, while the gauge needles pulse like lightsabers in sport mode. The head-up display (HUD) is more helpful, spanning 12 inches with crisp and clear imagery.

It’s Quiet – Almost Too Quiet

The optional premium audio system features 21 speakers and sounds great, but Genesis leverages this setup for a quiet cabin, too. While there are many vehicles on the market with active noise cancelling, they all use white noise in an attempt to mask any unwanted sounds. Genesis uses accelerometers at the wheels, as well as microphones in the cabin, to detect intrusive road noise. It then uses some of those 21 speakers to play the opposite frequencies of the road noise to cancel it out. This is more impactful than the traditional white noise generators, and in my experience, it was effective, leading to a cabin so quiet I could hear all my worst ideas clear as day. That was my cue to crank the music.

Motors Great, Not Awesome

Some may say the best soundtrack comes from the throttle pedal, and it seems Genesis missed the memo. The two motors offered in the GV80 sound a bit dull, but they are powerful enough to keep up with the competition. The standard engine is a 2.5L turbocharged four-cylinder that makes about 300 hp and 311 lb-ft of torque. A 3.5L twin-turbo V6 is also offered, which makes about 375 hp and 391 lb-ft of torque. Both motors use an eight-speed automatic transmission to send power to a standard all-wheel drive system. Genesis has a sound enhancement for the vehicles but opted to turn it off for our drive.

The motors are among the more average items in the Genesis, but this is a midsize SUV and not an enthusiast-minded, sport-oriented speed and noise machine. For the more rowdy customers, Mercedes will sell you an AMG variant of its GLE-Class, while BMW offers an X5 M, but Genesis doesn’t have an answer. The Korean brand packs a powerful 5.0L V8 in its G90 sedan, but that’s not offered here.

Balanced Power Delivery

Never mind the sound of the motors, as they do the job of getting the vehicle up to speed at a good pace. They won’t set any lap records, but the transmission is well sorted, and the all-wheel drive system is rear-biased to provide a driving feel closer to its German rivals. That means the rear wheels can receive 100 per cent of the available torque, and an electronic limited-slip differential can even route all it to a single rear wheel if needed. When split front and rear, it can be divided to a maximum of 50/50.

There are a few drive modes that have a subtle impact on the way the vehicle operates. Perhaps more useful is the off-road terrain selection knob, which changes the stability and traction control settings. This is ideal for rough weather and road conditions.

Avoiding Challenges on the Road

The competition offers air suspension as a way to express the off-road credentials of its vehicles, but not Genesis, understanding that customers may prefer confidence in soft-road settings to the trail-tackling, go-anywhere attitude that a Range Rover brings to the table.

There’s a front-facing camera on the SUV for advanced driver assistance features, but in this vehicle the camera can also detect irregularities in the road, like speed bumps or potholes. The computers in the GV80 processes these inputs and send a signal to the electronically controlled suspension system to soften or firm up the ride, making for smoother driving over these obstacles.

Shoppers worried about the experience in a lower-trim GV80 can rest easy. Even though they lack the advanced adaptive suspension, the 3D cluster, the more powerful motor, and fancy seats, they still feel quite luxurious and smooth on the road.

Adaptive Cruise Control That Adapts to the Driver

There are also plenty of standard safety features and driver assistance systems. Genesis is also quick to boast that it has a segment-exclusive front centre airbag to prevent the front passenger and driver from getting injured from hitting one another in the case of a collision.

Standard assistance features include a forward collision avoidance system that can even help with turns through intersections, as well as lane-keeping assist, blind-spot warning, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, and rear-cross traffic alert. Optional extra safety goodies include a driver attention monitor (using the same infrared cameras as the 3D cluster), remote parking assist, a surround-view monitor, and a blind-spot video feed whenever you hit the turn signals.

It all sounds overwhelming, but it helps the GV80 feel smart and safe. The adaptive cruise control even uses machine learning to adjust its following distance, reaction speed, and acceleration to the driver. If you drive more cautiously, so will the GV80 when you activate the adaptive cruise control mode.

Now for the Price

Even with all these features and a focus on technology-filled yet serene experience, the GV80 manages to stay affordable. The 2.5T Select model runs a reasonable $64,500, while the 2.5T Advanced model costs $70,000. If you want the V6 engine, you can get it for $80,000 in the 3.5T Advanced, while the top trim, the fully loaded 3.5T Prestige, is $85,000. This pricing undercuts the Mercedes GLE-Class and BMW X5, both of which run up a steep price tag with a few key options.

Final Thoughts

After four short years of perfecting its design language as well as its purchasing and ownership experience, Genesis is ready to be compared to German rivals like BMW and Mercedes, having already surpassed Japanese competition like Lexus and Infiniti.

The new GV80 showcases this confidence. The new mid-size crossover nails the basics, brings plenty of interesting gimmicks, and nails a unique and eye-catching style. It drives smoothly and rides comfortably while slotting in at a more attractive price tag. Keep a close eye on it when it hits showrooms later this fall.