The New Genesis GV80 SUV Isn’t Sexy, But It Is Luxury Enough

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A scant four years after its birth, Hyundai’s luxury division has produced its first SUV. (If you wonder why I say scant, consider it took BMW 15 years to produce the X5 after Jeep debuted the Cherokee, the first modern SUV, in 1984; Porsche took a further three years, with its Cayenne coming in 2002.) 

The 2021 Genesis GV80 offers an elegant exterior design, user-friendly electronics, and a thoughtfully appointed interior cabin with seating for up to seven. With a price range of $48,900 for the base model to $59,150 for the highest trim level, the GV80 is a welcome addition to the most competitive automotive segment in America today—that of premium and luxury SUVs.

While the heritage German brands Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche continue to dominate the group, they are not without theirdisappointments. Meanwhile, offerings from Lexus, Infiniti, Acura, and Lincoln have fallen from relevance to luxury buyers in recent years. With the GV80, Genesis might just have found a sliver of an entry point to jump into the mix.

If you haven’t yet considered a vehicle from Genesis, I don’t blame you—the brand still feels obscure and nondescript compared to other luxury offerings, most of which have 70-plus years of heritage. (It’s the fourth vehicle from Genesis currently on sale, including theG70 andG90 sedans.) But if the Korean manufacturer keeps producing things like the value-smart GV80, it’s time you started paying attention.

The Silver Bullet

It’s difficult to overstate just how important the SUV market is in the U.S. By next year,according to multiple analysts, close to 80% of all new vehicle sales here will be light trucks—pickups and SUVs. Kevin Tynan, the head of automotive research for Bloomberg Intelligence, tells me that the mix will hit 90% in two or three years.

In the fall, I drove multiple versions of the GV80 at a private launch near Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles, then drove the GV80 in the Prestige AWD variant separately for a week on my own time. Genesis’s first SUV effort is not only strong on its own, but its quality, aesthetics, and performance bode well for future product. (On Jan. 4, for instance,Hyundai Motor Co. announced a battery-powered Genesis crossover due later this year.)

How It Looks

The first thing I noticed about the GV80s is the diamond-lattice grille on the front, reminiscent of Bentley’s Bentayga but more angular and perhaps better aligned with the rest of the car. Long, thin rectangular LED headlights are shaped and stacked like books. The rig’s sides look chiseled, like the abs of a swimmer; the rear is equally sporty, with a small spoiler jutting out from the angled roofline and distinctive taillights that, from some angles, look as if they wrap completely around the car.

Twenty-two-inch wheels on the top-of-the-line Prestige model add to the SUV’s commanding—but not overbearing—stance. From the outside, the GV80 looks as good as anything from Volvo or Mercedes’s larger SUV lineup; it’s as big as a BMW X5 or Audi A5, but far more distinctive from those now-ubiquitous grocery getters, especially Audi’s virtually indistinguishable SUV offerings.

How It Feels

Inside is where the GV80 really shines: It’s well-made, thoughtful, comfortable, and pacific. It feels serene, like you’ve stepped into a quiet gallery. Kudos to Genesis for making a cabin nearly silent, with active noise cancellation available as an option.

While the familiar German luxury cabins of the BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE, and Porsche Cayenne (and the lovely Swedish interior of the Volvo lineup) still beat it, when you consider overall design and function the interior of Genesis’s new offering sits firmly in the middle of the segment. In fact, if you can let go of the status-by-branding and approving looks from your neighbors that follow a purchase of a BMW or Mercedes (if not quite yet with the Genesis), the trimmings of the GV80 will suit you just fine. 

All variants come with a generous dose of comfortable accoutrements such as the 14.5-inch touchscreen, heated front seats, and a power lift gate. In the Prestige version I had, burled-wood trim, ambient lighting, heated and cooled rear seats, and the large, three-dimensional-looking digital cluster added to the overall lightly cosseted feeling. The Nappa leather seats with their well-stitched upholstery were supportive, even roomy, without being stiff.

The dashboard itself feels mostly uncluttered, though some may object to the shiny cross-hatched metal dials on the center console that control the infotainment. The sole misfire is the steering wheel, which recalls the oblong octopus shape of a Buick steering wheel circa 1985. Retirees in Palm Springs on the way to tee-time will feel right at home with its oddly splayed form between their hands.

As for configuration, a standard three-seater bench seat in the second row allows for up to five passengers. A third row of seats is optional in the far rear, but it’s about as spacious as a refrigerator box. Cargo space tops out at 84 cubic feet with the rear seats folded, more than the X5 and the GLE.

How It Performs

The driving attributes of most premium SUVs are lackluster—soft to steer, with brakes that feel numb. Some, like the BMW X6M and Lamborghini Urus, buck the trend and deliver breathtaking results, but the ability to have a spirited drive in a five- or seven-seat hauler seems beside the point for most automakers.

The GV80 falls in line with the majority of the group here. It proves to be a solid and well-balanced ride, with a 375-horsepower, 3.5L twin-turbo V6 in the Prestige edition, but it’s nothing to get the heart fluttering. (The 2.5L inline 4 turbocharged engine is standard—though by now, you should have caught the hints that if you plan to buy this vehicle, you should ante up the additional $10,000 or so for the Prestige).

The eight-speed automatic ride is smooth enough, with electronically controlled suspension that’s able to “see” bumps in the road ahead and adjust the stiffness of the ride accordingly. The ride height is pleasingly commanding; the brakes respond acutely to even slight input. Lane-change alerts, rear cross-traffic alerts, collision avoidance assists, and driver-attention warnings all come standard in the Prestige edition.

None of that is really sexy or thrilling, but it’s all good enough to be unobtrusive and let the other parts of the GV80 take center stage. This SUV is a smart, fresh face doing all the right things. Life for a luxury brand without a pedigree can be tough; with the GV80, Genesis is building its own history the right way.


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