Review: 2021 Genesis GV80 is an Affordable Luxury Land Yacht
Affordable is relative, but with luxury SUVs reaching up to and over $100,000 now, Genesis is here to steal the market with the sensationally good and almost reasonably priced luxury GV80 SUV.
Ice House Rd snakes for miles and miles up the sides of Northern California's Sierra Nevada mountains. The scenery is breathtaking as you both climb and plunge into the El Dorado National Forest; Beautifully green trees are everywhere with snow capped mountain peaks in the distance. Normally during the winter and spring, this stretch is doused with the white powder, but the abnormally dry spring means the mountainous pass is open for business. While dangerous cliff sides loom constantly, the coiled stretch of asphalt is also akin to a special stage of the Monte Carlo rally. With a magical flow and a road in rather terrific shape, too, this road is one of my favorites in the world for sports cars and motorcycles. In other words, the perfect setting then to test out a 2.5 ton luxury SUV.
Okay, to be honest I didn't come to the daunting Ice House Rd specifically to be a hooligan in a land yacht of an SUV (more to find snow for photos), but it did present a wonderful opportunity to test it to the extremes of what should not by any means be its comfort zone. That's also what makes it all the more surprising concerning what I'm about to write: It's damn impressive. For those that don't know, the GV80 is the new SUV from Genesis, the luxury and flagship brand from Hyundai and Kia. It's based on the platform of the also excellent G80 sedan and is here to bring top-shelf luxury to a wider audience. The GV80 will make you a believer.
At the bottom of the mountain and crossing over the American River from California 50, I select sport mode and daringly turn off all forms of traction control, drop a few gears using the left paddle shifter, and put my foot to the floor. From 3,000 RPM and up, the 3.5L twin-turbo V6 can make serious progress despite the heft burden it carries (about 5,000 pounds). It's not quite as rapid as an X5 M40i let alone the V8 monsters you find in other X5s or Mercedes options, but the V6 gets you there as quick as anyone should need to. The noise emitted is one of a subdued gargle and one that's entirely pleasant; no trashy rough V6 coarseness to be found here. I go into the first 180 degree corner with caution to grow accustomed to the controls under load and I instantly realize how much more there is to go and give. The next sequence of left and right corners are marked for 35 MPH and negotiating them at 50 proves an absolute breeze. So, I do what any journalist would do: go a little harder. Using the navigation system to look at the ahead corners as if it's my rally co-pilot giving me pace notes, the GV80 and I really start to make serious strides up the mountain as the American River and Highway 50 below grow ever smaller.
I nestle into a groove of about 60 in most turns while a few tighter ones necessitate an almost modest 50. On a tighter right hander with lots of extra pavement available I cook it in hot with ambition and the steering weights up beautifully with the suspension loaded on the outside corner, but body roll isn't even terrible and continues to offer great control. I give a small lift of the throttle and low and behold the GV80 gives lift-off oversteer and tightens its line. Back on the power the AWD deploys power to the front as it regains grip and catapults out and onto the next while resisting understeering push on exit. This SUV isn't made for this at all and yet I'm finding an unexpected wannabe sports car underneath. Fine, fine, not a sports car, but you get the point. This car should not handle this good, but the simple matter of the fact is the GV80 LOVES corners. Sharing a platform as the Genesis G80 sedan, a car that exhibited playful road manners as well, the balance is tremendous for a weighty and big brute, but also one that offers such cushioned ride quality throughout. Even encountering mid-corner bumps and undulations, the GV80 just completely absorbs them and swats them away like an electric fly zapper. Brakes also provide a reassuring feel to the pedal and can halt speed quickly if needed, like for the deer that jumped out at one point.
What this really proves, though, is that Genesis has an amazing opportunity to make an M, AMG, or RS equivalent with the GV80. I'm sure this engine could be boosted to 500 horsepower with ease. Please, Genesis? May we have more? However, how this SUV drives up and down the side of a mountain is probably of little to no interest to the casual and probable buyer. This is a luxury SUV, and so it should do things that luxury machines do. For example, take the GV80's opulent and inviting interior. Pictures might not do it justice, because it's that gorgeous. And of course the leather, which is basically everywhere by the way, is first-rate. It's soft, lush, smooth, all the generous adjectives you can think for leather. Being seated in the front chairs is like the spa at a Four Seasons, just relaxing and easing of any and all stress. There are lots of expensive looking and feeling metal switchgear to compliment further along with an exquisitely finished matte wood trim that could be straight out of the Restoration Hardware catalogue. I can't think of a single disappointment with the cabin space, well one, but it's so minor you'll probably laugh at me. Everything you see and touch is of a higher power of luxury. Oh yes, this GV80 as equipped cost only $66,475, but this is easily a ninety or even $100,000 interior. It's that good.
So that one minor dissatisfactory item? While many of the knobs found in the interior have this classy metallic knurled texture, some of them are hard to grasp because they're not tall enough. The heat adjustment knobs could stick out just a couple millimeters more and be easier to grab and turn. Though they do look so nice with their low-profile nature. Same goes for the dial that controls the infotainment, which isn't a knob as much as it is a dish, so you have awkwardly grip it from the inside to spin it. There are too many motions with the controller, but once you learn it things go smoothly. The large screen is touch-operable if you desire so instead, though. Okay, I lied, there's one more issue and that is related to the big and beautiful 14" screen. It's a gorgeous piece of kit with lovely graphics and a soothing screensaver, but at night, the default screensaver doesn't change enough, so it's big and bright which isn't easy on the eyes. I looked everywhere in the settings and couldn't find a change for it. It can dim slightly, but the colors are still wrong. Hopefully a software update can cure this. Luckily, the solution is to just leave it on the map or media page at night with its deep black backgrounds that melt away. Don't let those 'issues' bother you, however, as this interior is proper luxury. It's so good that I'm having to resort to nitpicking to avoid me seeming like Genesis is paying me for this review.
In the rear, the seats are a delight to spend time in plus ample leg space. They are also easily adjustable to get even more comfortable. Hours upon hours in the back would prove no issue at all for group road trips. Above, you'll find a large panoramic sunroof (actually there are two, one separate for both front and then rear) to allow in more light and seemingly let's you reach for the environment above you. Behind, there is a third row that can be raised and lowered all electrically. Yes, open the cargo boot and there are four buttons to press that raises and lowers the third-row seats on their own. Elegant? Yes, and fun. But, erect the third row seats and, well, let's just say I wouldn't want to spend time there. Great for emergencies, however. With them down and stowed away, cargo space is as vast as anyone could hope for.
In normal driving and freeway cruising, occupants are isolated from the noise of the world in great comfort, a hallmark and trademark of a true luxury vehicle. Ride quality, as mentioned already, is wonderful as the GV80 glides over surfaces. Road noise is kept low, but I did notice some wind turbulence from time to time in the driver seat. But, I believe the only reason I was aware of some wind rustling was because the other noise aspects are so quiet; Conversations were had in hushed tones and the stereo was never turnt up that loud to compensate even (except when my favorite Taylor Swift songs would pop up, don't judge). And when you do turn up the stereo, the 21 speaker Lexicon system in this example can really pump.
There's tons of technology inside as well. Road-Noise Active Noise Control is one of them and it does what it sounds like, and is one of the reasons the GV80 is as silent as it is on the motorway. Then there's the semi-autonomous tech that can provide steering on freeways, but I found myself finding it intrusive and the motions not smooth enough for my own liking. There's a nifty option where you can command the GV80 to pull forward and reverse while outside the car using key fob, something that could be handy if you have a tight garage space or for showing off to your mates. While other cars have HD rear-view and surround view cameras integrated into their infotainment display screens, I was really fond of the Genesis' camera setup on that large and gorgeous 14.5" screen as it adds some theater (pun unintended) to it all. Of course, tons of safety equipment is included, too, to keep you and your family and your German Shepherd safe inside.
Performance from the twin-turbo V6 returned 0-60 MPH runs at a quick 5.4 seconds, aided by the all-wheel drive system's grip and ability to instantly launch you forward. Even with 375 horsepower, while it's perfectly adequate and doesn't need anymore power, the GV80 has so much potential to handle much much more. However, the biggest negative during my time with the GV80 was in the fuel economy, or the lack of it. Average MPG was below 18, a dismal performance for a V6-powered machine, and that was when driving like I was on my driver's test with a former drill instructor. Highway numbers at least climbed to 24, but an X5 M40i will average several MPG more all while being quicker still. For fewer Benjamins, buyers can opt for a punchy four-cylinder in their GV80 that will net extra economy if you don't require the extra juice. And yes, from my experience in the G80 sedan, that four-cylinder kicks well above its weight, so that might be enough for most.
Of course, none of this matters if the GV80 is an ugly orc. In pictures, you might think the grille is too large and ostentatious, but it comes together so nicely in person that you couldn't imagine it with a smaller one. It's a beautifully knit together machine, with unique touches all over that make it a proper pupil-pulser. The consistency and flair given by the matching stacked headlights, side markers, and then taillights is a particular standout quality. There's also a line that runs from the grille, across the hood, and then all the way down the beltline, too, that does well to break up the mass and make the GV80 appear lower than other SUVs. The front overhang is also short as the front axle is pushed far ahead to visually lengthen it further, while a flared rocker panel adds swagger and poise when viewed from three-quarters. Other SUVs appear dull and drab in comparison after spending more and more time with the GV80. It delicately balances that fine line between elegance and pretentiousness in a convincingly sophisticated method.
As you can easily tell by this point, I really really quite like the GV80. The sealing stamp on the matter is the cut-rate price. To have a fully-loaded example such as this for just $66,475 is just tremendous and there actually isn't anyway to say it otherwise. If you're looking for a luxury SUV and aren't considering the Genesis, you ought to book yourself a CAT scan and pronto. Like I said with my glowing review of the G80 sedan, I think Genesis is really having their Dark Side of the Moon moment here. Finally, the world will wake up and see Genesis for the prestigious brand they're proving to be. The GV80 comes highly recommended.
2021 Genesis GV80 3.5T AWD Advanced+
As-Tested Price: $66,475
GV80 Starting Price: From about $50,000
Pros: Luxury defined both inside and out; Excellent driving dynamics; Insane value
Cons: Thirsty V6; Rivals can be quicker
Verdict: The GV80 deserves your attention