Tested: 2021 Genesis G80 is a Luxury Bargain
For fifty grand, there is not a more luxurious car you can buy than the newly redesigned mid-size Genesis G80. What's Genesis? Oh, it's that one luxury brand that you should know. A new luxury division of Hyundai and Kia, Genesis has quickly built a full lineup of luxury sedans along with several new SUVs that are concurrently debuting this year. Don't you dare think for even half a second that, "oh, it's just a Hyundai." Heretic! The offensive strategy from Genesis is to provide full-blown luxury experiences at insanely attractive prices.
Low prices are one thing, but it's the shear quality on tap that really separates Genesis as a true prophet. For example, this G80 is as stripped as it gets, coming in at $49,125 as-tested, with the only option being the Porto Red paint for $400, and yet it's still so wonderfully appointed inside and out. A BMW 5-series or Mercedes E-class equivalent starts at over $5,000 more and you wouldn't dare buy either of those without any (expensive) options equipped. Shame is the name of the game for Genesis as they embarrass the established and greedy European luxury players.
While I don't have much experience in current Audi A6 or E350s, I do have a fair share of time in the BMW 530i, a thoroughly bland and boring excursion into the world of the so-called 'ultimate driving machine.' Flaccid is another good descriptor of its personality, both when stationary and on the move. So why would you ever consider something so derivative? It's like taking your significant other for a nice night out, only for that to mean the Olive Garden because you have no imagination. Except Germans would charge for the bread sticks.
The most shocking revelation with the G80 is how well it acquits itself in the institution of luxury. The exterior wears a fittingly luxury 'statement grille,' one of nearly comically large proportions. However, I find Genesis has done an admirable job of making it work in the G80's case; I couldn't imagine it with any other shape. The detailing in the grille has a jewel-like shimmer, too. Also well-executed details are the consistency in the twin stacked wraparound headlights, a motif followed by similarly stacked sidemarker lights just aft of the front wheel. Looking at the rear, the tail lights also display the same emotive design. There's also a sloping character line that runs from the headlights first up to the side mirrors, and then down to the rear lights. It's a wonderful and uninterrupted expression. To summarize, the sheetmetal proves to be captivating and elegant while being clearly distinct from the competition. I do find the rear looks a bit hunchbacked from certain angles, but for the most part it looks like an expensive piece of kit and makes its entrance known and seen.
Once you open the door, that's where the party starts. Like pre-Covid Barcelona past midnight, this is the place you want to be. For the 'entry' model with zero options, you wouldn't know it upon first glance and initial ingress. It might not be real leather, but you would never know the difference. In fact, this leatherette that's used everywhere is better than the 'genuine' leather in most all other cars. It's that convincing and oh so sumptuous. I actually had no idea it wasn't leather until consulting the window sticker What steals attention is the enormous 14" display in the center. It's lovely to look at and bestows a real sense of theatre to occupants and the driver. If you leave it on its own, it has a peaceful screensaver that is similar to a computer. It's design is one of ease, but operation is a little more challenging unfortunately. Using it as a touchscreen would be easy, but it's tough to reach (I rather dislike touchscreens as it is in cars - too distracting). You can use the clickwheel in the center console, but it's oddly inverted; Instead of gripping from the outside like a knob, it's more of an open bowl, so you rotate it from the inside. Along with spinning it, you also have four directional arrows to click within it, too. Let me just say it takes a short time to learn. The wheel itself looks fabulous and fancy, though.
Also in the center is a beautifully shaped and large knob that acts as the shifter; just twist it to D or R and push the center P for park. It is stiff, though, with a bit of resistance to make it not appear flimsy, but it is perhaps too reluctant as I had to make multiple attempts to get into drive at times. I'm just too gentle with many things as it is so can't call it an issue just yet. Besides the abundant leather, lots of metal is found throughout, and lots with that classy knurled texture, too, being on steering wheel mounted controls and stalks, volume and seek controls ahead of the shifter, and the mirror adjustment control as well. Luxury in cars can be helped realized by minimizing the number of different materials used, meaning you don't want clashing textures and plastics; it makes for a visual and tactile mess, something the G80 interior masters. The G80 wins on luxury, big time.
Yes, the interior, from a visual standpoint, looks fantastic and will draw ooos and ahhhs from any occupant. But what's also important is how the lodge behaves on the move. Fortunately, I was able to take the G80 on a short road trip to the bay area to test its cruising abilities, and with a full house onboard. It's marvelously quiet even above 70 MPH and the seats are terrifically comfortable both front and rear. Space is enormous, too, with over six-feet being perfectly at home in the back. In fact, I'd say the Genesis has more rear seat space than the competing Germans. You can't just look like a luxury car inside and out, it has to be one in practice, too, and G80 impresses mightily.
Now, again I have to remind that this is the basest of the base and it still leaves a strong, lasting impression. Yet, there are a few things that I missed that I would recommend as options. One would be the heated steering wheel. Once you drive a car with this comfort in winter, it becomes a necessity. Second would be a head-up display, to show driving information on the windshield. Again, things like that can be addictive. And last would be a panoramic sunroof to add even further ambience to the already luscious interior. Just a few things I would want to have.
Genesis offers the G80 with two engine choices: a gutsy turbo four-cylinder or an even gutsier turbo V6. This G80, as the entry model, came with the four-pot of course. While others have 2.0L engines, the Genesis boasts 2.5 liters of swept capacity for an even 300 horsepower and 311 pounds of torque, about forty more horses than you'd find in a comparable, usual German. For a four, it's refined and cultured - no rough coarseness here- and provides enough thrust to be wholly convincing. 0-60 MPH was reeled off in only 5.3 seconds, showing some proper movement. In testing, I would brake-torque it to about 2,500 RPM and release the brake and floor it, and even with traction control turned off, the G80 hooked instantly and shot away for some impressive times without any wheelspin. In the real world, like accelerating onto an uphill onramp, it doesn't feel quite as fast as that 0-60 number would suggest, but make no mistake, the base G80 is not a slow ride and will eat a BMW 530i for brunch. If you opt for the 3.5L V6, power jumps to a startling 375 HP.
Many times, automakers will opt for four-cylinder engines for the benefit of increased fuel mileage, but in many applications those new turbo four-bangers never yield the expected results in the real world. Well, the Genesis delivers. On the freeway, cruising at 70, I saw a staggering 39 MPG. On a 200 mile day trip, I averaged 33 MPG, and that's including time spent driving around town. Besides having some strength in its performance, economy was nothing short of fantastic.
And then there's how it drives. Now, I must admit, the first time behind the wheel I was alarmed at the feel of a few of the main controls. I thought everything seemed a little too sensitive and the steering unnaturally herky-jerky in the response. Granted, I just had gotten out of an SUV right before, so I quickly realized how much more alert the Genesis was. After an initial drive, I came to adore the nature of its driving characteristics. Once I adjusted, I found it relaxed, yet still poised if you wanted it to be. In short, it drives very, very well. Ride quality is excellent if I missed that earlier, and it's quite quiet, too. In fact, when cruising down the motorway, you'd be excused for thinking that the G80 had no idea what the word fun was, such is the isolation and, well, luxury of it. This model was rear-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive is also available for those that live in more consistently inclement weather.
However, aim for a favorite backroad, up the pace to your content and the Genesis reveals such a lovely balance that only a rear-wheel drive car can produce. Yes, it has some body roll from the cushy ride, but that doesn't detract from the neutral footing it possesses. It reminds me of, guess what, older BMW sedans. And the party piece? The G80, as equipped, produced the most easily accessible, lucid, and fun oversteer. Yes, the big, fancy Genesis will drift like nobody's business. And it's SO EASY to control; it'll make you feel like a driving god. Maybe because it's the calm nature of the car, too, and that ability to lean on the suspension's softer springs and dampers that lend to the mobility and organic feel. The smaller and much more sporting G70 could induce oversteer easier with a miniscule flick of your right foot from all the power, but it was a little intimidating when the rear stepped out. The G80 is so relaxed and still ready to slide. That is the hallmark of good balance and handling in a car.
Genesis, there's no other real way of saying this, has absolutely crushed it with the new G80. It looks like a luxury car inside and out, performs well, won't cost you a whole lot at the pump either, and drives rather excellently. A comfortably cruiser to munch on miles and bask in the sensual, spa-like cabin, or you can nail drifts to impress your followers on Instagram. I'm more than excited to see where Genesis goes from here, with multiple new models being released this year, and the progression and variants of the G80 itself. I also can't wait to try the G80 again in the top-shelf 18-year aged single malt flavor. Maybe this is Genesis' Dark Side of the Moon year. What most don't know about the Pink Floyd is that they released seven albums before that revered record; they were flying under the radar for many years and then exploded. Genesis has been under the radar for too long, with products like this, the big break is inevitable.
2021 Genesis G80 2.5T RWD
Price as-Tested: $49,125
The Road Beat Rating: 4.5/5
Pros: True luxury qualities; incredible value; RWD balance
Cons: Awkward infotainment controller; lack of brand awareness
Verdict: For a luxury mid-size sedan, you'd be insane to not consider one.
Wheelbase: 118.5 in
Length: 197 in
Width: 76 in
Height: 58 in