From the December 2020 issue of Car and Driver.
We love a good deal. Maybe it’s the Midwesterner in us. When making small talk with strangers, we know the joy of responding to a compliment with “Thanks, I got it on sale.” And while you can’t exactly say that you got a 2021 Genesis GV80 on sale, its value will certainly make you feel like you did.
The GV80 is the fledgling luxury brand’s first SUV, the follow-up to a trio of sedans (the G70, G80, and G90, in ascending order of size) that we have mostly enjoyed and, in the case of the G70, awarded a 10Best designation in 2019. The crossover impresses with a level of build and material quality that puts some traditional luxury brands to shame and for a price that makes even experts like us do a double take. And once you see the GV80 in the wild, its design and presence may have you doing a double take, too.
Bold and blocky, it doesn’t look quite like anything else on the road. When it does draw comparisons, they’re not to price-point competitors like the Acura MDX or BMW X5. They’re to the Bentley Bentayga and Rolls-Royce Cullinan. Perhaps that has something to do with former Bentley designer Luc Donckerwolke’s hand in the design.
The cabin is just as striking as the exterior, and it feels like a new take on automotive interior design. At a time when many carmakers are replacing switches and buttons with vast touch-sensitive black panels, Genesis uses silver-tone knurled knobs and select physical buttons with white accents, creating a light, bright space. The large rotary dial that controls the infotainment system lives in the center console and clicks with satisfying precision as it turns. A wide 14.5-inch touchscreen can display calming nature scenes when it’s not being asked to show splashy graphics from, say, SiriusXM’s Radio Margaritaville. And every material from the dark open-pore wood to the satin-metal trim to the leather that covers the posh front seats fits so exactly, you’d think it had been done by hand.
That level of luxury continues into the second row, where occupants enjoy plush heated seats and their own climate controls along with big-luxury-sedan levels of legroom. The third row, available only in Advanced Plus models like our test vehicle, lacks the comfort, luxury, and space of the rest of the cabin. There’s a USB charging outlet and enough room for two smallish children, but it’s better to think of the third row as a jump seat, pulled out when you simply refuse to take two cars to dinner or to the kids’ soccer game.
The GV80’s powertrain is masterfully executed and refined to the point of being unexciting. Base versions come with a turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-four making 300 horsepower, but we haven’t driven that one yet. Our test vehicle arrived with the 375-hp twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6 that is standard in the top two trims, Advanced Plus and Prestige. Both engines pair with an eight-speed automatic transmission. With the V-6, our 5009-pound example made a 5.3-second run to 60.
The GV80 shares its rear-wheel-drive platform with the newest incarnation of the G80. That the two drive similarly is more of a compliment to the SUV than a denunciation of the sedan, though we’d gladly accept a bit sportier handling in both.
Even though the GV80 is a largish mid-size crossover—roughly the size of the X5 or Mercedes-Benz GLE-class—it’s never sloppy or unwieldy, and its 0.82-g grip on the skidpad is more than enough to make you feel secure. The ride is comfortable on the Advanced Plus trim’s 20-inch wheels, and the steering finds a middle ground between responsive and numb.
Our loan coincided with our 10Best testing, which allowed dozens of editors to ply Genesis’s SUV on some of southeast Michigan’s best roads. Effortless power is frequently listed as one of the hallmarks of a luxury vehicle, but the bar for acceleration keeps moving, so despite the GV80’s V-6, we can’t say this ute boasts effortlessness.
Competitors sell more powerful engine options above their turbo six-cylinder models, but Genesis doesn’t offer that, at least not yet. Still, the V-6 provides more than enough juice for anything a daily commute will throw your way, and it’s possible that not every driver needs their cushy crossover to have the ability to throw them into the seatback when they pull away from a red light, even if we do.
There’s another hallmark of luxury that’s maybe more important to customers than excessive thrust: respite from the noise of the world. That, the GV80 has. We measured 66 decibels in the cabin at 70 mph. That’s a mere one decibel louder than the sound level in a Mercedes-Maybach S560, the luxury car that many sedans want to be when they grow up.
But it’s the GV80’s price that’s perhaps most stunning. Our test vehicle comes in at $66,475, which is less than we’d expect it to cost—a statement we wish we got to make more often. This could be the vehicle that makes Genesis a real player in the luxury sphere and not just a curiosity known only to gearheads.
And that’s important in the premium-car sector, where brand loyalty is particularly strong and hooking buyers young matters. Genesis knows this. It even put out a splashy Super Bowl ad featuring model Chrissy Teigen and singer John Legend that touted the GV80 as “young luxury” and wherein Teigen, an avatar of modern fame, spent most of the spot taking down old-school wealth, sending the message that Genesis is more interested in attracting up-and-comers than the classically wealthy.
Appealing to the youth market is nothing new, but Genesis seems better positioned to do it than other brands. A 2018 report from the Luxury Institute about trends in the luxury industry noted that millennials are much less concerned with brand history and prestige than they are with customer service, design, and craftsmanship—things that Genesis does well. We are more than 30,000 miles into a 40,000-mile test of the G70, and its reliability has ensured that we haven’t needed to interact much with Genesis’s customer-service arm. The GV80 nails the design and craftsmanship parts of the assignment.
Whether or not shoppers notice remains to be seen. Genesis—and its sparkling celebrity-couple-endorsed GV80—hasn’t made much of an impact on the public. The company sold 21,233 vehicles in the U.S. last year, and almost every person we talked to about the GV80 said they were hearing about Genesis for the first time, even those who claimed to have watched the Super Bowl. We’re doing our part to spread the word, but judging from the attention the GV80 received during our loan, we doubt we’ll need to sing its praises much longer before people catch on.
The GV80 had me the moment I climbed aboard. Its beautifully executed interior is indisputable evidence that Genesis understands the not-so-secret handshake of luxury—something that several aspiring premium-car brands have yet to learn. We humans are exceptionally talented at picking up visual detail, and the GV80 is rife with it. Delicate satin-metal highlights. Carefully stitched leather on the dash, seats, and doors. Knurled knobs and switches. Tight, precise assembly. It all makes the GV80 feel much more expensive than it is. You know which other luxury brand got its start doing things this way? Lexus. —Rich Ceppos
It takes guts to design a $65,000 vehicle that evokes a $180,000 Bentley. If the GV80 didn’t hold up to the comparison on closer inspection, owning one would be like trying to pass off a fake Rolex as the real thing. But Genesis’s first SUV passes scrutiny. The interior is as lavish, the powertrain is as polished, and the design is as striking as anything it might compete with. Okay, no one’s trading in a Bentley for a Genesis based on brand recognition alone, but anyone driving a Mercedes, a BMW, or an Audi will be shocked that Genesis can offer so much luxury for so little. —Eric Tingwall