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2021 Genesis GV80 First Drive: Child Prodigy

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Auto123 gets in a first test drive of the 2021 Genesis GV80.

Even though in human years Genesis is still in its infancy, the automaker has already proven with the sedan models already under its belt that it’s able to compete with rivals in terms of quality. Hyundai’s luxury brand’s formula involves hewing to the basic principles that have driven the Korean automaker’s success and transposing them to the high-end market.

Principle number one is to offer a lot for the money, and that's just what the new GV80 does. The first SUV designed and engineered for the Genesis division, this mid-size luxury model will compete against models like the Lincoln Aviator, BMW X5, Mercedes GLE or Audi Q7 and should arrive at Genesis’ boutiques – and yes, that’s what they are  - in the next few weeks. Well aware of the format’s popularity on the market, Genesis is counting heavily on this SUV (and the upcoming GV70, due to arrive in 2022) to make a breakthrough on the market, as the company currently has only three sedans in its product line.

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2021 Genesis GV80, profile
Photo: Genesis
2021 Genesis GV80, profile

Two engines and four versions
The choices available to you are relatively simple. You have the 2.5L Select and Advanced models that sell for $64,500 and $70,000 respectively. With those, you get a 300-hp 2.5L 4-cylinder turbocharged engine with an 8-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.

You can also go for a 3.5 T version that comes with a 375-hp 3.5L turbocharged V6 engine with the same transmission and all-wheel drive. The Advanced version with this powertrain is $80,000 and the Prestige is $85,000. For now, there is no hybrid or partial electric version to be found on the roster, but we expect an announcement to that effect by next year.

The equipment list is very comprehensive, and conversely options are practically non-existent. Also included in the price of entry, whichever version you choose, is a 5-year/100,000 km warranty with free maintenance and courtesy car service, Genesis Connected Services subscription, updated navigation maps and 5-year roadside assistance.

2021 Genesis GV80, three-quarters rear
Photo: Genesis
2021 Genesis GV80, three-quarters rear
2021 Genesis GV80, front
Photo: Genesis
2021 Genesis GV80, front

Lines that borrow from here and from there
A top priority for any new automotive brand is to come up with visual cues that give its models a distinct personality. This is unfinished business in the case of the GV80, at least in terms of its exterior. Curves and angles can be seen that point to inspiration from other models in the segment, from for instance from the Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne, and even the Rolls-Royce Cullinan thanks to the very upright front end. The overall shape is elegant, just not very distinctive; Genesis will have to sharpen its design pencils if it wants to truly stand out from the competition.

A cabin up to the job
Like with Hyundai products aimed at a wider audience, Genesis doesn’t skimp when it comes to what it includes in the GV80. Buyers get a panoramic sunroof, 14.5-inch infotainment screen, induction phone charging, heated front seats and power tailgate as standard equipment. And of course, count on the full suite of electronic drive assists systems.

2021 Genesis GV80, interior
Photo: Genesis
2021 Genesis GV80, interior

If you upgrade to 3.5 Prestige, you add a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster that generates a 3D image that you turn off if you don't like it. The 2.5 T version includes analog gauges.

The V6 models also feature a 21-speaker Lexicon audio system with laser-cut metal-finish speaker grilles and a real wood finish, and which kicks out a healthy 100 watts.

In the Prestige model, quilted Nappa leather is included and comes in interesting and even intriguing colour combinations such as olive green with brown wood. This high-end model also includes a massage function for the driver's seat - a first for Genesis - in addition to the ventilated seats included in all models except the base model.

The 14.5-inch rectangle-shaped centre screen is the largest in the segment and comes standard in all models. You can operate this screen by touch, with a set of buttons and thumbwheels, or using the circular touchpad mounted just in front of the shifter dial that works with fingertip handwriting recognition. We still wonder why manufacturers insist on integrating touchpads that are frankly as useless as they are complicated. Beyond that, the GV80 is fluent in both Apple CarPlay- and Android Auto-speak.

2021 Genesis GV80, second and third rows of seats
Photo: Genesis
2021 Genesis GV80, second and third rows of seats

A third row
The 3.5 T is the only one to offer a 3rd row of seats, though note that it is mainly for smaller children or short-distance, only-if-you-really-have-to situations. The 2.5 T offers a 5-seat configuration only.

Cargo space is pretty generous, although obviously less so when three rows are present and seats are upright. You have 328 litres behind the third row in the V6 model, 991 litres behind the second row and 2,379 litres behind the first row. These are numbers that surpass what you find in models like the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE. Genesis also claims that the new GV80 is the most spacious model for second-row passengers. In case you plan on pulling things, know that the 2.5 T and 3.5 T models can tow 6000 lb.

An oasis of silence
The first thing you notice when you get behind the wheel is the monastic silence that reigns on board. As Genesis explains it, this noise suppression comes from a new active system that, instead of cancelling out one type of noise with another one like most systems, analyzes the road noise and eliminates it by sending an inverted sound wave through the audio system. These calculations are done individually for the driver, front passenger and rear seats. It should also be added that Genesis uses double-thickness laminated glass throughout the vehicle to further reduce the number of decibels infiltrating from outside.

2021 Genesis GV80, badge
Photo: Genesis
2021 Genesis GV80, badge

Behind the wheel, our preferred drive came courtesy the 2.5 T version. With this configuration, the front end of the vehicle is lighter, which gives a more dynamic character to the GV80’s on-road behaviour. The 300 hp are plenty enough to give you good acceleration and a pleasant drive.

The 3.5L is certainly more powerful, but it’s also heavier, and the steering is slower. We also question Genesis' decision to fit it with 22-inch tires and wheels as standard equipment. The 22-inch tires and wheels are not just expensive to replace, they're also going to affect driving comfort. The 2.5 Advanced version's 20-inch tires are the best option in our opinion.

Conclusion
The 2021 GV80 is of paramount importance to Genesis if the fledgling-but-ambitious company is to make a real place for itself in the luxury-vehicle universe. From our first encounter, we say the right ingredients are in place. There’s a level of luxury comparable to the best midsize luxury SUVs on the market, and the pricing is quite competitive, especially since you won’t run up the tab going through an endless list of options.

Genesis' biggest challenge remains the same as with its sedans, which is to convince consumers to move away from buying or renting something with an established cache and a status-raising badge, and opt for this frankly more-rational purchase. Because when you rate bang for buck, the Genesis GV80 is a radiant success.

2021 Genesis GV80, three-quarters front
Photo: Genesis
2021 Genesis GV80, three-quarters front

We like

Extensive equipment list
Remarkable driving silence
Very high-quality finish

We like less

22-inch wheels standard on 3.5 T model
Touchpad not required
Inconvenient third-row seats (3.5 T)

The competition

Audi Q7
BMW X5
Lexus RX
Lincoln Aviator
Mercedes-Benz GLE
Volvo XC90

2021 Genesis GV80, rear
Photo: Genesis
2021 Genesis GV80, rear

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