The 2017 Genesis G80 Ultimate is like upper-management accommodations at a middle-management price. The 420 horsepower V8 makes you a nice shortcut up the corporate ladder, but you don’t have to be a working stiff to appreciate this car.
(Full disclosure: I was on holiday in California recently, and needed to test out some new wheels. This was definitely better than the average rental car I’d expect to pick up at LAX, and Hyundai Motor America was happy to oblige.)
What Is It?
Hyundai rose to relevance in the U.S. as an economy car company, more recently established itself as a quality economy car company, then stepped up to take an earnest swing at the luxury car game with the Genesis. Today, Genesis isn’t just a Hyundai anymore. This is a proper high-end standalone brand, which is intended to offer a better buying experience and more elite model selection. This G80 RWD 5.0 Ultimate model, painted Parisian Gray, I tested is nicely equipped at $55,670.
Why Does It Matter?
The Genesis brand is Hyundai’s venture into luxury models to compete with the likes of Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi while differentiating itself from the Japanese equivalents made by Acura, Lexus and Infiniti. Hyundai’s hoping to move in with a low price point and a highly recognized reputation for reliability.
The Korean brand realized not every luxury sedan buyer wanted the same thing, and that there was a segment it could sneak its way into. By making Genesis its own brand, and not just a model in the Hyundai lineup, it aims to get away from the “cheap car” associations potential buyers might have with the italicized H badge.
The Power Plant
This Genesis G80 is powered by a 420 horsepower 5.0-liter engine. You don’t have to be that old to appreciate how amazing it is that Hyundai, a company that used to be the butt of jokes about dinky Corolla knock-offs, now offers a rear-drive V8 luxury sedan with as much power as a Mustang.
That horsepower comes on strong, too, and stays pretty well-optimized thanks to the car’s solid 8-speed automatic transmission. Buttery smooth, growling when you put your foot down, and effective at maneuvering through the tight roads of Los Angeles, the Genesis’s engine kept me satisfied over 5 days and nights.
Surprisingly, the large G80 was great at getting around LA, and finding its way into parking spaces. The engine/transmission combo didn’t fuss much with the stop and go traffic we hit each day, either.
Steering was light, but confident. The suspension was perfect in the Normal driving mode, and gave no gripes when hitting bumps and small potholes around town. When Sport Mode was selected, things got significantly more interesting.
For one day, I made sure to select the Sport Mode each time I fired up the car. Considering its size and market segment, I was impressed at how well this car could hang with rough use. Yes, there was a bit of body roll, but this isn’t supposed to be an asphalt-assaulting BMW M5 rival. The turn-in was sharp enough, and predictable. If I wanted to get up to a bit more “Hi, California Highway Patrol!” speed, this engine was there as soon as I wanted it to be.
Whether on the twisty Hollywood Hills roads or along Pacific Coast Highway the G80 felt confident, powerful, and sharp while not compromising the comfort of myself or my passenger. I actually had fun taking it up the coast and back on a sunny afternoon.
The Features Inside
The G80 RWD 5.0 Ultimate trim level gave it every option you’d actually want. Heated and cooled seats were great when it was warm during the day, and a bit more chilly at night. The panoramic moonroof turned the entire top of the car into a glorious open sky view and didn’t even make much noise when open.
The driving characteristics were impressive, most notably in the Sport Mode. The handling got sharper, the throttle response improved, and the suspension felt reactive enough to enjoy cruising Pacific Coast Highway for several miles. I get to drive a BMW 550i often, and when churning about, the G80 felt very similar, albeit larger than the 5-Series. While somewhat softer than I expected, the comfort level was good without letting the car get too wobbly. The engine had smooth torque delivery while producing a good exhaust note to boot.
But the seats were perfect.
While they may not look particularly cool, they had plenty of support in the curves and felt great even after a couple hours of crossing the city.
Spending nearly a week driving around Los Angeles, the second largest city in the United States, I would have thought I’d end up extensively using the navigation system to find destinations like popular restaurants, museums, breweries, and coffee shops. But, no.
More times than not I had to pull out my iPhone, look up an address, and plug that into the G80’s system to get going. Considering this car has what Genesis calls Map Care, which includes complimentary annual map updates, I expected much more reliable results. If i hadn’t lived in LA for two years it might have been nice to trust and rely on this system to get around, but no dice. To compete with the cars you’re targeting, this system needs to step up its game.
The multimedia system controls could use a review and revision, too. There’s no easy way to get to the audio system controls, and if you want to change which Sirius XM station you’re listening to, the steering wheel controls aren’t intuitive nor effective.
Once you’re in the main screen’s functions for adjusting the station or setting presets, you may have to try several times to get a station dialed in and quickly ordered. I’m an extremely tech-savvy driver, and this system was nearly impossible to get set up to my liking. I basically left the satellite radio tuned to Lithium the whole time. This car could benefit from the Apple CarPlay option.
Fuel economy was surprisingly lower than expected. EPA estimates are 15/23, and I averaged 14.3 during the week with over 400 miles covered, with a good portion on the highway. I wasn’t even my usual sporting driver-self with the G80.
The lane departure warning system was shut off within two hours of picking up the car. It is way too forceful and overly sensitive to any lane movement. If you’re going 75 on I-10, moving along smoothly in the flow of traffic, you better have 200 feet between you and the car in the lane you’re trying to move into. Otherwise, the car will make all sorts of noises, your dash will light up, and the steering wheel will vibrate. I have never felt a safety system so paranoid.
Who Is It For?
A driver that wants the big, comfortable, well-appointed sedan that isn’t German or $80,000. Someone who doesn’t need the validation of a well-established brand name to feel good about the car they’re driving. A person that doesn’t care to name drop or make sure to have everyone in the room know how much they make will enjoy the G80. The pragmatic luxury sedan buyer will appreciate the lengths Genesis went to dial in this machine.
When compared to an S-Class, 7-Series, or A8, having similar size, power, features and luxury, this thing immediately gets your attention in the $50,000 range. Who cares which badge it has on the front? It still looks great, and packs a ton of features into a well-sculpted body.
If you really, really want all the attention to detail and quality of materials and functions throughout everything you’ll touch inside the cabin, go with the German options. If 80 percent of that quality level works for you, and you’re trying to save $20,000 instead of buying a 7-Series, give the Genesis G80 some serious consideration.
The car is good, and great for the price. As soon as Genesis can perfect its selling and service options and break away from Hyundai dealerships, these cars will be completely competent alternatives to the established elites.