2021 Genesis GV80: First Drive

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Genesis may have arrived late to the SUV party, but at least it can pull off fashionably late. This beautiful vehicle is in the real world now, after a slight delay due to COVID-19, and it is in a good position to plug a hole in the Genesis lineup while making the brand all of the money.

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Full Disclosure: Genesis had us out to a private home in the fancy metro Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills and offered us fully gassed-up GV80s (with either the 2.5-liter or 3.5-liter engine) to play with for a few hours.

Testing Conditions: It’s fall in Michigan — so rainy and cold.

Genesis GV80 Explained

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This is Genesis’ first try at an SUV. The luxury automaker has a stable of three sedans that we honestly think are fucking gorgeous but just go ahead and guess how well sedans are selling right now (take your time, we’re hourly). The GV80 is meant to grab a slice of that fat SUV money cake for Genesis, and it has an incredible line of technology, plus a comparably affordable price, to make it happen.

The base GV80 comes with a 2.5-liter turbo four-cylinder making 300 horsepower and 311 lb-ft (RWD fuel economy is 23 mpg combined, and AWD is 22). A 14.5-inch infotainment screen and 19-inch wheels are standard on all levels. The 2.5-liter version starts at $48,900, but can go all the way up to $63,400 with the AWD and Prestige package.

If you want a third row, or just a bit more power, you can go with the 3.5-liter V6 putting out 375 HP with 391 lb-ft torque, available only in AWD. If you really like the GV80, you can go all the way up to the Prestige package which tops out at $70,950 for the 3.5-liter. Whichever engine you choose, it’ll be paired with an eight-speed transmission.

That’s thousands of dollars less than the competition, which would be the Audi Q7, BMW X5, Lincoln Aviator or Mercedes-Benz GLE. The GV80’s cost savings for such a lovely vehicle makes it even more attractive, but most customers are going to be leasing these vehicles, not buying. If Genesis doesn’t offer lease deals competitive with the likes of BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Volvo, it will struggle.

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Photo: Erin Marquis

Top Takeaways

The GV80 is an aesthetically pleasing and incredibly comfortable vehicle, designed around the idea that driving is a chore so it should, at the very least, be an extremely pleasant chore.

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Standout Features

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The GV80 is simply gorgeous. That can’t be said enough about Genesis design language — inside and out, it’s completely different from any other product on the market, and it is interesting without being busy or polarizing. The interior design is extremely clean, with most surfaces tastefully covered in soft two-tone leather. (You can go for all black, but why would you?) I especially enjoyed the rich caramel color in the 3.5-liter I drove, though there is a brown and green interior color option that I am eager to check out. (Genesis didn’t have that combination at our drive.)

The lush interior and artfully — almost art deco — style exterior certainly achieves the effect that Genesis has always aimed for luxury feel at a significant savings. And it meets that goal without imitating the more established luxury SUVs on the market. The GV80 is going its own route.

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The knobs and dials are intuitive to navigate, and the few touchscreen buttons that you must deal with are for the creature comforts. Even so, these buttons respond with both tactile and audible feedback, making them feel closer to real buttons. Its direct, easy-to-use, non-distracting infotainment system even comes with some nice nature sound settings to really relax the driver. No matter what your choice of jams, it will be pumped out on 21 Lexicon speakers. Another cool option I stumbled on: A quiet version of the infotainment system cancels out the sound from reaching the back seats. Great for parents who want to both thrash and to maintain the kids’ nap times.

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The digital dash and floating 14.5-inch digital screen continue the pristine design. The cluster display actually changes in appearance when you scroll through different drive modes.

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It’s a very quiet ride inside both the 2.5 and 3.5 thanks, in part, to what Genesis calls its Road Active Noise Cancellation. Using accelerometers and microphones, road noise is monitored every 0.02 seconds. The speakers then generate an inverted sound wave to cancel out the road noise. Each seat receives a tailor-made signal so everyone onboard can enjoy a quiet ride.

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Speaking of seats, the design is notably successful in elevating the level of comfort and thoughtful ergonomics. You’re able to enter your body’s measures to let the car figure out your perfect driving position. The seats also come with what Genesis is calling Ergo Motion Seats, a system that uses air-filled bladders to slowly massage the driver as a way to avoid fatigue during long drives. Truly, this is a car that does everything it can to make you forget you’re driving.

Genesis highlighted the GV80’s Smart Cruise Control with Machine Learning. Cars that can “learn” will always be very interesting to me, though to be honest, I’m not entirely sold on this one. The computer learns each driver’s average following distance, reaction speed and acceleration strength in order to recreate how that driver would react while in cruise control. So if you drive like an asshole, the car is going to learn your bad behaviors. Not exactly ideal, considering the reputation of luxury vehicle drivers. Can you imagine your car rushing up to a red light and slamming on its brakes, only for the Voice Assist to chime in with, “I learned it from watching you!”

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What’s Weak

It’s a big ol’ SUV and therefore drives like one. I found the four-cylinder 2.5-liter turbo a bit livelier than the 3.5, though the GV80 with the 3.5 I drove was hauling around the additional third row. Of course, this isn’t a car about thrills, chills and spills. This is about cloud-like transportation in an effortless-to-operate vehicle, and Genesis nailed that. But it suddenly made sense that to get the third row you have to go for the 3.5-liter V6. Still, the third row isn’t even large enough to justify its existence, and it reduces your storage space from 33.9 cubic feet to 11.6 when the seats are up. Skip the third row entirely and owners have 84 cubic feet in the back.

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The mileage is also pretty rough. No matter your engine option, you’re not seeing any mpg above 23 in the GV80. But that’s poor person Hyundai talk! I’d love to see a hybrid or even fully electric version of the GV80, but all in good time.

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The Genesis GV80 also comes with cool ways to enter and start the car, similar to what we’ve seen on Hyundais. Owners can send a link to someone’s phone to allow them to drive or access their Genesis, but it works only on Android phones, which reduces this cool feature to being usable by about half of the car-buying public.

Genesis offers drivers access to its cloud-based connection service, Genesis Connected Services, for three years. The Connected Services assist in navigation and voice recognition. All of your infotainment will still work in the GV80 after the three free years are up, but if you find the cloud connection useful, it’ll be $10/month after that. However, these vehicles are going to most likely be leased, so that time period is more than generous.

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Safety

Neither the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety nor the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has had a chance to crash-test the GV80. However, the Hyundai Palisade and Telluride test very well. While the GV80 does not share a platform with these SUVs, it indicates that Genesis comes from a company that knows what it is doing when it comes to SUV safety.

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The GV80 comes with a host of promising safety features to prevent collisions from happening in the first place. When it comes to passive safety, the GV80 sports 10 airbags, including one that pops up between the driver and front passenger in order to prevent them from slamming into each other in a side impact. Active safety features that come standard are Lane Following Assist, Driver Attention Warning, and Blind Spot, Rear Cross Traffic and Forward collision assists. Really, this car is edging toward Level 2 autonomy without calling it a self-driving car. The Lane Keeping assist was unobtrusive and worked every time to alert me to any lane wandering.

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A standout feature I haven’t seen on other models yet was the Driver Attention Warning. The GV80 pinged me while in traffic when the car in front of me had pulled ahead. I’m a never-touch-the-phone type of driver, but if you are a red-light text reader, this feature will prevent a lot of honking and headaches from anyone behind you. My testers were equipped with some optional active safety features that I really dug as well, like the always-impressive Blind Spot Monitor, which automatically gave me a clear view of my blind spot every time I engaged the turn signal, and it displayed right there in the instrument cluster.

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Parents will appreciate some very cool features for keeping the kiddos safe, like Safe Exit Assist, which will let you know about approaching cars and even keep the back doors locked if imminent danger is detected. The GV80 also has the Rear Occupant Alert feature, which will tip off the driver if it senses a certain amount of weight in the backseat. If the driver walks away and locks the GV80 and the car then senses movement in the back, it will sound a bunch of alarms demanding that someone come to investigate. It’s a simple solution to the tragic occurrences of children and animals being left in hot cars, and it’s a wonder that it took a luxury vehicle until 2020 to make a feature that should be standard on every vehicle.

Jalopnik Recommended Options

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Personally, I’d get the 3.5-liter engine, without the third-row seat, in the second-highest trim, the Advanced package for $64,350. With the Advanced package, you get that sweet Blind Spot View Monitor, Remote Parking Assist (also seen on Hyundais), Ergo Motion Seat and my favorite, the largest head-up display in the segment. You miss out on some of the creature comforts that come with the Prestige, like that neat Forward Attention Warning, but as I said, you have to be a red-light texter to really need that feature, and I’m not. You can get the third row with the Advance, but I’m skipping it, as you wouldn’t be able to cram anyone but the tiniest kids back there anyway. And you better believe I’d get it in Cardiff Green with the green and black two-tone interior.

Verdict

It’s an absolutely lovely vehicle and carries over the almost art-deco styling of the company’s design language perfectly. Genesis seems to have nailed the luxury SUV on its first attempt, in both style and substance. Welcome to the party, Genesis.

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Managing Editor of Jalopnik.

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DISCUSSION

shanemorris
Shane Morris

I just want to come out in support of Genesis. If these had been around when I was purchasing my Q7, I would have pulled the trigger in a heartbeat. I loved my G80. It never had a problem, and it was a perfect freeway machine.

I’ll just give you the Genesis owner experience real quick...

“Wow, nice car. Is that a Chrysler?”

“No. It’s this new car brand called a Genesis.”

“It’s made by Chrysler?”

“No. It’s made by Hyundai, in the same way Lexus is actually made by Toyota.”

“Toyota makes Lexus cars? Why?”

“I don’t know, but anyway...”

“Is it a Lexus?”

“No, this is a Genesis. It’s the brand. Not the... you know what? It’s an Acura.”

“Oh nice."