In a luxury vehicle, the truly lush elements come in the small details. Sure, there’s lots of tech, and the handling is great, but what’s going to set you apart are those smaller, ergonomic details that just make you feel good. And in the 2021 Genesis GV80, I couldn’t get over how substantially thick the steering wheel felt.
It’s a weird thing to enjoy, I’ll admit. It’s incredibly specific. It’s probably not something that most people would pick out as a feature they enjoy in a vehicle, and the fact that this is the thing about the GV80 that stuck with me is... odd. But I haven’t been able to shake it, and I want to talk about it.
I realize this is not a popular take. Jalopnik has, in fact, shared strong feelings about the awful nature of unnecessarily chunky steering wheels in the past. And there are plenty of forums filled with smaller-bodied folks who complain about how thick the steering wheels have grown in recent years.
Here’s how we described these beefy wheels in the past:
I’m sure some sort of comfort science would tell you the softness and thickness helps relax the driver. It provides more surface area. The thickness allows fitment of a wheel-heating system. It scales better with the general largeness of the rest of the interior design’s features. It’s consistent with the other elements of the passenger experience.
But driving a car, especially something sporty, I don’t want a passenger’s experience. I don’t want to be cradled. I want a driving experience. My hands didn’t sweat so much when the wheel was smaller and not padded. I’m convinced a thinner wheel makes the cabin feel less crowded. It felt strong. It echoed the weight of the non-electronic steering. I felt connected.
And I do agree with a lot of that. But the Genesis GV80 isn’t a sporty car. It’s the kind of luxury car designed to make the chore of driving more comfortable. And in this case, its thicker steering wheel perfectly fits everything I want from a luxury SUV.
The driving dynamics in the GV80 are Fine. I tested out the 2.5-liter version during my drive, and it had enough power that I could enjoy a quick getaway from a stoplight, and the large SUV handled fairly nimbly. Mostly, though, my takeaway was that the GV80's actual on-road performance isn’t the thing you’re going to remember. You’re going to remember what it felt like for you, as a human being endowed with five senses, to be behind the wheel.
With the thicker steering wheel wrapped in high-quality materials, you’re getting the sense that you’re in command of a very beautiful and luxe machine. It’s not the “ooh” sensation you get from a rapid launch; rather, it’s the “ooh” of squishing your toes into a thick carpet at the end of a long day, the “ooh” of a cool silk pillowcase in the middle of July. It’s indulging in something that feels nice just for the sake of feeling nice. The GV80's steering wheel feels substantial and firm.
That kind of steering wheel wouldn’t be at home in the much sportier GV70, and it isn’t. The GV70's wheel is still high-quality, but it’s thinner and harder. And the GV70 is still luxurious, but in a different way — a Ferrari kind of way to the GV80's Rolls-Royce kind of luxe. And that’s part of what makes the GV80 such a damn icon for driver comfort.