2021 Genesis GV80: Humbling the Competition

Published on November 10, 2020 in First Drives by Antoine Joubert

Not so long ago, every new SUV that came onto the scene was guaranteed to enjoy success. Now that the market is littered with them, things are different. Some models have been complete failures in terms of sales—think Jaguar E-PACE, Ford EcoSport and Cadillac XT6.

So here comes the all-new 2021 Genesis GV80, the Korean luxury brand’s first-ever SUV and a direct response to popular midsize models like the Acura MDX, BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE. In fact, there are over a dozen competitors in this key market segment, not counting the electrified alternatives.

For Genesis, the goal is obviously not to dethrone the segment’s bestsellers, which have pretty loyal customers. Rather, it’s about offering a new ownership experience based on a high-value product and customized service. You won’t see big manufacturer rebates like the ones on Cadillac and Infiniti vehicles that dilute the brand’s image and prestige.

The GV80 uses a similar strategy to Lexus in the early years. It’s a mighty impressive product that simply can’t be described as a fancy version of a Hyundai (on the other hand, you can definitely say the Lincoln Nautilus is a jazzed-up Ford Edge). Everything you see, hear, feel or touch is genuine Genesis.

Photo: Antoine Joubert

Listening to Customers

Initially, Genesis planned to sell and service vehicles through Hyundai dealerships. A few separate boutiques also popped up to increase brand awareness. However, that did not really work so well since most people still want the traditional showroom experience.

The company recently announced that new locations will open in the near future—some right next to Hyundai dealers, others not. These will be similar to your typical luxury car facility, except that inventories will be managed directly by Genesis Canada for quicker delivery times.

Genesis customers also have the opportunity to make online purchases and get their vehicles delivered to their home, which at the beginning was unheard of in the auto industry and now proves quite fitting with the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing rules. All Genesis models carry a five-year warranty that includes a concierge service for maintenance—something that gives the brand a definite edge over traditional luxury makes.

Photo: Antoine Joubert

GV = Great Value?

The 2021 Genesis GV80 starts at $64,500 and can go as high as $85,000 in top-line trim. Even base models will give you plenty of bang for your buck, whereas most rivals come with a long list of optional yet necessary options. The only choice you have to make here is the body colour—and it won’t even cost you a penny. Same thing for freight and delivery charges, which are included the price.

But just because a company packs a lot of value into a product doesn’t mean people will be drawn to it in the first place. The folks at Genesis admit that the GV80’s look won’t appeal to everybody. Either you like it or you don’t.

For instance, if you’re not too fond of chrome, this luxury SUV is not for you. There’s a plethora of shiny bits on the exterior, from the wheels to the roof rails and everything in-between, including the massive, diamond-shaped grille up front. Genesis is promising some kind of black package in the near future that would give the GV80 a sportier appearance, similar to Acura’s A-Spec package or Audi’s S-Line.

One thing’s for sure, though: build quality is flawless. The GV80 definitely has the look and feel of a luxury product. By the way, the only element that sets the various trim levels apart are the wheels. The Select features 19-inch alloys, while the Advanced gets 20-inchers. Those on V6-powered models measure 22 inches.

Photo: Antoine Joubert

Welcome to Paradise

The sumptuous cabin of the 2021 Genesis GV80 is heavily inspired by Bentley vehicles, with diamond-quilted leather, magnificent wood inlays and supreme attention to detail all the way down to the switches and controls. At night, ambient lighting creates a pretty wonderful experience.

As a matter of fact, sitting in the GV80 is a real treat for the senses. Everything you touch oozes quality, while the combination of colours and textures adds to the spectacle. There are five interior colour schemes to choose from, the most extravagant being Chestnut Brown/Smoky Green. No other manufacturer this side of $100,000 can brag about offering such variety with this much quality.

It would take forever to go down the list of gadgets and amenities in the Genesis GV80, so let’s just say that the interior is a cozy and comfortable place to be in. Ergonomics are spot-on and the HVAC controls offer a delightful tactile experience.  

While the super-wide, 14.5-inch centre display is great (with a rotary-type controller that works like the one on the first iPods), the instrument panel and steering wheel on four-cylinder models are visually uninspiring. Luckily, higher trim levels get a configurable 3D display that provides all sorts of information in the arrangement you prefer. A head-up display is also included, and once again you can specify the data you want to appear on the windshield.

Photo: Genesis

5 or 7 Passengers

Four-cylinder models offer five seats, while those with the V6 engine can accommodate up to seven people. The third row is difficult to access, making it suitable for children only. In this configuration, cargo room is significantly limited, too. In other words, if you plan to use all three rows of seats on a regular basis, the Genesis GV80 is probably not the SUV you need. On the plus side, first- and second-row occupants enjoy a regal treatment when it comes to space and comfort.

Mechanically, the GV80 relies on a standard turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine that produces 300 horsepower or an available turbocharged 3.5-litre V6 delivering 375 horsepower. Both are mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. There is no electrified variant for the time being.

While the 2.5T seems a bit weak at first, that’s just because we’re so used to V6 engines in this type of vehicle. In reality, it’s a surprisingly flexible and linear powerplant that actually generates about 50 horsepower more than comparable four-cylinder rivals from Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo.

Photo: Antoine Joubert

The 3.5T is obviously smoother and even more flexible, but don’t expect the 75 extra horses to catapult you into another dimension. In fact, the V6 option may not be worth it, especially since it increases weight by approximately 150 kilos, affecting agility in corners. Plus, as mentioned earlier, the V6 comes standard with 22-inch wheels and those are seriously not ideal for ride quality on bad pavement.

On the road, the GV80 is not a dynamic handler like the BMW X5, but it displays good overall balance and proves exceptionally quiet. Despite the panoramic sunroof and three rows of seats, we didn’t hear any undesirable noises.

Our Verdict

The bold and super-classy 2021 Genesis GV80 is a credible threat to the best midsize luxury SUVs on the market, humbling many with a combination of technology, quality and customer service that’s hard to resist. And while the brand has a lot of work to do in terms of building a reputation, it’s not like it needs rebuilding (see Cadillac, Infiniti, Lincoln). The next few years will be crucial, but Genesis currently finds itself in a good position.

Test drive report
Test model 2021 Genesis GV80
Trim level 2.5T Advanced
Price range $64,500 – $85,000
Price as tested 70 000 $
Warranty (basic) 5 years/100,000 km
Warranty (powertrain) 5 years/unlimited
Fuel economy (city/highway/observed) 12,5 / 9,6 / 11,7 L/100km
Options N/A
Competitive models 2021 Audi Q7, 2021 BMW X5, 2020 Cadillac XT6, 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE, 2021 Porsche Cayenne, 2021 Lexus RX, 2021 Lincoln Aviator, 2021 Volvo XC90, 2020 Acura MDX
Strong points
  • Great value
  • High build quality
  • Exceptional cabin
  • Comfortable and quiet ride
  • Max towing capacity of 6,000 pounds
Weak points
  • 22-inch wheels are not ideal on bad pavement
  • Chrome everywhere
  • Lack of brand recognition
  • Depreciation TBD
Editor's rating
Fuel economy 3.0/5 We expected better. The GV80 is just average in terms of fuel economy.
Comfort 4.5/5 Comfort is exceptional, though ride quality is affected by the available 22-inch wheels.
Performance 3.5/5 The 2.5T engine is a good performer and maybe a better pick than the V6.
Infotainment 4.0/5 The execution is just superb. The only thing missing is wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.
Driving 3.5/5 A unique sensory experience elevates the pleasure behind the wheel.
Overall 4.0/5 The GV80 is an innovative and refreshing product that many competitors should take a page from.
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