Genesis GV80 SUV is late to the party but is dressed to impress
Dark window tint is popular in Seoul, especially on high-end cars, so we can’t see the driver of the blacked-out, Brabus-modified Mercedes-AMG G63 that’s been following our 2021 Genesis GV80 for the last few blocks. Then, surprisingly, he reveals himself at the next light, dropping the driver’s window of his shiny new G-wagon so he can get a better look at the chrome-dressed flanks of Genesis’s first SUV. He likes what he sees.
GV80 sales begin in Korea just hours after our drive, and the mid-size SUV will arrive in the United States in the second half of this year. Finally. It’s not only the three-row sport-utility that the fledgling Korean luxury brand has needed from the start. It’s nothing short of the most important vehicle in its short, five-year history.
Until now, Genesis has been surviving on sedans in the hottest SUV market ever. Sales in the U.S. were up sharply in 2019 thanks to its new G70, but volume remains small at just 21,000 cars. Its standalone stores haven’t materialized either. Instead, its cars are still sold through select Hyundai dealers; about 350 that have made the investment. Considering Lexus sold more than 111,000 RXs last year, more than any other model, the GV80 should quickly become the Korean-premium brand’s best-selling model.
If you were expecting a rebadged Hyundai Palisade, you haven’t been paying attention. Genesis doesn’t do front-wheel drive. Not yet. “A front-wheel-drive platform wouldn’t be authentic to the brand,” said Albert Biermann, head of research and development. The GV80 is instead built on a new rear-wheel-drive platform, which it will share with the coming new G80 sedan.
SangYup Lee, head of the Genesis Design Center, took full advantage of the SUV’s longitudinally mounted engine architecture and accentuated the snot out of it, giving the GV80 rear-drive proportions with a long dash-to-axle distance and a set-back cabin. Lee, who also shaped the Z06 version of the C6 Corvette while at General Motors, lives in Seoul but keeps his widebody 964-generation 911 at his house just off Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles It’s a car he purchased while working at Audi’s West Coast design studio. “I bought the Porsche about five years ago,” he said. “It’s just like the one I lusted after when I was a young design student at the Art Center in Pasadena.”
The shape of the GV80’s grille is all new, but it includes elements from the mouths of the G80 and G90 sedans, and the SUV’s eye-grabbing blend of sharp edges and muscular curves are more European than southeast Asian. Some of the detailing is obviously reminiscent of the Bentley Bentayga, which was also designed by Lee, including the GV80’s abundant fender trim and its hood-to-grille relationship, while its headlamps pinch a bit from Volvo. “For the U.S. market, you have to have a face,” Lee said. “Look at the Cadillac Escalade. But, I most like the aggressive rear-wheel-drive proportions and the rear of the GV80. We worked hard to give it a low and wide stance.”
“We didn’t look at other cars,” said Luc Donckerwolke, executive vice president and chief design officer of Hyundai Motor Group. “If you’re driving fast and you look at a tree, you’ll hit the tree.”
The GV80 is just an inch or two shy of the Palisade in every exterior dimension, and both SUVs are built at Hyundai’s massive plant in Ulsan on South Korea’s southeastern coast. “Its size is more Aviator than Navigator, more X5 than X7,” said a company rep. At 194.7 inches long, 77.8 inches wide, and 67.5 inches tall, the GV80 is actually about five inches shorter than the Aviator, which is also a couple of inches wider and taller than the Genesis. At 119.1 inches, the Lincoln also has the longer wheelbase. The GV80’s 116.3-inch wheelbase is an inch shorter than an X5’s.
Although its doors, hood, and liftgate are made out of weight-saving aluminum, the body in white is steel. “Good, strong Hyundai steel,” said Biermann, who joined Hyundai from BMW’s M division in 2015. The inline six-cylinder turbo diesel will be the launch engine in Korea. With the optional 22-inch rubber and optional AW, which add 220 pounds to the vehicle, Genesis tells us it weighs 5093 pounds. An AWD Aviator Black Label weighs 5195 pounds.
So it’s a big, heavy beast in the three-row SUV tradition, but it doesn’t feel like one on the road. This all-wheel-drive Korean-market example is certainly substantial, but it feels light with a surprising amount of athleticism and responsiveness. The steering is a bit heavier than it needs to be, but it isn’t too isolating, even on Seoul’s ultra-smooth highways. The coil-sprung suspension with adjustable shocks reduces body roll and offers excellent body control.
Bierman said the suspension, which features adaptive dampers that adjust according to road information from forward-facing cameras, will be retuned for the U.S. “I wouldn’t say it will be stiffer,” he said. “It’ll have even more body control.” But the changes aren’t necessary. The ride is firm enough on the optional 22-inch Michelin Primacy Tour A/S tires, sized 265/40R-22.
Nineteen-inch wheels will be standard. We’re told the suspension firms up in Sport mode, but the change is very slight. Durability testing and some chassis tuning, including work on the SUV’s electronic limited-slip differential, did take place at the Nürburgring. To aid front-to-rear balance the engine is set farther back than we expected, and the battery is mounted in the rear of the vehicle. About half of the inline six-cylinder is behind the GV80’s front axle line, so the SUV will likely be even better balanced with the shorter four-cylinder and V-6 engines.
We won’t get the diesel in the U.S., but it is impressively smooth and quiet and makes 274 horsepower. Instead, Genesis has confirmed two gas engines for the States: a new twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6 and the 290-hp 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that will also be used in the G70, Hyundai Sonata N-Line, and the Kia Optima GT. Expect the V-6 to out wallop the brand’s existing 365-horsepower 3.3-liter and possibly Lincoln’s 400-hp twin-turbo 3.0-liter. Both engines will be paired with Hyundai’s in-house eight-speed automatic, which has been retuned for each application. In the diesel versions we drove, the automatic is attentive and also quick with a downshift. Gear changes are clean, and its response to paddle-shifter play is satisfactory.
There are no plans to offer the company’s new wet dual-clutch automatic, which is around the corner for some Hyundais. “It’s not going to happen in a Genesis,” said Biermann.
A rear-drive version is planned, but most GV80s will get all-wheel drive and a Multi-Terrain Control with settings for sand, mud, and snow that adjust the traction and stability-control systems. A long list of electronic driver aids and safety features such as forward-collision braking and blind-spot assistance, rear cross-traffic assistance, and a smart-radar cruise control—which learns and then mimics your particular driving style—will be standard. And every GV80 gets 10 airbags, including one between the front seats to keep the driver and passenger from smacking into each other during side impacts.
The GV80 is exceptionally quiet inside. Genesis has fitted a new noise-canceling system that is focused on eliminating low-frequency tire hum. Whether or not it’s the system at play, road roar and tire slap have all but been eliminated. A 14.5-inch touchscreen is mounted on top of the dashboard and is a bit of a reach. The infotainment system can also be controlled with a dial and a touchpad located ahead of the rotary shift knob on the console. The navigation system features an augmented-reality display, which projects directional graphics atop the street-camera view. Mercedes-Benz’s GLE and GLS have a similar feature. It’s slick. The SUV’s virtual gauge display keeps things simple and symmetrical, with a large tachometer featuring a counterclockwise sweep.
Despite wood paneling, French stitching, quilted leather, ambient lighting, and knurled knobs and trim, the interior still comes off as minimalistic. There’s not a lot of switchgear or buttons, and the design is elegantly simple. Lee calls it “the beauty of white space.” The only ergonomic gaff isn’t the two-spoke steering wheel, although some think it looks funky. It’s that the electronic parking brake is on the dash to the left of the steering wheel instead of on the console by the shifter. We only drove the car for about two hours, but they clearly got the seats right, too: firm but not hard, well bolstered with strong heaters, and a vigorous massage function.
Space in the second row is class competitive, but getting into the third row is a challenge. Second-row captain’s chairs will not be offered, and the third row is tight. Tall teens and adults are basically pinned between the headliner and the second-row seatbacks. It’s a kid zone. Power-folding second- and third-row operation will be available.
Pricing is yet to be announced, but we expect the GV80 to start just below $50,000 and top out at $60,000 with all the optional goodies, which include soft-close doors and a massive sunroof. That leaves room for a little brother, and a smaller Genesis SUV is coming soon. It may even be shown at the New York International Auto Show in April. We won’t do Russian dolls,” said Donckerwolke. “We won’t do cookie-cutter Genesis design. Although there will be some consistencies, don’t expect the smaller SUV to look like this one.”
Surely, the guy in the G-Wagen will stop to check it out, too.
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