Driving from the vineyards of Napa to the cliffs of the California coast, I put the hammer down in the 2018 Genesis G80 Sport and am rewarded with a deep, blurting exhaust note from its quad rear pipes.
But straightaways come few and far between on this route, and while the G80 Sport grips well enough in the turns, it's far from a revelation. In Sport mode, the steering assumes a reassuring heft, the transmission holds low gears and the suspension stiffens up, but it lacks the balletic balance of an Audi or BMW.
Genesis began as a Hyundai model, and now has morphed into a whole new luxury brand, using components and platforms from the shared might of Hyundai and Kia. Genesis currently offers two sedans, the G80 and G90, with an emphasis on value in the luxury segment.
The 2018 Genesis G80 Sport, which I drove during a Genesis-sponsored press event in Northern California, comes as the newest variant of the G80 sedan. Where the standard G80 comes with either a 3.8-liter V6 or 5.0-liter V8, the G80 Sport borrows a twin-turbocharged direct injection 3.3-liter V6 from the G90 sedan. That V6 makes 365 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque, better than the 3.8-liter V6's 311 horsepower but less than the V8's 420.
To visually set the G80 Sport apart, Genesis gives it a cross-hatch grille insert and lower intakes, along with copper accents situated around body and cabin. On the exterior, those accents show up on the grille frame, wheel hubs and on the sides of the LED headlights. In the cabin, that means copper-colored stitching in the leather.
During my drive, the sport seats, also unique to the G80 Sport, proved comfortable, and include seat extenders so taller folk can enjoy better thigh support.
As in the standard G80, a simple yacht lever puts the eight-speed automatic transmission in Reverse, Neutral or Drive, with a separate button for Park. The shifter doesn't need a Sport mode, because setting the console-mounted Drive Mode button to Sport affects transmission, throttle, steering and suspension. Other modes include Eco, Normal and Snow. I like this one-button operation, as some other sport sedans require multiple control inputs.
Cabin electronics, showing up on a large, 9.2-inch LCD in the center dashboard controlled with a dial/button pod on the console, are the same as in the G80 I drove last year, but with one important improvement: It now supports both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
These electronics, which include onboard navigation, digital audio and a hands-free phone system, get an intuitive, straightforward interface and generally work quite well. During this drive program I don't get a chance to really dig in, but I had a positive experience from my past use of the system.
As a bonus, the G80 Sport includes a head-up display that projects useful information on the windshield. It not only shows vehicle speed and turn-by-turn directions from navigation, but also shows when another car is in the blind spot to either side. That's a great safety factor. A surround view camera also helps for parking lot maneuvering.
With 17 speakers, the Lexicon-branded audio system reproduces music with great clarity, aided by a technology from Harman called Clari-Fi, which augments compressed audio files in an attempt to restore lost quality.
My initial impression once I took the wheel of the G80 Sport was one of tightness and solidity. Everything, from steering to throttle to suspension, feels taut, ready to obey my commands. It gives this sport sedan a feeling of quality.
However, as the G80 Sport lacks an air suspension, its ride quality doesn't reach the highest levels of comfort. Instead it feels competent, dealing well with rough patches in the road, but not insulating passengers from the occasional bump or shimmy. Switching to Normal drive mode, the suspension feels loose, with more body movement than in Sport mode, but I don't feel it raises the comfort level substantially so I'm content to drive with Sport mode on.
The steering assumes more heft in Sport mode as well, although it doesn't affect response. I find I prefer the Sport mode here, as well.
The G80 Sport steps lively when I give it gas; there's no evidence of turbo lag at all, with the eight speed shifting down as needed. Genesis tuned this drivetrain well, making it easy to modulate at slow speeds while maintaining power during more aggressive driving. However, this gearbox still uses a torque converter, so gear changes show more lag than they would with a dual clutch automated manual.
During the day, I drive both the rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive, the latter sporting an HTRAC label on the back denoting Genesis' all-wheel-drive system. There's no torque vectoring across the axles here, but grip feels good and the car handles the turns with little drama.
By the end of the day, I conclude that the 2018 Genesis G80 Sport makes for a nice variant of the already impressive G80 sedan. Its sport performance comes in far short of a BMW M or Mercedes-AMG, but so does its price. Primarily, the G80 Sport offers just a bit more athleticism than the standard G80.
And frankly, I wouldn't buy it for its sport performance. More compelling is the fact that Genesis sells the G80 Sport as a single spec car, very well-equipped with cabin electronics and driver assistance features such as adaptive cruise control, at $55,250 for rear-wheel-drive and $57,750 for all-wheel-drive. A similarly-equipped BMW 540i, with about 30 less horsepower, costs 12 grand more, while a Lexus GS 350, which comes with substantially less power and lacks some of the G80 Sport's features comes in at four grand more.
And beyond the fully-optioned nature of the G80 Sport, it looks good with its available exterior paints and the copper accents.
Editor's note: This review has been updated to note that the 2017 Genesis G80 Sport includes seat extenders.