CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.
Genesis is hell-bent on turning itself into a proper luxury brand, finally able to compete with the German stalwarts. The G80 is one of the first examples of New Genesis, a sedan that's fully capable of going toe to toe with the Teutonics. Said another way, it's Genesis' best product yet.
The old G80 was a carryover from when a Genesis wore Hyundai badges, and thus, its luxury wasn't fully realized. The 2021 model, however, is a clean-sheet approach, and what an approach. In just a couple years, Genesis found its stylistic niche that separates it from the likes of the Mercedes E-Class or BMW 5 Series. Its fastback silhouette gives it a sportier appearance without requiring a hatchback, and the unique appearance of its running lights -- and how their lines continue rearward through the fender's turn-signal indicators -- grants the G80 a cohesiveness that turns a whole lot o' heads on the road. Yeah, sure, the grille might be a little large, but taken as a whole, I think the G80 looks phenomenal.
The interior's attention to detail is equally impressive. In fact, I'd say the G80's innards are right up there with the likes of Audi and Mercedes-Benz -- hell, I'd put the Korean newcomer ahead of BMW in this regard. The rising door trim meets the dashboard at several points, giving it a seamless look that doesn't overdo it in terms of competing angles. It's attractive in its simplicity; the full-leather dashboard is elegant, while a tastefully limited amount of matte-finish wood splits the dash and adorns the center console. Every place my hand goes is met with either leather or thick carpeting. Each control, whether it's the knurled ends of the wiper and turn signal stalks or the infotainment controller on the center console, feels better than the last. Even the massaging front seats on my Prestige 3.5T tester sport a unique design and are supremely comfortable.
The rear bench seat offers oodles of legroom and headroom for passengers, with a deployable center armrest that contains additional controls for the infotainment system and the seats. Even without being specifically for chauffeured owners, I'd have no problem relinquishing the controls and soaking up some leather-lined peace in the back seat. Venture even further aft and there's a trunk with a commendable amount of space, enough for a couple sets of golf clubs or a long trip's worth of luggage.
Some luxury automakers -- cough, Lexus, cough -- do their vehicles a disservice by relying on old, hard-to-use tech. Genesis always had a bit of an advantage in this arena by sticking with Hyundai's excellent infotainment software, but for this new generation of vehicles, the in-car tech feels every bit as flashy and new as the G80 itself.
The new infotainment system lives in a 14.5-inch screen that dominates the top half of the dashboard, although a smaller 8-incher is standard on lower trims. A reskinned version of Hyundai's Blue Link this ain't; the graphics are among the crispest in the industry, and while the touchscreen is within reach, there's also a dial on the center console with integrated handwriting recognition to move between menus.
The system itself is quick to boot, quick to respond and positively loaded with clever tricks. The Sounds of Nature feature fills the cabin with the ambience of a crackling fireplace or a walk through a snowy village, complete with the satisfying crunch sound of feet pushing through fresh powder. Weather and fuel prices arrive by way of the HD Radio antenna, and if you prefer a straightforward aesthetic, you can hide all that stuff by swiping to a home screen that shows you a map, the weather and what's currently playing through the Lexicon audio system. The aesthetics alone put MBUX, iDrive and every other luxury automaker system to shame. Yes, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are along for the ride, but for once, you may want to stick with stock just to enjoy the view.
The Prestige trim of G80 also includes a digital gauge cluster. While it's neat that it can show me just about any piece of information I need on the adjustable bit nestled between the virtual dials, the cluster packs a feature that no other automaker has: A depth effect. The gauges can be configured to display in a layered, three-dimensional look that puts different parts of the cluster at seemingly different depths. Sure, it's a parlor trick (one that can be turned off if it's too much for your eyes), but hot damn, it's about the coolest gimmick I've seen in some time.
My G80 also comes with a number of advanced driver aids. The Highway Driving Assistant suite combines standard adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping assist and active lane-change assist to help reduce the tedium of highway driving. While I think the lane-centering is perhaps a bit too aggressive in how it applies torque to the steering wheel, the whole shebang is smooth as silk, preferring steadiness in its acceleration and deceleration over outright hustle. When all the systems are engaged, the gauge cluster will display not only the G80 itself, but the curvature of the road and the location of every vehicle within range of its radar and cameras.
My top-trim tester packs a 3.5-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 producing a sufficient 375 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque. It's a potent powerplant, shoving the G80 forward regardless of the current speed or the tachometer needle's location. It even makes a cool sound in the process, although I recommend turning off the built-in sound enhancement, since it can get a little obnoxious in any of its modes. There's a 2.5-liter turbo I4 offered across the G80's lineup, as well, and we've got a separate first-drive review for that powertrain.
Sure, motive force is important, but what really helps the G80 stand out from the competition is how smooth the entire experience is. Every chunk of the driving experience is tailored for comfort. Gear changes from the eight-speed automatic transmission are quick and practically imperceptible. Leave the G80 in its default Comfort mode, and the optional adaptive suspension does such a great job at softening the road that I originally thought it was air-based. Road and wind noise barely permeates the cabin, making for quite the serene experience.
Sure, there's a Sport mode, and it does a good job of tightening the reins and flattening the car's standard nautical nature, but... why? Just leave it be and bask in a ride quality that feels cushier than what BMW or Audi can muster with costlier and more complex arrangements. It's so easy to drive the G80 smoothly that you'll feel like a master chauffeur in no time.
I wouldn't blame you for assuming this is one expensive car, but it really isn't. The 2021 G80 starts at $48,725 including destination, stretching to a still-sensible $68,675 for my fully loaded 3.5T AWD Prestige trim.
The midsize executive luxury sedan segment is filled to the brim with celebrities. Half a decade ago, you might think me crazy for saying the G80 (née Hyundai Genesis) could mount a proper offensive against stalwarts like the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. But 2020 is a year of surprises, and the 2021 Genesis G80 provides a full luxury experience that instantly launches it into the thick of a competitive set. Whether buyers will be willing to give up the cachet that comes with, say, a three-pointed star on the hood remains to be seen, but if someone doesn't at least put the Genesis up for consideration against these rivals, they'd be doing themselves a disservice.