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When automakers first make their latest and greatest available for journalists to test, they typically roll out loaded examples for reviewers to sample. In other words, top-flight models with the poshest interiors, the flashiest wheels, the highest tech and most importantly, the most powerful drivetrains. It makes sense, insofar as it affords reviewers the chance to experience all of a vehicle's newness and greatness at once, giving us the chance to figure out what we like, and what we don't. Side effect? It's tempting to get distracted by all those bells, whistles and horses. That's particularly easy to do when there are so many of all three, as is the case with the 2021 Genesis GV80.
In fact, this upscale SUV has so many new features and details to experience, I thought it best to start out with a loaded GV80 3.5T in all-wheel-drive Prestige trim, a $72,000 as-tested luxury juggernaut. If you haven't read my first drive review of that model, please consider pausing reading this article and doing that now.
All finished? Good. Now, to Genesis' eternal credit, the company made numerous configurations of its new GV80 available at its Detroit-area first drive event, so I'm going to stay focused on powertrain and trim differences, since most of my other impressions carry over. So let's take a closer look at this significantly more affordable version, the GV80 2.5T with rear-wheel drive. While my tester is still spec'd out in highfalutin Prestige guise, this crossover is a lot less expensive, stickering at $58,475 as tested (including $1,025 in freight). As you'll soon learn, the Himalayan Gray Metallic sweetie seen here is priced to strike fear in the heart of today's premium SUV market. That's admittedly still a thick wedge, but a base GV80 starts at $49,925 delivered, which isn't far above the price of a Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy from Genesis' parent brand. Make no mistake, no matter how you option it, the GV80 represents an unparalleled amount of modern luxury SUV for the money.
While I think the twin-turbo V6 in the 3.5T model suits the overall ambition of the GV80 best, the smaller, single-turbo, 2.5-liter inline-four featured here has lots to offer -- not the least of which is its 300 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque (the latter peaking from just 1,300 rpm). Those output figures solidly outpoint not only the smaller 2.0-liter I4s in the Audi Q7 and Mercedes-Benz GLE 350, they're actually substantially more impressive than the power metrics mustered by the liter-larger, naturally aspirated V6s in the Acura MDX and Lexus RX.
On the street, this translates to solid -- but not overwhelming -- amounts of oomph, whether trundling around town from stoplight to stoplight or merging onto the freeway. The eight-speed automatic shifts crisply and obsequiously, and I'd ballpark a 0-to-60-mph time in the 6.5-second range. The 2.5T is also surprisingly quiet, especially for an I4. That makes sense, because with the 3.5T, the entire GV80 drive experience is hushed, be it in terms of engine, road or wind noise (frankly, I can't recall driving an SUV with a sub-six-figure price tag that's as quiet as a GV80 V6). And yet, even without that model's unique active road-noise cancellation tech (think: Bose 700 cans for the entire cabin), this 2.5T RWD isn't far behind.
Speaking of the four-cylinder, the 2.5T's soundtrack itself isn't bothersome, but it is a bit featureless, and its character doesn't match the GV80's larger-than-life looks as well as the pricier, thirstier V6. That said, a solid slug of torque is always available for passing and the engine's fuel-saving stop-start tech is unobtrusive enough that I left it enabled for 95% of my drive (something of a rarity for me).
It's worth noting that I only had the chance to drive the 2.5T unladen, without a cabin full of passengers or gear in the cargo area, and my drive day took place on Michigan's drably flat and rain-slicked roads. I'd be interested to experience a similar model fully loaded, perhaps in the mountains, if only to see how much starch this powertrain really offers. Regardless, Genesis says the 2.5T can tow a solid 6,000 pounds, the same as its 3.5T big brother, so this combo ought to be reasonably stout. Of course, if you want the optional (small) third-row seats, you can't get it with a four-cylinder engine. In fact, you have to pony up a very specific 3.5T trim, Advance Plus.
The payoff for going with the smaller I4, in addition to a substantially lower price tag, is markedly better fuel economy. The 2021 Genesis GV80 2.5T RWD nets 21 miles per gallon city, 25 highway and 23 combined according to EPA estimates. If you opt for AWD, the numbers hold up well, with only the combined number dropping by a single digit. Compare that to the AWD-only 3.5T, which gets 18 mpg city, 23 highway and 20 combined. None of these efficiency totals (all achieved on premium fuel) will score you on a slot on the Rainforest Action Network's holiday-card list, mind, but these are solid figures for this class.
So, the I4 is less expensive and demonstrably more efficient. Good stuff. But if you're picturing this GV80 as some sort of secret, inexpensive performance model for driving enthusiasts because it's rear-wheel drive and lighter overall, well, think again. This isn't a sport sedan on stilts, and it still weighs every bit of 4,700 pounds. That's not to say this Genesis handles like an overstuffed couch -- GV80s can hustle around corners smartly -- but there isn't much in the way of feel or involvement, especially from the steering. On the plus side, even though Genesis' road-scanning adjustable suspension isn't available on RWD models, because this 2.5T wears smaller 20-inch wheels wrapped in 265/50-series Michelin Primacy Tour all-season rubber, this vehicle offers better ride quality than the V6 I wrote about previously. (Base, 2.5T Standard trims ride on 19s with even taller sidewalls, so they ought to be more compliant still.)
Even though the 2.5T RWD Prestige lacks many of the super-swish features found only on the 3.5T's Prestige trim (e.g. quilted Nappa leather, power soft-close doors, 3D-effect digital gauges, and so on), the 2.5T RWD's interior still feels upscale. This wasn't a foregone conclusion, as the RWD Prestige even goes without many of the features that come standard in AWD models with the same engine and trim -- you can't get active noise cancellation or a head-up display, for instance. Thankfully, the inclusion of features like a widescreen, 14.5-inch infotainment display, 21-speaker Lexicon audio system, knurled-finish switchgear, panoramic roof and matte-finish wood help elevate the cabin to significant heights. However, it's the overall aesthetic and the quality of fit and finish that really sell the premium vibe that allow the GV80 to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of the Audi Q7, BMW X5, Lincoln Aviator and Mercedes GLE.
When it comes to safety tech, Genesis has thankfully been a lot more straightforward. Regardless of driven wheels or trim, all GV80s receive adaptive cruise control with Highway Driving Assist II (lane centering and road sign recognition), lane-departure warning and blind-spot collision-avoidance assist, forward-collision warning with auto brake, plus a basic driver monitor and an unusual extra airbag mounted front center airbag. Prestige trim adds 360-degree birds-eye camera coverage for easier maneuverability, reverse auto-brake, blind-spot monitor and ultrasonic rear-seat occupant alert, but that's about it. All in all, the entire GV80 line is on-point when it comes to safety gear.
Is it worth buying a GV80 rather than the more traditional (and predictable) luxury brands out of Europe and Japan? 100%. Dollar for dollar, the GV80 isn't just a better value when optioned like-for-like, it actually has more street presence than the establishment, plus it has a nicer cabin and a much-longer warranty. In fairness, if history is any guide, the GV80 won't have comparable resale value entrenched rivals from Europe and Japan, but then again, you won't be forking over as much money to begin with, and Genesis often has better dependability scores.
Now, should you consider this 2.5T versus a 3.5T? Well, if you can afford to splurge, I would. The extra power -- 375 hp and 391 lb-ft -- and refinement makes the six-cylinder engine a worthy upgrade. Plus with the way Genesis tiers its trim lines, you tend to get more standard equipment on 3.5T models, too. One more thing: Since RWD doesn't radically alter (let alone improve) the GV80's agility or fun quotient, I'd go for an AWD model regardless of engine, especially if you're located somewhere that sees a good amount of rain or snow. In fairness, this 2.5T RWD is likely to be a pretty rare bird on dealer lots anyhow. A Genesis spokesperson tells me that at least in the early days of GV80 sales, only around 30% of models on lots are likely to come with this smaller engine. Of that amount, only around a third are expected to be fitted with RWD.
All in all, it's hard to go wrong with the 2021 Genesis GV80. It isn't just the best value in the midsize luxury SUV segment, it's one of the better options, period.