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Nobody's truly great at something the first time they try it, but Genesis is working to buck that trend. The 2021 Genesis GV80 is the freshly spawned Korean automaker's first SUV of its own and, just like the heavily revised G80 before it, this midsize luxury SUV is ready to make its mark in a busy segment -- and fast.
The 2021 Genesis GV80 really commands attention. One driver rolled right up next to me on the road and honked the horn of their sedan until I turned my head, at which point I was met with a car full of thumbs up. The GV80's exterior is unique; in fact, I'd consider it the prettiest ute in the segment. The headlights are like no other and the way the fastback-style roof line carries itself backwards leads to a car that looks like it's constantly in motion.
The GV80's interior manages to impress even more than the exterior does. This lovely design is part and parcel with the GV80 experience, regardless of trim. I might not fully embrace the two-spoke steering wheel, which is a little fat for 9-and-3 hand positioning, but the layout is uncluttered and the patterns baked into the leather ooze luxury. The GV80 is right up there with Mercedes-Benz in terms of interior quality and at its price point, I'd say it actually trounces the Merc on value alone. My tester's a little monotone with its beige getup, but there are some truly wild combinations out there, including a two-tone motif with lots of blue leather.
Everything I touch is made of either leather or metal, with high-quality knurling on the stalks and infotainment controller; the GV80's cabin feels ultra-premium. One of my favorite parts is the climate control, which has a small touchscreen that lets me configure airflow and fan speed independent of the automatic function. Even the temperature dials look and feel expensive.
The GV80's interior doesn't forego function in favor of all that form, either. Sure, the door panels are a little light on storage space, but the flowing center console has a decently sized cubby under the transmission dial and the armrest opens up for a bit more storage. It's roomy as heck, too, with a second row that doesn't scrimp on headroom despite a slightly cut roof line. Advanced Plus trims have an optional third row as well that, according to my colleagues, isn't appropriate for fully grown humans, but it works for kids.
The 2021 GV80 is not a svelte fellow, clocking in at some 5,000 pounds with AWD and all the bells and whistles, but my tester packs Genesis' larger engine option. The twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 produces 375 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque, and while it might not be the most sonorous six-pot on the block, it will push the GV80 forward with alacrity. Shoot whatever gap you want; there's more than enough torque on tap and the eight-speed automatic transmission smoothly swaps cogs as necessary. There's plenty of throttle and brake modulation on offer for serene, dip-free starts and stops, playing into the proper-luxury angle very nicely.
Most European midsize luxury SUVs try to bake some sportiness into their existence, with relative success. The GV80 tries to take more of a pure-luxury angle to its driving characteristics and it's mostly successful. The Advanced-trim model in my driveway comes with Genesis' road-scanning adaptive suspension, which uses cameras to preload the suspension in the event it has to handle some nastiness, which can be a rather big deal on the automaker's Korean home turf. In Michigan, it does a commendable job eating up gross roads, but the whole experience feels a bit stiffer than I'd prefer, even with everything dialed to its plushest setting. An optional air suspension would turn this thing into a freakin' cloud, so here's hoping Genesis finds a way to shoehorn something like that in here later on. The GV80 is never really exciting to toss around, because that's not what it's made for, but it's plenty confident if your commute involves a few twists and turns.
Luxury continues to be the priority when looking at other parts of the driving experience, too. The cabin is plenty quiet, thanks in part to thick glass and an active noise-cancellation system that works like the headphones on your desk. It's a properly placid time for both the driver and the driven.
Fuel economy is competitive for the GV80's class, but outside of that bubble, it's not really all that and a bag of chips. 3.5-liter models, which come standard with all-wheel drive, are EPA-rated at 18 miles per gallon city, 23 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined -- with premium gas, no less. 2.5-liter variants are a little less thirsty at 21 city and 25 highway, but it's still sufficiently thirsty.
In my G80 review, I spoke at length about how much I loved Genesis' new infotainment system -- and it's no different on the 2021 GV80, which is to say that it rules. The 14.5-inch display atop the dashboard commands attention with its delightfully calm home screen and easy navigation, whether I'm reaching to touch the screen itself or (more likely) manipulating the rotary dial on the center console. Buttons above the climate control provide quick access to the usual features like the navigation, audio or settings menus. Every corner of the system isn't just attractive, it's intuitive and it doesn't take long for me to figure out my preferred way of doing things. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available, but not wirelessly, and as my boss Chris Paukert pointed out in his review, there is no option for a Wi-Fi hotspot or rear-seat entertainment here, which seems like a silly omission when most of the GV80's competitors have all that. It's not a deal-breaker, just a head-scratcher.
Only Prestige trims get the wild gauge-cluster screen that uses digital trickery to give the impression of physical depth, which means my GV80 is stuck with the tried-and-true physical cluster that includes a moderately sized info display in the middle. This is about the only corner of the vehicle that reminds me of the car's Hyundai-based provenance, since it looks and acts like the same getup seen in cars like the Sonata. It's fine; it does the job it's supposed to, it's just the only part of the cabin that I wouldn't call special.
Every GV80 comes with an impressive amount of safety tech, including parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring and automatic emergency braking that can detect both pedestrians and cyclists. The Advanced trim throws a surround-view monitor, mirror-mounted cameras and rear automatic braking into the mix, as well as Remote Smart Parking Assist (aka Smaht Pahk), which can roll the vehicle forward and backward while the driver presses the remote from outside. It's some cool stuff, even if I only ever use it to show off.
All GV80s also include Genesis' Highway Driving Assist, which combines the active and passive safety aids to hold the vehicle in its lane on the highway while keeping pace with traffic. It helps reduce some of the tedium of a traffic-laden commute, but it's a hands-on system so vigilance remains a requirement. It does a commendable job, but the GV80's lane-centering tech can be a little aggressive at times and I'm a pretty active driver so I generally leave the system off.
Despite embodying the full-on luxury experience better than nearly all its competitors, the 2021 Genesis G80 isn't a bank-breaker. Starting at $49,925 including destination, the GV80 3.5T AWD Advanced before me kicks off at $65,375, which is impressive in context; a BMW X5 xDrive40i starts at about $62,000, while a Mercedes-Benz GLE450 is about a grand above that. And then there's the Audi Q8, which commands nearly $70,000. All three of those vehicles are before options, too. Hoo boy.
It's a weird day when a car can be both a serious value and an example-setter in its storied segment, but that's the 2021 Genesis GV80 in a nutshell. It manages to provide an excellent luxury experience in its truest form, eschewing the notion that every vehicle needs some underlying sporty angle, while somehow beating its biggest competitors on price while maintaining quality that rivals them. You'd think that the GV80 was Genesis' third crack at a luxury SUV, but nope; sometimes, you strike gold on the first swing.