Sparkling RWD Platform Underpins 2021 Genesis GV80

Genesis’ first SUVs stand out with serious dynamics and crisp, almost vivacious sheetmetal.

The 2021 GV80, Genesis’ long-needed first SUV, competes in the heart of the premium SUV segment and is built in Ulsan, South Korea. (Genesis)

Genesis went standalone (in the same way most premium brands coexist with their parent company’s volume brands) from Hyundai Motor Group in 2016 and immediately asserted itself as something quite different from the soft-riding Genesis sedans initially sold as Hyundai models. And Genesis went right for the premium-car jugular with a delightful cause celebre: no messing around with front-wheel drive. Every vehicle in the lineup uses a rear-drive platform. Can’t say that for BMW and Mercedes-Benz anymore.

A twin-turbocharged 3.5L V6 develops 375 hp and is the GV80’s upgrade engine. (SAE/Visnic)

Long of hood and with a pleasing tension between the swept-back roof and slightly truncated greenhouse, the 2021 GV80 looks to me like Porsche would gladly adopt it as the next-generation Macan. It’s tough to make a midsize SUV look in any way unique and Genesis’ designers were up to the job. The GV80 is at once tense but pleasing – even the gaping sea-of-mesh grille grows on you, which says something about the intrinsic rightness of the design.

“Standalone Genesis” tragically just missed the start of America’s final capitulation to all things truck and SUV; after four years without an SUV, the GV80 and its taut sheetmetal make the wait seem almost worthwhile.

Accomplished new platform

A new and accomplished rear-drive architecture dubbed M3 is the centerpiece for the 2021 Genesis GV80’s nimble dynamics. (Genesis)

But back to the GV80’s rallying point for dynamic excellence: the new M3 architecture (shared with the 2021 G80 sedan) really walks the rear-drive walk. With five different grades of steel and aluminum alloy used in the hood, doors and tailgate, collaborating with multilink suspension at both axles, M3 delivers an elusive symbiosis of solidity and athleticism. If chassis-derived premium-ness has a feel, the GV80 has it. There is some ride harshness on rough surfaces, but the adaptive suspension – and its trick, camera-based “road preview” function – that’s optional or standard on AWD models seems to quell much of the thump.

Although only the GV80 with the turbocharged 2.5L 4-cyl. (300 hp and 311 lb-ft [422 Nm]) offers standard RWD, the torque-apportionment strategy for AWD models is decidedly rear-biased. Default apportionment sees “very little” torque sent to the front wheels and the maximum torque that can stay up front is 50%. The twin-turbocharged 3.5L V6 brings 375 hp and 391 lb-ft (530 Nm). Going with the GV80 3.5T models means standard AWD and access to other equipment, but pricing – another GV80 strong point – does begin to get serious, as the entry 3.5T starts at just more than $60,000 with destination charges.

Although its handling dynamics rest on the sport-oriented portion of the spectrum, a chief GV80 selling point will be its exceptional cabin luxury and assembly quality. (Genesis)
The GV80’s circular multimedia controller (above the similarly-shaped gear selector) is a unique but complex approach to user interface. (Genesis)

Either engine is backed by a Hyundai-sourced 8-speed automatic transmission. An electronic limited-slip differential at the rear axle is available for 3.5T models. The steering-wheel paddle shifters for the transmission are helpful for keeping up steam with the 2.5L 4-cylinder, which revs willingly but does have a moment of hesitation when asked to get the GV80’s comparatively reasonable weight (ranging from 4,506 to 5,104 lb/2,044 to 2,315 kg) moving from slower speeds.

With a wheelbase of 116.3 in. (2954 mm) and overall length of 194.7 in (4945 mm), the GV80 counts as its competitive set the BMW X5, Audi Q7, Lexus RX and Acura MDX, according to the company. Like most of those models, the 2021 GV80 is available with a third row of seats, although the third row can be specified only on the 3.5T model with the Advanced+ package. As one might expect, the third row is cramped and mostly suitable for kids or pets.

The 2021 GV80 has unique technologies that include an active road-noise cancellation system that uses suspension accelerometers and multiple interior microphones to gather data to generate a cancelling signal specific for each seating position. There’s adaptive cruise control that claims to use machine learning – even when the system isn’t activated – to analyze the driver’s behavior to help upgrade most ACC systems’ frustratingly conservative calibrations for approaching slower traffic and/or changing lanes in that context. And the vehicle is equipped with the second generation of Hyundai’s Highway Driving Assistant (also using machine learning) and Remote Smart Parking Assist.

Inside time

Depending on trim level, the GV80’s cabin ranges from obviously premium to visibly opulent. At the upper range, the technology display continues with items such as a 12-inch (305-mm) color head-up display and a vivid 3D digital gauge cluster that uses eye-tracking technology to maintain the 3D effect despite the driver’s orientation. A near-field communication (NFC) setup combines with Bluetooth low energy (BLE) to allow Android smartphones to serve as the vehicle key and execute functions such as smart parking.

The GV80’s interior is executed with micrometer precision and all manner of trim and material details are equally impressive. The bill of materials seems to visibly exceed the SUV’s price points and although some of the truly impressive materials – not to mention the slickest electronic features – require anteing for the higher trim packages, even the base GV80 trims are impressively luxurious.

But not everything’s a win. The Star Trek-y ring-shaped multimedia controller on the center console is a haphazard conflagration of clicks, motions and character-recognition inputs. One might become proficient with it, but it comes across as another user-interface idea trying too hard to be clever rather than genuinely functional. Compounding the confusion, the controller is positioned just forward of the similarly-shaped gearshift selector. The flashy 3D gauge cluster sort of gave us a headache and to get it, one must move to the top of the GV80 trim walk at $71,000-plus.

And even at a more fundamental level, the two-spoke steering wheel with its plump center hub, though admirably risky and with undeniable retro overtones, might not be everyone’s taste for a luxury-vehicle cabin.

The GV80’s most glaring shortcoming might be its comparative conventionality when it comes to propulsion. After a painfully long wait just to play in the U.S.’s boisterous SUV market, Genesis may yet again find itself trailing the competition if it doesn’t have electrified variants of the GV80 (and smaller GV70) in the near-term pipeline. But for now, the GV80’s blend of dynamic excellence, well-executed luxury and outright value makes it a formidable display of the brand’s engineering ability.