Genesis, Hyundai, and Kia are on the rise lately, pumping out cars that are not only amazing to drive but offer unique, bold designs. The all-new 2021 Genesis G80 is no exception, but none of this recent growth is a coincidence.
The story starts with BMW around 2014. A man named Albert Biermann had been a chassis engineer at BMW for over 30 years, responsible for building some of the best BMW ‘M’ road cars and race cars in history. The E30 M3, E46 M3 GTR, and 1M are just a few examples of his work.
BMW’s management had shifted, and according to Biermann, the M Division was seen as more of a nuisance than an asset to the company. Obtaining financial approval for projects within M was proving harder as time went on, and Albert seemed to take that to heart. So when Hyundai called and gave him the creative freedom he both desired and deserved, he went to South Korea.
Seven years later, Biermann has worked on every car the Hyundai Motor America group produces, alongside many other German chassis engineers and designers. And that means Biermann and co. worked their magic with this 2021 Genesis G80.
What Is It?
This is a 2021 Genesis G80 2.5T with rear-wheel drive. It’s the second-generation of G80 that Genesis has produced, and even the first iteration was a hit among driving enthusiasts and journalists alike. There are two engine and drivetrain options for the all-new 2021 G80. It can be had with a turbocharged 2.5 liter four-cylinder producing 300 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque, or a more powerful turbocharged 3.5 liter V6 rated for 375 horsepower and 391 lb-ft. Both engines are available in rear-drive or all-wheel-drive configuration, and the only transmission available is an eight-speed torque-converter automatic. Our 2.5 liter, rear-drive test car weighed in around 4,200 pounds – the V6 adds another ~75 pounds on the nose, and all-wheel drive adds even more.
Most notable for 2021 is the G80’s new looks. Do you think it looks a little bit like a Bentley? That’s no coincidence either, because Genesis took one of Bentley’s best designers the same way they took Biermann. The new design features two horizontal light strips both front and rear, a design element that Genesis claims is here to stay, and can be seen on the new G70 sedan and GV70 crossover as well.
The interior of the new G80 is also heavily redesigned. With upscale materials and new technology throughout, Genesis seems to have followed the “less is more” mantra. Knurled aluminum knobs and a 13 inch widescreen infotainment screen on the dash help lend an upscale, quality feel. My only gripe is the location of the shift lock override for the shifter. It takes me right back to my 2003 Accent, and I feel like it could have been placed in a more discrete location.
Driving the 2021 Genesis G80 2.5T RWD
Behind the wheel of the 2021 G80, it doesn’t take long to realize those who were previously BMW’s best had their hand in this project at Genesis. As one who’s owned or driven basically every BMW chassis since the 1980s-era E30 3-series, there is no denying the similarities in handling. The 2021 Genesis G80 is a BMW 5-series competitor, and this car puts the BMW’s driving dynamics to shame. It’s agile, more like the smaller G20 3-series than its supposed Bavarian competitor.
While I know the Genesis G80 was built to focus more on the daily drive than outright performance, the way this big(ish) sedan goes down the road should not be glossed over. Genesis hasn’t sacrificed any comfort or refinement for great driving characteristics. The 2021 G80 truly embraces both, and it does so exceptionally well.
Throwing this car through some mountain twisties reveals an electric steering rack with actual feel! You feel the cracks in the pavement and you feel the front tires weighting up just before they lose grip. I don’t know how, but Genesis did it.
Continuing through the corner you’re rewarded with a neutral and forgiving chassis. The front end responds quickly and predictably to driver inputs, but mid-corner is when you feel the balance. Just like BMW’s of old, the G80 feels as though it’s rotating around the driver. Even though you’re constantly reminded of the G80’s length, the one time you forget about it is mid-corner. Our rear-drive tester let me put the power down early enough for some easily-controllable opposite-lock. I guess none of this should come as a surprise, considering each Genesis product is torture-tested for 6,000 kilometers around the Nürburgring by professional racing drivers.
The sprint to 60 mph in our 2.5T, rear-drive test car came in roughly 5.9 seconds, and the six-cylinder models are nudging the sub-5 second mark. Response from Genesis’ eight-speed automatic is great for a traditional torque converter unit. Wheel-mounted paddle shifters peek out from behind thumb bolsters, and when engaged feel solid and are quick to respond. It’s right on the heels of the now-common ZF eight-speed in terms of performance and predictability, and a great in-house effort by Genesis.
The 2.5L turbo four gives a strong, torquey shove from 1,600 rpm to 4,200 rpm. Peak power is made close to 6,000 rpm, which makes this engine pull strongly up to the redline with much less drop in power at the top-end compared to similar turbo fours.
Living with the 2021 Genesis G80
Even though the 2021 G80 is great to drive spiritedly, it is a pretty large and heavy sedan at the end of the day. Its main focus is, of course, daily comfort and livability. Much like the brand’s other offerings, the G80 delivers. Genesis’ standard suspension is clearly tuned for daily drivability and comfort. Adaptive dampers are optional, and I’d be very curious to see how they’re tuned by comparison.
Just like all other HMA vehicles, the amount of technology and its ease of use make for a wonderfully simple daily driver. The 13” infotainment display stretches across what feels like half of the dashboard. You can use it as a touch screen, or opt to use a control knob in the center console, which feels like a mix of BMW iDrive and Lexus’ Enform – albeit much easier to use than the latter. There are multiple ways to achieve the same end-result in this Genesis’ infotainment. While some may find that confusing, I found that it made the car easier to get in and use. It only got more intuitive as my week with the system went on.
The G80’s unique steering wheel design has been on the receiving end of some pointed, spicy commentary. At first glance, it can be easy to hate on the shape, but it’s a great reminder of “don’t knock it ’til you try it.” It’s incredibly ergonomic and makes the interior look very unique. Behind the steering wheel is a gauge cluster that integrates old school analog simplicity with digital displays pretty seamlessly. This includes blind spot camera feeds inside the speedometer and tachometer, one of our favorite features now offered on several Genesis and Hyundai models.
It’s no secret that I’ve complained about BMW losing their way lately, even openly writing about it in an ever-so-slightly desperate fashion. But after a week with the 2021 Genesis G80, I know where “old BMW” went. The BMW of old can’t be found in Germany anymore. Its spirit (and many humans) is living in South Korea now, and if Genesis can keep it up long enough to churn out high-performance variants of the compact G70 and this G80, Munich may need to go back to driving school.