It was a beautiful evening in Washington, D.C., one of those late-summer moments with no humidity but warm temps, enough for a t-shirt and shorts. I had the windows down and panoramic sunroof open in the 2021 Genesis GV80 as I cruised down 8th Street looking for parking. Spaces were abundant on a Sunday night and I clicked the automatic headlights to “Off” so I wouldn’t blind the two tables of people having a late dinner outside as I backed in to a space.
Roughly fifteen heads turned as I twisted the GV80’s shift knob to Reverse and worked my way between the painted white lines. I heard chatter – loud chatter – through the open windows, a gaggle of diners wondering if that was the new Genesis SUV and expressing how good they thought it looked.
My plans to meet people were temporarily sidetracked as I was bombarded with questions from the group. How much does it cost? How do you like it? How does it drive? Thankfully, I was at the end of my week with the big Korean crossover and I had formed quite a few opinions.
What Is It?
This is a 2021 Genesis GV80, the larger of the brand’s two crossovers. Genesis continues to establish themselves as a player in both sporty and luxurious spaces, though the GV80 has a solid lean toward luxury over anything. Size-wise, the Genesis GV80 is a midsizer, sharing competitive space with the likes of the Mercedes-Benz GLE, BMW X5, and Volvo XC90. While Genesis does offer a (reportedly small) third row seat, my test vehicle was not equipped as such and officially sat five.
Genesis offers two engines in the GV80, a 2.5 liter turbocharged four cylinder and a 3.5 liter twin-turbocharged V6. My GV80 Prestige included the V6, which produces 375 horsepower and 391 lb-ft of torque. Both engines send power through a Genesis-developed eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission and to the ground through optional all-wheel drive. The GV80 is on a rear-wheel drive platform, so if you don’t care to spin all four wheels, you can do some sweet drifts in your big crossover. My GV80 had all-wheel drive and thus did not encourage that kind of tomfoolery.
Speaking of options, my GV80 was full of them. Aside from the bigger engine and ability to drive all of the wheels, my 2021 GV80 was the top Prestige trim and equipped with the Advanced package. Highlights included a 21-speaker Lexicon sound system, heated and ventilated seats in both rows, “active” road noise cancellation, a 12.3-inch “3D” digital gauge cluster, and an electronically-controlled limited-slip differential on the rear axle.
MSRP of my 2021 Genesis GV80 3.5T Prestige Advanced (that’s a mouthful) came in around $73,000.
Driving the Genesis GV80 3.5T
Despite Genesis’ messaging that “we’re super swanky and sporty!” the GV80 really doesn’t encourage any aggression behind the wheel. It’s of average weight compared to its rivals, coming in around 5,000 pounds, so it’s not like the GV80 is leaden and unwilling. Quite the opposite, it’ll go, stop, and steer just fine if you do decide to whip it through some curvy back roads. But then again, why would you? That’s not the point.
Genesis uses their own in-house transmission with the GV80, and its gearing contributes to the GV80 feeling less eager than you’d expect when you drop your right foot. The 3.5 liter V6, with its twin turbochargers, produces sufficient power and torque and never feels slow, per se, but it also doesn’t feel neck-snapping fast either. Credit long gears – Motor Trend did the math and calculated the GV80’s gearing is between 18 and 29 percent longer than a comparable BMW X5 in the first four gears. The GV80 can be hustled, but it takes longer to build power than you’d expect.
Ride quality is generally positive, with the GV80’s adaptive dampers helping out based on the road ahead and your chosen drive mode. Similar to Lincoln’s Aviator, a “road preview” camera tries to detect potholes and other road surface changes so the dampers can adjust on the fly for more comfort. Big 22-inch wheels look great, but step down a trim level to get smaller 20s with a bigger sidewall if you’re crashing over bad roads often. Steering feel is fine, if not tremendously sharp or exacting. Again, that’s not the point.
Where driving the Genesis GV80 makes you go “oh, this is the stuff,” is on a highway cruise. Turn on your massaging “ErgoMotion” seat, push the Highway Driving Assist button on the steering wheel, and point the GV80 toward the horizon. The Genesis driver assistance technology is fantastic, and keeps the GV80 centered in your lane without feeling busy or unsteady. Hit your turn signal and use the camera feed in the gauge cluster if you’re not entirely sure who’s in your blind spot. Keep holding the turn signal down, and the GV80 will change lanes for you assuming there’s room.
It’s all a very serene experience, punctuated by a chassis that stays composed enough if you do chuck it through an off-ramp here and there.
So the GV80 doesn’t encourage particularly sporty driving maneuvers – it’s gotta be nice then, right? Right.
“Swanky” applies here in spades. That big chrome grille makes one hell of a first impression, though the image is dulled if you have to run a front license plate. The GV80, being rear-drive-biased, sits back on its haunches with fantastic proportions. The styling is all a little excessive and in the most wonderful of ways.
Inside, everywhere you look is covered in leather or microfiber. You have to really hunt for hard plastic surfaces, and they’re only found where durability matters over all else. Knobs have knurled finishes and buttons provide a heavy, expensive feel. My passengers and I all thought the seats were comfortable, with the reclining back seat just as accommodating as the two up front for long travels.
As feature count swells, ease of use matters more and more. What good is a complicated luxury car if you can’t easily manage all of the little touches that make it so nice? Genesis excels here, with thoughtful technology and simple controls. Rest your finger on a front seat adjustment switch, and the (beautiful) wide touchscreen atop the dashboard shows you what you’re about to move or change before you do it. Infotainment menus are well-structured and easy to master, although the click wheel (a concept I generally prefer) was a bit flat and hard to spin.
Finally, I have to mention the sound system. It is remarkably good, with excellent separation and clarity from the twenty-one Lexicon-branded speakers. I fed the system as high-quality input as I could, streaming Tidal Master-quality music of several genres. Did you know Avril Lavigne’s Sk8r Boi has a super-low bass note that repeats a few times at the start of the song? I didn’t, until now. The GV80’s sound system is one of the best automotive setups I’ve heard, bar none, rivaling the Acura ELS system I sampled in the 2021 TLX earlier this year.
I’ve long thought the styling of the Genesis GV80 was stunning, but great body lines need a good vehicle underneath to be worth anything. Here, “good” does not come across as particularly fun, but instead as a calm, pleasant driving (and riding) experience. Genesis has done a wonderful job putting together a competitive, luxurious crossover that is uniquely styled and very well-priced.