The one question we were constantly asked while driving this car was,”What’s a Genesis?”. Previously in the UK, the word has had either religious or prog-rock overtones, but now the Hyundai empire wants you to regard Genesis as its new upmarket brand.
It’s a direction other manufacturers have tried with mixed results. Lexus is now firmly established as the upmarket sibling to Toyota, though it took a good few years, the jury is still out on Stellantis’ DS Automobiles, while Nissan’s attempt to replicate the US success of Infiniti in Europe flopped.
The South Korean automotive giant has done little wrong with either its Hyundai or Kia brands in recent times, however, and one or two people viewing the GV80 even thought we were driving a new Bentley, so perhaps this is a direction we should take notice of.
What’s new about the Genesis GV80?
The GV80 is one of the two launch models from Genesis, a large SUV sitting alongside a large saloon dubbed the G80. They’ll soon be followed by mid-sized variants called, you guessed, G70 and GV70 while most interest surrounds a full-electric car, the GV60, likely on sale in late 2022.
For now, however, we basically have conventional large and mid-sized SUVs and saloons, targeting as so many have tried to do the German heavyweights of the premium market, and hoping to succeed through a strategy of matched quality, a little more exclusivity and a bit less to pay to buy one.
How does it look?
SUVs, of course, struggle to look truly stylish but the Genesis does a better job than most. It has quite a low, purposeful stance that is emphasised by the slim treatment to grille and headlamps, making the car appear wider than it is and helping set it apart from the typical boxy sillhouette of large SUVs.
The car sits as standard on 20-inch wheels while huge 22-inch versions on the Luxury trim level certainly add to the car-park presence – again emphasising that this machine is not intended for a market where you agonise over the cost of replacing tyres.
Viewing the GV80 from a reasonable distance one can understand the Bentley confusion, especially as Luc Donckerwolke, who looks after the design of both Genesis and Hyundai Ioniq models, used to work for the Volkswagen Group on Audi and, yes, Bentley…
What’s the spec like?
Genesis keeps things simple with just two trim levels, dubbed Premium and Luxury, and both come with a sizeable amount of equipment.
for example standard on all versions are LED headlamps, a 14-inch wide infotainment screen atop the centre console with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, nine speakers on the sound system, front seats are powered in 12 ways and heated, and a rear-view camera.
The safety package is particularly impressive – ten airbags, adaptive cruise control, lane-following and lane-keeping assistance, autonomous braking of course – it’s no surprise the GV80 has a top-level five-star Euro NCAP safety rating. The forward-facing safety camera also works with the suspension to detect such issues as potholes and adapt the car’s suspension, and with the navigation to present a more accurate picture of the route ahead.
Go for the Luxury trim and additions include the 22-inch wheels, full leather, a quality wood trim, heated steering wheel and rear air conditioning and seat heating.
There are some tempting options too, such as the Innovation Pack fitted to our car that for £3,900 adds such niceties as a big digital instrument display, a head-up display, adaptive headlamps, wireless phone charging and a 360-degree surround-view camera – great for parking what feels like a very big car.
What’s the Genesis GV80 like inside?
The GV80 is a spacious five-seater but you can have it with seven – though due to its less than boxy looks we reckon the two rear seats would be best suited to smaller occupants. Certainly in five-seat form, as was our test car, there is plenty of room in front and back and high levels of comfort. This extended on our car to the ‘Comfort Seat Pack’ a £1,250 option which among its features includes the driver’s seat bolsters gently tightening in certain driving situations.
To succeed in its chosen market the interior of the GV80 needs to offer a standard of fit and finish up with the best and in most aspects it meets the brief. The surfaces and detailing are of very high quality, even if you don’t go for the Luxury trim with its wood surfaces and leather upholstery. Virtually all the plastics are supple too, making for a very welcoming environment.
There are irritations, however. The letterbox-style infotainment screen is impressive – especially when using it with the likes of Google Maps – but it’s a very long stretch when you need to adjust any app with its controls on the left of screen. Using the rotary controllers at the base of the console is a better alternative, but the controller is rather similar (and close to) the transmission knob.
There’s no simple button to switch off the lane-departure warning, but to give it its due this is a smart system which only activates on straight bits of road. And the extensive safety systems can include on cars with the digital instrument display a useful Hyundai group feature – on activating the indicators either the speedometer or rev-counter dial (depending on direction) changes into a blind-spot camera.
What’s under the bonnet?
Genesis currently offers two propulsion options for the GV80 – a 3.0-litre diesel putting out 278hp, or the 2.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine of our test car with 304hp. Both are combined with an eight-speed auto transmission and all-wheel-drive – no cheap front-propelled option here. Indeed the GV80 comes with proper off-road aids such as Terrain Control modes, though you can’t imagine many owners going too far off the blacktop in one of these.
Both engines offer reasonable potency with the diesel GV80 actually slightly quicker, completing the 0-62mph sprint in 7.5 seconds compared to the 7.7 seconds of our petrol unit. In our case a 500-mile round trip involving lots of motorway served to demonstrate just how refined is the petrol engine, smooth in its application and very quiet.
But with such big engines comes a penalty, the need to form a close relationship with your local filling station. With fuel economy figures of around 26mpg for our petrol unit along with CO2 emissions north of 220g/km, the GV80 is not the obvious buy for business users.
What’s the Genesis GV80 like to drive?
On first pulling away the GV80 feels like a very soft, gentle car, almost wafting along with the engine purring at sound levels almost down to electric levels. And if that’s not enough for you one it can be changed – Genesis makes great use of active noise cancellation technology. This basically uses computer software to project noises out of the car’s audio system to effectively cancel out irritating sounds whether from engine or road – it produces a luxurious environment, but equally by dialling through a menu it can be used to artificially enhance the engine sound.
The gentle progress from standstill does not translate to fidgety handling at high speeds. Computer-controlled adaptive suspension is standard on all versions of the GV80 and at motorway limits the car is composed and very easy to keep control of.
In corners it is, for a large, heavy car, surprisingly competent – there is body roll but it is all well controlled. The plentiful rubber of the 22-inch rims on the Luxury car produces excellent grip, though these can produce some harsh reactions to running over potholes and the like. We have heard the lower-spec 20-inch rubber is less prone to this.
You get the impression that with its first offerings Genesis is hoping to attract those who want Audi and BMW levels of quality but in a different package, and the GV80 fills this brief, right down to the way you buy it – there are no Genesis dealers, just a small number of ‘studios’ in major shopping centres.
Sales of Genesis cars are mainly online, the price including a ‘five-year care plan’ encompassing warranty, servicing, roadside assistance, a courtesy car, software and sat nav map updates, and delivered by a personal assistant allocated to the customer and not working on commission.
The GV80 starts from £54,000 for the Premium version, stretching to £59,600 for Luxury and our car with options costing £66,970. These prices are cheaper than comparable rivals from the likes of Audi and BMW, and when one adds in the five-year care plan the Genesis becomes a tempting proposition on price.
However it’s more than that, because the car keeps pace with its German rivals in virtually all the areas that concern buyers in this market – quality, tech, comfort and performance.
Can one regard this as a viable alternative to a Bentley Bentayga? Of course not, you buy a Bentayga because you need an SUV but you want a Bentley. But if the badge doesn’t bother you the GV80 is certainly worth a look and an impressive first effort from Hyundai’s upmarket offspring.
You do get the feeling, however, that the chances of Genesis establishing itself will be markedly improved by the arrival of its more distinctive cars with hybrid and electric propulsion. The GV80 is as good as many of its rivals – but it doesn’t stand apart from them.
Model tested: Genesis GV80 Luxury
Price (as tested): £66,970
Engine: 2.5-litre petrol
Gearbox: Eight-speed automatic
Power: 304 hp
Torque: 422 Nm Nm
Top speed: 147 mph
0-60 mph: 7.7 seconds
Fuel economy (combined): 30.5 – 31.4 mpg
CO2 emissions: 220 g/km
Euro NCAP safety rating: Five stars (2021)
TCE Expert Rating: Not yet rated