As design chief Luc Donckerwolke and other Genesis top brass pose for a photo with the just-unveiled 2021 Genesis GV80 crossover SUV near Seoul, South Korea, they instinctively hold two fingers up in a sideways peace sign.
It comes off as a stiff version of the quirky dance move made famous by John Travolta in “Pulp Fiction,” but for Genesis executives, the gesture has nothing to do with Hollywood. The two fingers mimic the twin LED headlight strips, the twin side repeater light strips, and the twin taillight strips that define the GV80’s look like no Genesis before. They also represent a second act—a rebirth of sorts—for the automaker that hopes to take on Lexus and the established European brands across the Pacific and in the U.S.
It’s about time. Genesis launched in the U.S. nearly five years ago, and its slow buildup has been hampered by a three-sedan lineup offered to a market that has shifted dramatically away from cars to SUVs.
2021 Genesis GV80
Beauty of white space, mostly
The GV80 stretches about 195 inches long, which squeezes it into the narrow gap between the smaller BMW X5 and the larger Audi Q7. Curb weight hasn’t been announced, but the SUV makes use of high-strength steel (Hyundai steel, Donckerwolke points out on the sidelines of the debut event) rather than aluminum, so don’t expect it to be a lightweight.
Its long-nose, short-overhang design looks relatively lithe versus the comparatively upright Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class and X5. Proportion-wise, the GV80 casts a shadow similar to the Jaguar F-Pace, albeit with surface detailing unlike any of its rivals.
The big, shield-shaped grille up front could have come from Char-Broil. Chrome strips run the length of its sides and around its rear bumper, a reminder that Korean executives very much like brightwork. The massive D-pillar and gently sloping roofline create a somewhat fastback-like look, which is all the more obvious once you’ve cantilevered yourself into the optional third row.
And then there are the light strips, easily the boldest design cue to come out of the Hyundai Group—and that’s saying something given this company also makes oddball Kona and the adventurous new Sonata. Up front, the thin strips house two LED projectors per level. The side strakes are integrated into non-functional chrome (of course) garnishes. At the rear, they flank a broad Genesis script. The effect is cohesive, and even with the chrome, it’s not overdone. Unlock the Genesis and the light strips flash orange in sequence. They light up white (up front) and red (out back) at night, and they may be enough to secure an up-front parking spot at a Miami club. At least until someone pulls up in a Bentayga.
The GV80 brims with the best-realized geometric details of any car in the Genesis lineup, though designer Donckerwolke says that the brand will not take a “Russian doll approach” to scaling its designs up and down. That puts Genesis in contrast to, say, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and Volvo, which have made design cohesion a critical definition of their portfolios.
Whether this differentiation will work remains to be seen, but Genesis promises more SUVs soon.
2021 Genesis GV80
A heart of its own, eventually
When the GV80 hits American roads later this year, it’ll send power to either the rear or all four wheels through one of two turbocharged engines. The 2.5-liter turbo-4 that’s also earmarked for the G70 may put out nearly 300 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, but the real newsmaker will be a new 3.5-liter turbocharged V-6.
Genesis is holding details about the V-6 until closer to the GV80’s launch, though the 400-plus horsepower rating of the Lincoln Aviator makes a good benchmark.
No matter the engine, the automaker’s internally developed 8-speed automatic transmission handles shifting duties. It’s controlled via a center console knob composed of knurled, aluminum-coated plastic with a crystal-like center that’s a fingerprint-prone delight to operate. The smaller drive-mode selector to the right of the transmission lever activates Sand, Mud, and Snow terrain modes, as well as Sport, Comfort, and user-programmable individual settings.
The GV80 I piloted for about 45 minutes in and around Incheon Airport outside Seoul made use of a new 3.0-liter inline-six turbodiesel engine, rated at about 275 hp and somewhere in the neighborhood of 435 lb-ft of torque. Though it’s designed for the latest European-market standards, the engine is highly unlikely to make its way to the U.S. We’ll miss out on its near-silent operation and impressive thrust.
What my drive did reveal is that the Genesis rides and handles well for an SUV that could top 5,000 pounds in higher trims thanks in part to underpinnings evolved from the current G80 sedan. Adaptive dampers are likely to be standard, and they did a nice job keeping the body flat and the wheels planted around a pockmarked cloverleaf-style on-ramp. Even the optional 22-inch wheels didn’t disturb the cabin, though South Korea’s largely smooth pavement may have had more to do with that. We’ll see how final tuning for the U.S. market handles our comparatively crumbling infrastructure.
2021 Genesis GV80
One feature that should help is a series of sensors that point forward through the windshield to read the road ahead and adjust the shocks in anticipation of bumps, though not with the speed bump-swallowing ability of the air suspensions found in some German rivals. Hyundai Group’s BMW-trained engineering chief Albert Biermann dismissed an air suspension for the GV80, and suggested that a sportier version in line with the Mercedes-AMG GLE 53 is on his wish list but is unlikely to happen anytime soon. That’s a shame since the GV80 can be fitted with an electronic limited-slip rear differential that does a nice job hustling power between the rear wheels.
What makes Biermann undeniably giddy is the crossover’s collision-avoidance gear, which might not seem like the kind of thing to thrill an enthusiast. However, the GV80’s adaptive cruise control makes use of artificial intelligence to watch how the driver operates the vehicle and responds accordingly. Five levels of sensitivity adjust braking, acceleration, and distance kept from the car ahead.
“It’s almost my natural driving,” Biermann said on the sidelines of the event in Seoul. “I want to go fast and close the gap, not wait for someone to cut me off.”
Biermann, it should be noted, is something of a regular at Germany’s challenging Nurburgring race course.
My short preview drive didn’t allow the adaptive cruise control’s AI enough time to get acquainted with me, though, so a full evaluation will have to come later.
My short drive did suggest that the GV80 could strike a desirable balance between style and comfort, one likely to resonate with consumers. If Genesis is to succeed on the global stage, the GV80 looks like a formidable act two.
Genesis paid for travel and housing for Internet Brands Automotive to bring you this firsthand report.