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2021 Genesis G80 Test Drive Review
A legitimate, head-turning midsize luxury sedan, the redesigned 2021 Genesis G80 signals that Hyundai’s prestige brand is officially ready for prime time.
Hyundai has long flirted with the idea of a luxury brand. The first Hyundai Genesis sedan went on sale more than a decade ago, and the redesigned 2021 Genesis G80 is essentially the third-generation iteration of that original attempt at delivering premium design, quality, and performance.
The new 2021 G80 also arrives at the same time that Genesis is ready for the big leagues. It finally has an SUV to sell (the GV80), and the latest Genesis models wear a daring and distinctive design language all their own. Plus, by 2022, the entire Genesis lineup will be updated with the new look and fleshed out with a new compact crossover (the GV70). And, you can bet electrification is coming soon.
Though Americans are seemingly unable to quench their thirst for SUVs, the 2021 Genesis G80 nevertheless serves as a foundational building block for the brand. It comes with a choice between a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and twin-turbocharged V6, rear-wheel drive (RWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD), and Advanced or Prestige option packages that build on standard equipment.
Prices start at $47,700, not including the $1,025 destination charge. Our test car was a G80 3.5T AWD with the optional Prestige Package and extra-cost Tasman Blue paint. It cost $69,075, including destination. That’s about $8,000 more than a loaded version of the previous Genesis G80 and pits this midsize luxury sedan squarely against heavy hitters like the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
Look and Feel
It’s not easy for a car to turn heads in Los Angeles. But the new 2021 Genesis G80 sure did, and we didn’t even need to put a mirrored ChromaFlair wrap on it to garner the attention.
Genesis calls its new design language "Athletic Elegance." Because it debuts on the new G80 and GV80 models, which are just now trickling into showrooms, the look is fresh enough that even the jaded denizens of L.A. took notice.
Athletic Elegance is bold without excess and instantly conveys luxury with no more than a glance. Signature cues such as the "G-Matrix" mesh for the grille, "Quad Lamp" headlight and taillight designs, and a "Parabolic Line" that sweeps down the side of the car immediately identify the G80 as a Genesis. Or they will, once people quit mistaking the car for a Jaguar.
If you like to wash and detail your vehicle, note that the grille is a significant pain in the you-know-what to clean and dry. By all appearances, so are the wheels on all models except the 3.5T Prestige, which wears a great-looking five-spoke 20-inch design.
Inside the 2021 G80, Genesis employs a new "Beauty of White Space" motif. Minimalism rules, especially with the Prestige Package, the cabin dripping in luxury with premium Nappa leather, a microfiber suede headliner, and open-pore wood trim.
In terms of visual jewelry, the G80 can’t match something like a Mercedes E-Class, but that wouldn’t keep with the look and feel Genesis is striving to achieve. Best of all, the G80 rids itself of nearly all visual and tactile connection to Hyundai-badged vehicles, which helps to set the Genesis apart from the mainstream parent brand’s models.
A turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is standard in the G80 2.5T, making 300 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque. A twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 engine is standard in the G80 3.5T, cranking out 375 hp and 391 lb-ft of torque.
Both employ an eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, and drivers can choose between Eco, Comfort, Smart, Sport, and Custom driving modes. An Active Sound Design system enhances the engine note to deliver a more rousing soundtrack during acceleration.
According to the EPA, our 3.5T AWD test vehicle should have averaged 21 mpg in combined driving. On our testing loop, the G80 returned 22.4 mpg—beating the official estimate. Note that we tested the car in Custom mode using the Smart setting for the powertrain, Comfort setting for the steering, and Sport setting for the suspension.
In addition to boasting a lower center of gravity compared to the previous G80, the new version offers an available adaptive suspension with Road Preview technology (standard on G80 3.5T). It uses data from the car’s front camera to predict road surface bumps, cracks, and holes and reduce impact harshness.
The G80’s twin-turbo V6 is fantastic, with a seemingly endless supply of thrust, and the eight-speed automatic transmission imperceptibly goes about its business. Thanks to its rear power distribution bias, the AWD system contributes significantly to the car’s athleticism, especially when accelerating out of corners. The enhanced engine note is pleasing but sounds artificial.
Grip impresses, but the Pirelli P Zero tires fitted to the test vehicle’s 20-inch aluminum wheels squealed more than is preferable while driving fast on a glass-smooth mountain road. The brakes are stout, but the pedal is a little difficult to modulate until you acclimate to them. Body roll, even when you switch the suspension to its Sport setting, is evident.
Road Preview is successful about 90% of the time. It catches most pavement irregularities but sometimes misses the mark, and that results in unexpected impact harshness. The system performed best on the back roads leading into Santa Barbara, where the suspension and noise-attenuation efforts virtually eliminated the harsher surfaces.
Switching between the different driving modes reveals only subtle differences in the G80’s behavior. This car is a cruiser, even when you calibrate everything to Sport tuning. Yes, it is enjoyable to drive under normal circumstances, such as in the city, in the suburbs, and on the highway. But it doesn’t beg you to push harder and faster when the road ahead turns twisty.
Form and Function
Genesis claims the new G80 has more interior space than the car it replaces, but it doesn’t necessarily feel that way. Nevertheless, there is plenty of room aboard for four adults, and a fifth person can squeeze in for shorter trips when necessary.
The Prestige Package adds a 16-way power Ergo Motion massaging driver’s seat to reduce fatigue on long drives, recommend a specific driving posture, and automatically correct bad posture. We tried (and hated) the recommended driving position, and while the massage function was excellent, we didn’t find the seat to be sumptuously comfortable. Even with the power thigh adjuster fully extended, it couldn’t provide the right amount of leg support in combination with the preferred seat height.
Rear-seat comfort is a different matter. The seating position is excellent, and as soon as you settle in, the G80 feels like a great place to take a nap. Controls on the inner side of the front passenger’s seat move it forward for extra room, reflective of the G80’s role as executive transport in its home country of South Korea.
Classy metallic coat pegs and a fold-down center armrest with seat heating and power rear sunshade controls also make the G80 Prestige perfect for black-car livery use, and manual side window shades add privacy. A triple-zone automatic climate control system is available, equipping the G80 with a twin-filter air purification system but not a fragrance atomizer.
Genesis uses acoustic glass for the windshield and doors, and it helps to ensure a serene cabin. The available panoramic glass sunroof starts just above the driver’s head, so it is more for rear-seat passengers than people sitting in front.
Storage space is adequate. The center armrest storage bin features a split-top opening with a deftly-hidden release, but it’s not very large inside. The 13.1 cubic-foot trunk is small for a midsize car, and there isn’t room for two full-size suitcases lain flat between the wheel well arches. You’ll need to pack it creatively.
Choose the Prestige Package, and the Genesis G80 comes with a 12.3-inch digital instrumentation panel and a 12-inch head-up display (HUD). The instrumentation offers 2D and 3D viewing, and we preferred the flatter 2D effect. The HUD is only faintly visible when the driver wears polarized sunglasses, even with the illumination level dialed all of the way up.
Every G80 has a 14.5-inch widescreen infotainment system equipped with SiriusXM satellite radio, wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a navigation system, and soothing Sounds of Nature tracks you can play over the available 21-speaker Lexicon high-end audio system. In addition to the touchscreen display, you can use the center console and steering wheel controls or the voice-recognition technology to operate the system.
Compared to natural language voice recognition technology from some competitors, the Genesis system needs improvement. The stylish Genesis Integrated Controller on the center console is difficult to twist when your fingertips are dry. Otherwise, with practice, the haptic feedback dial and center touchpad work well. Wireless smartphone charging is available, located in a forward storage tray with the USB ports.
Genesis Connected Services is free for the first three years of G80 ownership, providing various remote access functions, Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa compatibility, automatic collision notification, and more. However, WiFi service is not among the offerings.
If you own an Android-based smartphone, you can use the G80’s Digital Key function (2.5T Prestige and all 3.5T models). It turns your device into the vehicle key and, using Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, allows you to unlock and start the G80 using your phone.
Genesis includes a long list of driver-assist tech and other safety-related features in every 2021 G80 it builds.
The driver-assist package includes the expected collision avoidance features. Unusual aspects of the collection include a smart adaptive cruise control system with machine learning that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to learn the driver’s habits and characteristics, a Safe Exit System that warns occupants not to open a door if a car is approaching from behind, and a Leading Vehicle Departure Alert feature that tells the driver to get moving if traffic ahead accelerates but the G80 does not.
Highway Driving Assist II provides a higher level of assistance on the highway, and is now improved with lane-change assistance and smoother response when other vehicles merge into the gap ahead of the G80. It works well, but during testing, the lane-change assistance technology did not actively steer to change lanes, an expectation set by similar technology in Mercedes-Benz models. Perhaps we had something set up incorrectly.
The car also comes with 10 airbags, including a center-mounted airbag located between the driver and front passenger to reduce injury in side-impact collisions. A Pre-Active Safety Seat automatically brings the front passenger’s seat into a safe position when a potential collision threat exists. Many versions of the G80 have Rear Occupant Alert, an ultrasonic rear occupant detection system that can help prevent owners from leaving a child or a pet in the car.
More safety-related technology is part of the Prestige Package. It adds a camera-based Forward Attention Warning system that continually monitors the driver, a camera-based Blind Spot View Monitor that shows a live video feed of the car’s blind spots on the digital instrumentation when signaling a lane change, and a surround-view camera system with remote viewing capability via Genesis Connected Services and a smartphone app.
Remote Smart Parking Assist is also a part of the Prestige Package. It allows the G80 to park itself in parallel and perpendicular spaces, handling all steering, braking, and powertrain control tasks during the maneuver. Drivers can go along for the ride or stand outside of the vehicle and activate it using the remote keyless entry fob.
We did not test this technology, but we have witnessed it in use. Like all such parking-assistance systems, it is best to avoid using it on busy streets and in busy parking lots.
As this review was published, the redesigned G80 had not been crash-tested.
When you shop for or buy any Genesis, you enjoy numerous benefits. A Genesis Concierge personal shopping service with at-home test-drive appointments is available when you’re deciding whether you want one.
After you buy a Genesis, you get free maintenance, free Genesis Service Valet with a loaner vehicle, and free Genesis Connected Services for three years or 36,000 miles—whichever comes first. Plus, the warranty is good for five years or 60,000 miles for the entire vehicle and 10 years or 100,000 miles for the powertrain. Genesis throws in five years of free roadside assistance for an unlimited number of miles.
Previously, when a loaded Genesis G80 with a V8 engine cost little more than basic versions of similarly sized Audis, BMWs, and Mercedes-Benzes, these ownership benefits plus the car’s low price represented unbeatable value. Now, with our test car coming in just shy of $70,000, it sure seems like Genesis is getting a bit big for its britches.
Before we knew the price tag of our test car, we guessed it cost 70 grand. The design, the quality, the performance, and the technology make that a fair ask for a G80 3.5T AWD with the Prestige Package. But at the same time, it sure makes this Genesis a harder sell in an American marketplace that often values the cachet of a luxury brand more than the object to which it is attached.
Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience reviewing cars and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, J.D. Power, the New York Daily News, Autobytel, and Vehix. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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