It’s perhaps a measure of how much you like a car, that you still want to drive it even when that’s perhaps ill-advised. Taking a supercar to do grocery shopping – and then playing paper towel Tetris in the parking lot as you try to fit everything into the trunk – is a good example, and to that I can add trying to coax a rear-wheel drive 2021 Genesis GV80 to play nicely in the Midwest snow.
Genesis makes both RWD and AWD versions of the GV80, its new luxury SUV, and I’ll confess I expected the latter to be delivered to my icy Michigan driveway. I’d already had the snow-blower out once that morning, only for my handiwork to be covered up by fresh drifts of the white stuff. The idea of hopping into the heated seat of this 2021 GV80 2.5T Prestige was mighty tempting.
If you buy the all-wheel drive version, you get an AWD badge on the trunk so that people behind know you spent the $5,750 extra on top of the GV80 2.5T’s $48,900 (plus $1,025 destination) starting price. Its absence was something I wished I’d noted as the roughly 4,600 pound luxury SUV shimmied its way to a halt at the first set of traffic lights. Even on winter-friendly rubber, things felt a little… fraught.
And look, I know, plenty of people live without all-wheel drive in places where snow and ice are predictable yearly hazards. It’s perfectly straightforward to drive safely, cautiously, and conscientiously when only two of your wheels are driven, even on ice and snow. It just demands restraint, is all, but that’s something even without the V6 engine that the GV80 doesn’t particularly encourage.
The 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gets 300 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque, while the 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6 bumps that up to 375 hp and 391 lb-ft. Both use an 8-speed automatic transmission and multi-link front and rear suspension. The bigger engine gets electronically-controlled suspension with a road-scanning camera to adjust the settings proactively; it’s an option on the 2.5T. Only the V6 can be had with Genesis’ electronic limited-slip differential.
It’s not a “sports SUV” per-se, but it’s also not a slow one. Fast forward a day or so and, with cleared roads and surer footing, the GV80 2.5T was ready to let loose in the good way, not the slip’n’slide way.
Peak torque from the 2.5-liter engine arrives at 1,650 rpm, and sticks around until 4,000 rpm. Now, I stand by my first impressions of the GV80 and still believe the six-cylinder engine suits the luxe SUV better, but the turbo-four is no disappointment. It’s unexpectedly quiet and it has enough shove that – traction permitting – you can always count on sufficient grunt for a dash away from the lights or to take advantage of an impromptu highway overtaking opportunity.
Flip into Sport mode, and the transmission slurs its way smoothly through the ratios a little quicker. It’s rapid to downshift once you push outside of peak power, and even without the fancy suspension system the GV80 feels poised and stable in the corners. A Cayenne will still hold its own, but the fact that Genesis’ first attempt at an SUV is even warranting comparisons with Porsche’s finest is notable in itself.
Settle down, and this is smooth running stuff, perfect for efficiently hustling the family around. Officially, the GV80 can be had as a three-row SUV, though only one configuration actually offers that rear bench. That’s the 2021 GV80 3.5T AWD Advanced+ at $65,050, and honestly those seats are going to be uncomfortable for all but two of the smallest kids. Better, then, to settle for far more capacious seating for five and take advantage of the plentiful cargo space, with 33.9 cu-ft that rises to 84 cu-ft with all but the first row seats dropped down.
Just as Genesis has nailed the GV80’s exterior styling – modern and yet graceful, with hints of yacht-like presence – the interior punches well above its weight. The standard trim gets power-adjustable front seats with heating, a 14.5-inch infotainment system with navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual-zone climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and an 8-inch LCD cluster for the driver. Genesis’ Highway Driving Assist II package – with adaptive cruise and lane-keeping – is standard, too.
Kick up to the 2.5T RWD Prestige, meanwhile, and for your $57,050 (plus destination) things start to feel positively lavish. Leather seats with more degrees of power-adjustment along with ventilation for the front, heating for the second row, a Lexicon 21-speaker audio system, wireless phone charging, tri-zone climate control, a heated steering wheel, and blind spot view monitor that beams a live camera view to the instrument cluster all get added in. There’s also rear parking collision avoidance assistance and ultrasonic rear seat reminders.
You can go further, and GV80 3.5T models – which are all AWD as standard – load up on things like power second row seats, active noise cancelation, and a fully-digital 12.3-inch cluster display with 3D graphics. The only thing you can’t have right now is a hybrid, or indeed electrification of any sort. Genesis has EV SUVs on the roadmap, but while I think a plug-in hybrid drivetrain would suit the GV80 well it’s MIA. So, too, is the diesel version available abroad.
The result for the 2.5T RWD is 21 mpg in the city, 25 mpg on the highway, and 23 mpg combined according to the EPA. The 2.5T AWD version drops a point on the combined cycle, while the 3.5T AWD is rated at 18 mpg in the city, 23 mpg on the highway, and 20 mpg combined. In my own, mixed driving I got over 21 mpg, which isn’t terrible for a big SUV but isn’t exactly eco-friendly either.
It’s hard to get too upset about that once you’re ensconced in the GV80’s gadgetry. The wide touchscreen atop the center console is crisp and the infotainment system fast and easily navigated. You can reach out and tap, or scroll and swipe at the dished glass touchpad positioned just ahead of the rotary transmission selector. Only the half-digital cluster seems a misstep, with the analog speedo looking cheap next to the LCD panel.
That’s a rare stumble for Genesis here, though. What impresses on first glance, and continues to wow, is just how cohesive and thoughtful the GV80’s cabin design is. From the knurling of the stalks and controls, to the frameless display for the HVAC system, and the lashings of soft-touch materials wherever your fingers might find themselves landing, it’s a love-letter to ergonomics and aesthetics that most rival SUVs could do well to pay attention to. Even if you’re not a fan of the rugby ball-shaped steering wheel, you can’t deny that it feels premium with its machined switchgear.
On the safety front, the GV80 just clinched a TOP SAFETY PICK+ rating with the IIHS. It gets ten airbags, Forward Collision Avoidance-Assist with Junction Crossing and Turning, Blind-Spot Collision Avoidance Assist, Lane Following Assist, Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist, and Driver Attention Warnings.
2021 Genesis GV80 2.5T Prestige RWD Verdict
If the degree to which I wanted to drive the GV80 – even if I had other, more ice-and-snow-friendly cars to hand – is any indication, Genesis is on to something special. It legitimately looks and feels fresh and new, and judging by the number of eyes that swiveled to follow me, I’d say I’m not the only one to be swayed by the striking design and undeniable road presence.
Were it my money, I’d opt for the AWD version, unsurprisingly. Not only for winter stability, but for the improvements in how cleanly the GV80 puts its power down. All-wheel drive versions also get more standard kit than their rear-wheel drive brethren, even if they share the same trim name, making that price difference a little easier to stomach.
Hybrid absence aside, it’s hard to imagine how much more effectively Genesis could’ve nailed its first attempt at an SUV. Clearly, it learned well from its nice-but-niche sedans, and applied those lessons judiciously. In the category by which success is measured in the US right now, the GV80 just yanked the rug out from under some big names who had until this point been sitting pretty.