2021 Genesis GV80 3.5T Prestige AWD Review: The spoils of obsession

  • Head-turning exterior design
  • Cabin is plush and cohesive
  • High level of standard equipment and safety tech
  • 3.5-liter V6 has plenty of torque to play with
  • Aggressively priced
  • V6 engine is thirsty
  • No electrification (yet)
  • Limited 3-row availability and the last row is cramped

I was a little afraid that the Genesis GV80 honeymoon period might have worn off. Having been more than impressed with my first taste of the luxury SUV, then enjoyed its company – in 2.5T RWD form – for a more leisurely review in the snow earlier this year, the risk was that the even-more-lavish charms of the 2021 GV80 3.5T Prestige AWD might be lost in the familiarity. Turns out, though, I needn't have worried.

Design like this still turns heads. Strangers complimented the GV80 in parking lots; other drivers watched me pass them with curiosity that bordered on clear envy. Genesis remains just mysterious enough that most conversations involved a quick explanation: "They're Hyundai's luxury brand; think Lexus to Toyota."

What it took Lexus years to nail down, though, Genesis has aced in its very first attempt. Admittedly, Lexus arguably created the luxury SUV space with the original RX, and by this point the GV80 had plenty of obvious lessons it could learn from a whole host of high-rolling rivals. Nonetheless the fact that the GV80 is so, so good out of the gate is astonishing.

The exterior blends modern and classic beautifully, with Genesis' detailing managing to avoid shock proportions while still leaving itself memorable. Inside, the GV80's cabin is enough to give Audi, Mercedes, and BMW sleepless nights.

There's no shortage of standard kit, sure, but what lingers is the cohesiveness with which Genesis has assembled it. Attention to detail counts, and everything from the consistent knurling across the knobs and switchgear, through the judiciously applied soft-touch plastics, to the serene aesthetic of the infotainment system speak of the borderline-obsession it takes to build a great car. Even the chimes, bongs, and melodies the GV80 makes are harmonious rather than humdrum.

In GV80 terms, this 3.5T AWD Prestige is top of the line. The V6 version of the SUV starts at $59,650 (plus $1,045 destination), and the standard equipment is already healthy. 20-inch wheels, a panoramic sunroof, adaptive cruise control and Genesis' steering-assisted Highway Driving Assist II are included, along with a full suite of active safety aids, heated and ventilated front seats with a heated steering wheel, a 14.5-inch infotainment touchscreen with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless phone charging, and a power trunk with hands-free opening.

The $5,200 Advanced package swaps the leatherette seats for leather, throws in a 360-degree camera, rear parking collision avoidance, a head-up display, tri-zone climate control and rear heated seats, and a 21-speaker Lexicon audio system. It also adds Remote Smart Parking Assist, which allows you to move the GV80 in and out of spaces from the key fob. It feels a little gimmicky, and can be fussy about where you're standing before it'll actually work, but it's a neat party trick nonetheless.

Finally, for another $6,600 you get the Prestige package. 22-inch wheels, an electronic limited-slip differential, even nicer leather, power adjusting and ventilated second row seats, power-closing doors, and power rear side window shades come with that, along with Genesis' 12.3-inch 3D digital cluster. That uses a trick display and eye-tracking camera to make the driver's gauges look three-dimensional; or, you can turn it off and just have 2D – but crisper – graphics instead.

The GV80 Prestige trim also adds road active noise cancellation, and the 3.5T engine comes with Genesis' electronically controlled suspension with a road-scanning camera. Together they make an astonishing difference to isolation from the rude world outside, prepping the SUV for bumps and potholes ahead, and calming road noise to the vaguest of hisses. Only a pleasing thrum from the exhausts really makes it through.

You'll probably hear that a fair amount, if you're anything like me. Big SUVs – despite the acronym – aren't typically made for eager driving, but twist the GV80's drive mode dial to Sport and it's a legitimate pleasure to drive. The rear diff helps there, as does the direct and beautifully-weighted steering, while the brakes are so firmly effective as to occasionally border on grabby until you learn how best to modulate them.

The V6 has 375 horsepower and 391 lb-ft of torque to play with, and they're delivered in easy to modulate squirts. Genesis' 8-speed automatic clearly prefers surreptitious shifts, but that doesn't mean it's slow, and it's rare to find yourself outside the best part of the power band for a quick overtake or straight-line surge. Peak torque lands at a mere 1,300 rpm.

I'll stick by my assertion that the turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder is perfectly adequate for the GV80, but the V6 definitely has the more upscale charm to go with the rest of Genesis' package.

Its 3.5-liters pair greater thirst with their uptick in power, unsurprisingly. Officially it's rated for 18 mpg in the city, 23 mpg on the highway, and 20 mpg combined; in my time behind the wheel I saw just over 17 mpg on average. Compared to the 21+ mpg I saw with the 2.5T it's a sizable step down, and it only makes me wish Genesis would hurry up and drop some electrification under the hood.

That'll happen to the G80 first, with an all-electric version already revealed. We'll find out launch details later this year, and hopefully a little more on Genesis' overall EV roadmap.

The few downsides I've already noted of the GV80 linger. If you want a third-row it's only available on the 3.5t AWD Advanced+ trim and, frankly, the seats are scaled for kids only. Two rows and 35 cu-ft for cargo makes better use of the space; drop the second row and that expands to 84 cu-ft.

Europe gets a diesel version of the SUV, meanwhile, and though I know it probably wouldn't sell so well in the US I do suspect its torquey personality would be well at home here.

2021 Genesis GV80 3.5T Prestige AWD Verdict

Presence, opulence, and performance. The recipe for a luxury SUV isn't exactly complicated, but assembling it right is. It's a little like cake baking: you could give me the finest ingredients and a stack of recipe books, but in the end it alls comes down to how I put them together. In much the same way, Genesis has plenty of well-equipped SUV rivals but few can match the thoughtful, considered way it has crafted the GV80.

What flaws exist are ones mainly of omission. No electrification – not even some mild hybrid action to massage at least a little extra economy out of the V6 – is the glaring absence, and while Genesis isn't alone there in the luxury SUV segment that's still not much of an excuse. Beyond that, it comes down to individual taste and your demands around badge and back-story.

No, the GV80 doesn't have a lengthy heritage to wax over, but the successes of the SUV demonstrate that Genesis doesn't need that. To make a really good, really memorable luxury vehicle that's also really easy to recommend, it turns out all that's required is a fiendish attention to detail and standards that border on obsessional.