For the 2021 Genesis GV80, the brand’s first SUV, one thing is already clear

Chris Davies - Jan 29, 2020, 7:30am CST
For the 2021 Genesis GV80, the brand’s first SUV, one thing is already clear

Genesis has a whole lot riding on the 2021 GV80, but if first impressions count then the new luxury SUV was facing an uphill battle as it made its debut in Miami, FL this week. While the South Korean automaker pulled the wraps off the GV80 back home earlier this month, the US is arguably the market where the new SUV has the most potential. Problem was, things did not get off to an entirely auspicious start.

I already know enough to say a few things conclusively about the GV80. Genesis teased us back in 2017 with the GV80 Concept SUV, and then surprised us in 2020 by revealing a production version unexpectedly close to that concept.

Since then, of course, we’ve seen the oversized Crest Grille used on the G90 sedan, along with the slash-like Quad Lamps. There are hints of Bentley Bentayga from some angles, but the arching shoulder line tapers in a distinctive way all of Genesis’ own, into the sharply creased trunk. There’s just enough chrome to keep the GV80 feeling like a luxury car, while not too much to leave it passé.

Even the most handsome SUV benefits from good framing, though, and Genesis’ decision to set up one of what turned out to be just two GV80 examples in a Miami side-street hardly gave the car its time to shine. Credit, then, the distinctive lighting patterns for the SUV making the most of a challenging situation, the crisp body lines doing their best to glimmer under the tungsten street lights.

If there’s an upside, it’s that Genesis’ detailing certainly holds up to scrutiny. Some of Genesis’ earlier attempts at interior design have been over-heavy on buttons. The GV80 escapes that by virtue of plenty of clean horizontal lines and some big displays. One 14.5-inch screen spanning the top of the center console, remotely operated with a controller that doubles as a touchpad for address entry, then further screens for the driver’s display and the HVAC settings.

You still get physical switchgear where it makes sense, along with a shift-by-wire transmission and long, slim air vents sandwiched into the two-tone dash. Again, Genesis deserves some serious kudos for the quality of its controls: knobs are delicately knurled; buttons perfectly damped; and even out-of-the-way controls, like the seat-fold panel in the trunk, has an attention to detail that belies expectations. Factor in some truly obsessive lighting, molding, and detailing to things like the stalks and drive-select knob, and you’re getting an SUV cabin that punches well above expectations.

Genesis is using Road Active Noise Cancellation (RANC) to smooth out engine, wind, tire, and traffic noise, though we’ll have to wait until we can try the GV80 ourselves to see how well that actually works. The same could be said for the augmented reality navigation system, which overlays turn-by-turn directions onto a real-time view of the road ahead.

One thing that testing process should be is comfortable. Genesis will offer heated and ventilated seats in both the first and second rows; a set of fold-out third row seating to make the GV80 a 7-seater will be an option, though the space back there looks most suited to children. An “active motion” driver’s seat will use seven air cells for massage. I briefly turned it on and – like any weary traveler might – selected the “Pelvic stretching” program. I suspect I needed to give it more time to work its magic, however.

While Korea will get a diesel option, US drivers will have the choice of two turbocharged gas engines under the GV80’s creased hood. There’ll be a 2.5-liter inline-four and a 3.5-liter V6 to choose between. Rear-wheel drive will be standard, along with an eight-speed transmission; all-wheel drive will be optional, bringing with it an electronically controlled limited slip differential. Electronically-controlled suspension with road preview uses a front-facing camera to track the condition of the asphalt ahead and pre-empt the ride settings accordingly.

In the US, the 2021 Genesis GV80 will arrive in dealerships from summer 2020. Pricing and full specifications will be confirmed closer to that point, Genesis says, and that’s a significant factor. The automaker has made a name for itself offering luxury features at prices that significantly undercut what you’d expect from BMW, Mercedes, and others. The GV80 is likely to be no different.

Depending on just how much it can come in below its rivals, Genesis’ first SUV stands a significant chance of raising the bar. From the stitching on the leather-wrapped dashboard, to the tasteful illumination of the carefully crafted buttons and switchgear, there’s a restraint here that other automakers could do worse than learn from. Time will tell how the GV80 holds up on the road, but even in less-than-ideal circumstances, it’s clear that core quality of design shines through.

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