The transformation started in 2006 with the debut of the third-generation Sonata sedan, a four-door announcing that Hyundai would not be just a budget, entry-level carmaker. The process continued in 2009, when the full-size Genesis sedan appeared, loaded with tech and features previously reserved for luxury brands.
Four years ago, Hyundai took another large step, making Genesis its new luxury car division — a separate entity. Today, you are looking at the midsize GV80, the very first Genesis SUV, a gut punch to the segment no matter how you shape it, and a complement to the three existing sedans. A compact class GV70 will debut later this spring.
While no coincidence that the stunning GV80 looks like a Bentley — the chief designer formerly worked for Bentley — the Genesis backs up its distinctive visual charm with an upscale interior and a portfolio of features that will rock the established players.
From the dual-horizontal front LED lamps to the matching rears, as well as the oversize LED marker/turning lamps on the fenders, the GV80 gets noticed. Add 22-inch wheels, giant brake calipers and a shape that mimics Audi’s benchmark Q7 and you have an excellent starting point to sway consumers.
Many vehicles carry attractive styling. Many stop short after that; the interior is below par, the powertrain fails, or, the chassis is weak in subtle ways that leave buyers less than satisfied.
The GV80 blows up all of those criteria in an overall package stuffed with gear, luxury touches and performance that comes in the time-honored Hyundai tradition — lots of value for the buck.
A rear-drive “base” model starts at under $49,000, stocked to the gunwales; 300-hp 2.5-liter turbo, a staggering assortment of driving aids and safety gear (forward collision warning with junction side-traffic alerts, evasive steering assist, lane following assist, rear cross traffic assist w/braking, parking collision avoidance and more) plus a premium 14.5-inch horizontal info/entertainment screen, 12-way heated power front seats, power liftgate, with two more pages of features. AWD, with a locking button, adds approximately $5,000, along with a panoramic dual panel sunroof, ventilated front seats, rear sunshades, heated steering wheel, digital key and rear occupant alert system.
Our sampled Prestige, with the optional 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 and 375 traffic-eclipsing horsepower ($63,400 base, $70,950 shown) ladled on the outstanding Lexicon 21-speaker sound system, heated, cooled and powered rear seats, heads-up display, semi-autonomous drive mode (worked perfectly), electronically controlled suspension with Road Preview technology, surround view monitoring, lane change cameras (both sides) massaging driver’s seat, triple-zone auto climate system, plus Nappa leather surfaces, active noise cancellation and a digital gauge cluster.
Perhaps key to the GV80 is the abundant subtleties that shine. The rear cargo shade is stored under the rear deck when not employed (hooray!), the quilted-leather “big-boy” front seats are plush, all-day comfortable perches, the wrap-around doors protect the rocker panels, the seat/steering wheel heaters are splendid winter companions (that stay on until you turn them off), plus the front passenger seat can convert into a fold-flat cargo-deck extension that matches the rear folding seats.
Light the fuse on the turbo-V-6 and the Genesis swooshes down the road, masking its prodigious speed in a hushed cabin. Double pane front glass and the noise cancelling emphasis creates an atmosphere similar to what you might expect in a Bentley. Chassis dynamics are also top-notch, aided by the excellent multilink suspension found at each corner. Fuel economy with the eight-speed automatic (EPA 18-23 mpg) reflected winter’s temps, lots of idling and the propensity to squeeze past lumbering traffic.
Critics will try to nit-pick — no massaging action in the front passenger seat, the knurled rotary shifter and round info/entertainment controller are too similar and require deliberate efforts to change — yet the overall fit, finish and level of detail here will make Volvo XC90, Mercedes GLE and BMW X5 owners stand up and gawk in awe.
Quietly, Hyundai and Genesis have been increasing their aptitude with autonomous driving. The GV80 proved more refined in this mode than several more upscale competitors, with the car’s sensors piloting down a windy highway, centered in its lane, far better than I could with both hands on the wheel.
Throw on the typical Hyundai extra warranty coverage, 10 years/100,000 miles powertrain, plus an expansive rear cargo hold (there is an optional third row seat) along with the spacious rear seat, and the positive impressions seem unlimited.
Genesis is reshuffling the luxury car(d) deck. This GV80 will force some automakers to make swift redesigns.
Next week: Ford F-350 Super Duty Tremor