It’s undeniable that when Hyundai first launched its Genesis luxury sub-brand, an SUV was what it really needed amongst its trio of sedans for success, yet it’s only just recently gained that in the undoubtedly impressive GV80.
However, while an SUV is what the average person wants these days, I can see why Genesis did try to mirror Lexus’ initial sedan-focused approach, as the all-new G80 that arrived alongside the GV80, while not destined for nearly the same level of success, is a far better and more on-brand car for a luxury marque.
Allow me to explain – while the GV80 might boast similarly classy and upmarket looks, and feature all the same plush materials and fancy tech, there are always compromises that need to be made with an SUV. The ride has to be stiffer to make it handle better, and a cramped third row is going to be added for those with lots of children that detracts from boot space and second-row room as well.
When it comes to a big, wafty sedan like the G80, however, there’s no need to compromise at all – especially these days – as the sort of people buying a car like this know exactly what they’re going to want.
Resisting the temptation to follow the Germans down the path of trying to make a mid-size sedan like this all things to all people – and as a result, putting in ridiculous bucket seats, covering it in aspirational badging, and sitting it on massive fancy wheels to make it look sporty despite only having a tiny engine under the bonnet – Genesis has gone old-school and up-market with this thing, and it’s all the better for it.
Even the design isn’t too derivative like it is with many other cars in this class. Yes, there’s some Bentley influence, but with its unique double-stacked wrap-around lighting arrangement and bold grille design it makes a statement about being the new kid on the block. The side profile puts me in mind of the original Mercedes-Benz CLS as well, but in a very good way. This thing is one properly good-looking piece of metal.
Inside, it’s just as lavish to behold as the G80’s exterior, particularly in the two-tone green and brown leather of my tester. With a massive 14.5-inch infotainment system, touchscreen climate control unit, semi-digital instrument cluster, head-up display, and 21-speaker Lexicon audio system all fitted as standard, it certainly impresses in the tech department – and it only does even more so if you opt for the Luxury Pack that adds a 3D gauge cluster and rear-seat entertainment system among other smaller items.
But what’s more important than the tech – beyond it working the way it’s meant to, which it certainly does – are all the details people don’t think about so much in cars these days. The softness of the leather, the open-pore wood trim, the deeply scalloped seats (including in the back) that are supportive yet still incredibly cosseting, the amount of legroom and headroom… these are the things that really matter in a luxury sedan, and the G80 nails that plushness and comfort factor.
While it takes a more old-school approach to its interior trimming, it’s certainly still right up to date with all the latest active safety technology, including even Level 2 semi-autonomous driving capability in the form of its lane follow assist system, along with an advanced forward collision avoidance system (with car, pedestrian, and cyclist detection), junction turning and crossing monitoring, evasive steering functions, and a blind-spot monitoring camera.
There’s plenty in the way of passive safety as well, with 10 airbags including a centre front airbag, a 360-degree camera with a video game-like 3D view, and parking sensors the whole way around.
So both inside and out, then, the new G80 is a clear blend of old-school thinking and modern technology, which is exactly what you want in a car like this. What sweetens the deal even more is that the way it drives fits that same ideology as well.
Two powertrains are on offer in the G80, with the $84,900 entry-level model featuring a respectable – and new – 2.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol making a healthy 224kW and 422Nm (numbers that are a close match for what the old G80 made), which is paired to an in-house eight-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive.
However, if you spend an extra $15,000 – a healthy chunk of change, I know, as it bumps that price tag up to just short of $100k – you can step up to what the car tested here has, a beefy 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6 that sends 279kW and 530Nm through the same eight-speed auto to all four wheels.
With huge gobs of torque on tap from right down low in the rev range and strong performance up near redline, it’s a very smooth engine with very linear power delivery, yet it still feels athletic and eager to rev when you do plant the loud pedal.
It mightn’t make the most enthralling noise – most of what you hear is synthesised – but being twin-turbocharged you’d hardly expect it to. More important is the fact that it remains utterly silent when you’re simply cruising along.
And, indeed, cruising along is where the G80 feels to be at its best – primarily due to this V6 model featuring Genesis’ incredibly clever Adaptive Control Suspension with Road Preview system. Utilising a camera at the top of the windscreen, it scans the road ahead for imperfections and adjusts the damping rate to iron even the biggest of hits out almost entirely. It might sound like a fussy piece of tech, but trust me, this is exactly the sort of thing a luxury car deserves to feature as it really does deliver the exceptional ride quality you’re hoping for.
Combine that with the light power steering and the effortless pulling power of that big bent-six and it’s the ideal cruiser. Big and wafty, it’s a true luxobarge – and that’s something I wish there were more of out there.
Yet, if you hit the little drive mode selector button and switch it into Sport, it’s still a confident performer on a backroad. Yes, the electronically-controlled all-wheel drive system kerbs any potential for sideways slides – typically what big sedans love to do – but it does help it feel surprisingly poised and planted.
With Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres, four-piston monoblock front brake calipers, and larger vented discs than the four-pot all around, you really can push this thing with confidence, and while there’s no doubt that it’s a heavy thing, it does handle remarkably well all things considered.
The steering weights up just the right amount and the ride tuning is spot on – keeping it relatively flat with only slight but helpful hints of body roll – and while it doesn’t exactly give you much in the way of feedback and driving sensations, it’s understandable given this car’s true focus.
In the same way not every sports car needs to ride well and not every SUV needs to go like the clappers, not every luxury sedan needs to be an M5 wannabe, and the G80 certainly isn’t. Yes, it’s got the performance and enough handling chops to suffice, but really, this looks and feels like a luxury sedan should. No M Sport or AMG-Line badges here, just pure class.
Not being European, Genesis offers its range with a far more impressive ownership proposition than its rivals, too. Not only does it have a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, but it also has five years of free servicing, and the dealership will even pick your car up and drop it back for you if you live near a Genesis Studio.
It’s a tragedy I don’t see this being anywhere near as popular a car as the equivalent Audi, BMW, or Merc, as it truly does deserve to be. The value for money is off the charts, as is the luxury factor, and I know that this is now the car I’d be buying if I was shopping in this class.
2021 Genesis G80 3.5T AWD List Price: $99,900
Pros: Impeccably smooth ride quality, torquey twin-turbo V6, plush and comfortable interior, not lacking at all in the tech department
Cons: Six-digit price tag for a car from an unknown brand, those after a sporty-feeling drive will still want to look at a 5 Series
In a nutshell: The G80 is a car that embodies old-school cool and luxury charm, yet delivers all of the modern features that are expected at a minimum. Yes, it’s expensive for a car many detractors will mock for being a Hyundai group product, but to those who look past that and check it out for themselves, they’ll be immensely rewarded by getting what is one hell of an impressive car.
Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Genesis Motors Australia for two weeks with a full tank of fuel. All additional fuel costs were covered by the author.