We put Genesis' much-needed first SUV to the test to see if the GV80 deserves to be the sales success the company needs.

While Hyundai’s approach to launching the Genesis brand back a couple of years ago would have looked like a solid start to someone from 1989 – that is, follow Toyota’s lead with Lexus and launch a range made up exclusively of sedans – and no doubt has helped its appeal to the enthusiast crowd, but with its start being on the slower side as a result, it was clear that what the brand needed was an SUV to fit in with the times.

Cue the GV80 – the newly-established marque’s first attempt at creating one, which is going right up against some stiff competition such as the BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE, Audi Q7, and Volvo XC90. Taking on well-established names such as these is no easy task, but on paper at least, the newcomer certainly looks to stack up well.

Priced from $90,600 it’s certainly not cheap, but the levels of standard equipment are through the roof across the entire range, with the same high-level specification offered on all variants.

Rather than choosing trim levels, there are only three choices you need to make – which powertrain you want, which interior and exterior colours you’re after, and whether or not you’d like to add on a $10,000 Luxury Package that adds some additional if inconsequential features into the mix.

In the case of the GV80 on test here, it’s the most expensive option available – the 3.5T AWD, which features a muscular twin-turbo V6 under the bonnet and is priced from $108,600. I think the colour choice of my tester was on point – blue over a blue and beige two-tone leather interior with open-pore wood trim – although the Luxury Package had been foregone, not that it’s actually a necessity to have.

Sure, it adds things like a 3D gauge cluster, massaging driver’s seat, heated and cooled second-row seats, remote park assist, and soft close doors into the mix, but even in standard spec this thing is full to the brim with niceties.

It features a partially-digital instrument cluster with an integrated blind spot camera, a head-up display, a huge 14.5-inch infotainment screen able to be controlled either by touch or via a dial and writing pad on the centre console, a 21-speaker Lexicon audio system, 12-way power adjustable front seats with heating and ventilation, touchscreen-operated dual-zone climate control, wireless phone charging, remote engine start, a hands-free electric tailgate, and a panoramic sunroof. Safe to say, then, you’re not exactly left wanting for much beyond that.

It must be said that it’s an immensely attractive and well-trimmed interior, as the leather throughout feels supple and high quality, the open-pore wood adds a real touch of class, and the screens are all clear and high-res. The seats are wonderfully supportive and comfortable as well given the good amount of adjustment they offer, and the driving position you can achieve really does feel spot-on.

Admittedly, some might not like the two-spoke steering wheel design – I’ve heard comparisons made to steering wheels of the 1960s – but it honestly didn’t bother me at all. Perhaps a three-spoke wheel would look more sporty and with-the-times, but I do like that Genesis has dared to be different, as this interior certainly feels to be unique even with some hints of Bentley influence such as in the design of the speedometer.

Of course, the Bentley connection many make requires further elaboration when it comes to the exterior of the GV80, though, as I’ve heard time and time again of it looking like a ‘baby Bentayga’. Certainly, there’s some clear influence there, such as in the big chrome mesh grille and the overall proportions of it, but if I’m being honest, the GV80 is the better looking of the two by a considerable margin.

Yes, it’s big, but it looks more svelte, and the unique lighting signature Genesis has opted for really does give it a good dose of modernity despite the overall traditional luxury look and interior feel it’s going for.

Practicality was clearly in mind with it, though, as all Australian-delivered variants bar the very cheapest model are fitted with seven seats as standard, although they’re easily stowable to simply allow for a more cavernous boot area.

Speaking of those different variants, there are four available Down Under with three different engines and two different drivetrains, and all of which feature an eight-speed automatic transmission. The base five-seater 2.5T RWD, as the name suggests, pairs a 2.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine with rear-wheel drive; the 2.5T AWD adds all-wheel drive into the mix, along with marking the seat count rising to seven; and the 3.0D AWD marks the first application of an all-new 3.0-litre straight-six turbo diesel engine developed in-house.

However, the range-topping 3.5T AWD in question here is unequivocally the one you’ll want if spirited driving is on the agenda. With its 3.5-litre twin-turbocharged V6 petrol engine putting out an impressive 279kW at 5800rpm and 530Nm between 1300-4500rpm, it’s enough to help this 2.2-tonne behemoth launch from 0-100km/h in a truly impressive 5.5 seconds, making it quicker than anything you’ll find from a European brand at the same price point.

For what is a heavy car designed to be so luxurious, the GV80 – at least with this powertrain – feels to have a surprisingly athletic character to it. With how eager to rev its engine is, how well it manages the power due to its electromechanical rear limited-slip differential, and how balanced it typically manages to remain through the corners thanks to its adaptive suspension, it’s a much more fun thing to hustle than you might think.

Make no mistake, though – it’s a heavy car, and it certainly feels it, but between the suspension tune and the reassuring steering feel when in Sport mode, it simply feels well managed.

Despite the clever suspension, it must be said that there is a certain brittleness to the ride at times due to the excessively large if fantastically eye-catching 22-inch wheels shod in low-profile rubber that are standard on both petrol and diesel six-cylinder models. It’s not that it’s in any way uncomfortable – quite the opposite, as the chassis absorbs most of the hits – but you can occasionally feel some road imperfections more than you’d like in a luxury-focused vehicle, and there’s also a touch more road noise at freeway speeds than you’d expect also.

The only other catch to be found comes down to the very thing that makes this feel quite special compared to its equivalently-priced rivals – that lovely V6 engine. Yes, it might be a peach, but it’s a thirsty ol’ thing – after 620km of behind the wheel, 13.2L/100km was the best I was able to manage, and that’s going to drive your fuel bills up as quickly as the value of the pound is falling. If that’s not a good enough reason for giving the even torquer diesel a look-in, I don’t know what is.

However, fuel bills are the only thing you should have to worry about, as Genesis offers not only a five-year unlimited warranty – which is as good as it gets for a luxury marque currently – but also five years of complimentary servicing with the company even picking your car up and returning it for you.

With only the most minor and easily remediable of gripes with the way it drives, and fuel bills being the only thing that’ll cost you a dime after you’ve bought it – do note, though, that Genesis operates with non-negotiable pricing, and that while it doesn’t currently have a guaranteed future value program to alleviate depreciation concerns there are plans to introduce such a thing – there’s honestly not a lot to like about this thing, as it really does present truly impressive value for money compared to its rivals, especially when you look at the six-pot variants.

A 10 percent market share is what Genesis is after in Australia, and off the back of the GV80, along with the smaller GV70 when that arrives, I feel it has a decent shot at grasping that much of the market. That is, as long as there are enough people willing to consider a left-field option. I, for one, sure hope there are, as they’ll be pleasantly surprised by what a rewarding thing this is.

2021 Genesis GV80 3.5T AWD
  • 8.5/10
    Performance - 8.5/10
  • 8/10
    Ride & Handling - 8/10
  • 8.5/10
    Tech & Features - 8.5/10
  • 8/10
    Practicality - 8/10
  • 8.5/10
    Value for Money - 8.5/10

Pros: Athletic V6 engine and overall driving character, high-quality interior fit-out with impressive level of standard equipment, looks far more expensive than it actually is, five years of free servicing certainly sweetens the deal
Cons: Slight brittleness to the ride and some road noise invasion due to its huge 22-inch rims, V6 petrol engine likes a drink

In a nutshell: The GV80 is exactly the vehicle Genesis needed – it looks and feels expensive, and goes like something worth serious coin as well, but the price tag means you’re getting a huge amount of bang for your buck even if you’re just into six-digit territory. Between this and the GV70 when it soon arrives as well, Genesis might well be able to gain the market share it hopes for.

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Genesis Motors Australia for a week with a full tank of fuel.

Patrick Jackson
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