2021 Genesis GV80 Preview: Hands On With the New Luxury SUV

Kyle Patrick
by Kyle Patrick

I’ve seen the Genesis GV80 more this year than some family members.

Some of that has to do with, well, you know, but the other reason is that this mid-size SUV is a monumental model for the fledgling luxury brand. Ask anybody on the street what sells in the 2020 car market and they’ll tell you it’s SUVs. Genesis has been racking up awards pretty much since inception for its cars, but the volume play was always going to need to be a high-rider.

That’s why we spent a portion of a day with the GV80—as well as the G80, which will get its own preview article—poking around the impressive new rig. Since its debut at the start of the year, Genesis has slowly trickled out more information on what prospective buyers can expect when it touches down soon. It’s still a little while before we can drive it, but here are the highlights from our hands-on time with the new SUV.

New, dedicated platform

Photo by Harry Zhou

Both Kia and Hyundai have been killin’ it with sales of the Telluride and Palisade. It would’ve been easy for Genesis to simply crib that platform for its first SUV. Instead, the brand is underpinning the GV80 with a foundation of its own design, one that also supports the 2021 G80 mid-size sedan. The rear-drive-based architecture should afford the GV80 the necessary level of dynamicism to challenge the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE—though of course, we’ll have to wait until proper go behind the wheel to know for sure.

SEE ALSO: 2020 Genesis G70 Review

Of course, the GV80 will also offer all-wheel drive—and in fact, only that in Canada. Two turbocharged engine options will be available in both markets: a 2.5-liter four-cylinder and a 3.5-liter V6. The larger engine will only be available with AWD. These are both powerful engines, with the smaller model putting out an even 300 hp and 311 lb-ft, while the six-pot produces 375 hp and 381 lb-ft. For those keeping score at home, those stats compare favorably to the four- and six-cylinder models from the Germans.

Setting the style template

Photo by Harry Zhou

Genesis may have debuted its current design language on the facelifted 2020 G90 sedan—full review on that coming later this month—but the GV80 is the first clean-sheet example of the look. The face, with the bold diamond-shape grille and the twin-line headlights framing it, isn’t subtle. But move around to the side and the flanks are clean and unfussy. The designers have split the difference between upright practicality and high-angle style for the rear hatch glass too, emphasizing the rear haunches. Enormous wheels are par for the course these days, and the GV80 obliges with massive 22-inch wheels in this pre-production form. Smaller rolling stock will be available too.

While I’m sure not everyone will dig the new family look, it’s just that: familial. With the opportunity to look at the GV80 and G80 together, there’s a cohesiveness to their looks without falling into Xerox territory. The GV80 is not simply a higher-riding G80 station wagon.

SEE ALSO: 2021 Genesis GV80 Revealed in North America: 5 Things You Need to Know

Genesis Canada’s Jarred Pellat explains that designer SangYup Lee looks at the lineup as a chess set. “When you look at a chess set, maybe it’s a marble set or a wood set, you can tell that all the pieces—the pawns, the rook, the queen and the king—they’re all from the same family,” explains Pellat. “They all have the same finishes, they all have that same identity. But they’re all a different shape, they all have their own unique character. That’s what the Genesis lineup is becoming.”

Built for long distances

Photo by Harry Zhou

Coming in either two- or three-row forms, the GV80 will likely be more of a family-hauling road trip machine than any Genesis before it. So the automaker has loaded it up with a laundry list of features, both standard and optional, that should help melt away the miles for driver and passengers alike.

Let’s start with the Road Active Noise Cancellation (RANC). The system uses sensors and microphones dotted around the car to pick up exterior noise, and then pumps opposing sound waves through the sound system to cancel it out. It results in what Genesis is calling one of the quietest cars you can buy. Optional massaging seats should also go some way to relieving stress on the road.

SEE ALSO: 2021 Genesis G80 Revealed: Look Out E-Class, 5 Series

The GV80 features an augmented reality navigation system. Similar to other setups on the market, this displays a live feed from the front camera on the central infotainment screen, with arrows overlaid. The nose of the GV80 also houses sensors to scan the road ahead to pre-emptively adjust the suspension for any uneven surfaces—a segment first. Again, we’ll have to reserve judgment for our first drive, but all of the above should combine to provide a serene mile-muncher.

Not all of the GV80’s family-friendly appeal comes from high tech toys, either. One of the simplest design features is the height of the exterior door panels. The door takes the sill section with it on opening, ensuring no mud or road grit gets all over your pant leg on entrance or exit. Clever.

Full suite of (standard) safety features

As I mentioned earlier, the GV80 will be more of a family vehicle than previous Genesis models. To that end, it comes with a panoply of standard safety features to keep you and yours safe. These include the usual automated emergency braking, lane keep assist, and blind spot warning systems. The latter uses side-mounted cameras to show a live feed in the infotainment screen whenever a turn signal is active. In addition, the GV80 will feature a rear cross-traffic alert and a driver attention warning—on every trim.

Higher tech includes a machine learning-powered adaptive cruise control. This world-first application learns from the driver and then applies their habits to its own driving when active. Highway Driving Assist II is a partially-autonomous driving aid that helps in heavy traffic, including performing safe lane changes when the driver activates the turn signal.

Should the worst happen, the GV80 is equipped with 10 airbags. These include a segment-first central airbag between the driver and front passenger, keeping them safely separated in the case of an accident.

Interior embodies new luxury

Photo by Harry Zhou

If you’re considering the GV80, please do yourself a favor: buy one of the unique interior color schemes.

Nothing says old money quite like another somber, black leather interior. The GV80 offers a unique green-and-brown interior scheme that sets it apart from the pack. Diamond-quilted leather seats look good and are eminently adjustable. Even the little kneepads lining the center console are diamond-quilted. The fit and finish, even on this pre-production model, feels well on par with the establishment.

The overall interior design is calming and minimalist. A huge 14.5-inch touchscreen sits atop the dash, though users can also interact with it via a center console-mounted dial. This—and all the dials found inside the GV80—has that sort of tactile response found on a classic iPod. It clicks as you spin it, but can also be poked and prodded for simpler four-direction navigation. The center of the scroll wheel also accepts handwriting.

These multiple input options were an intentional part of the design according to Genesis; the goal is to allow users to interact with the GV80 in whichever way they find most comfortable. That’s important: this is the biggest rethink of the brand’s infotainment since launch, and these systems’ ease-of-use are increasingly important to customers. Look no further than the annual J.D. Power Initial Quality Study, where Genesis scored as the top luxury brand for 2020. On initial encounter, the new system is naturally more complicated than the current one, but not so much that a few minutes of fiddling doesn’t fix.

There’s other trick tech in here too. Look ahead of the steering wheel and you’ll find a head-up display and the world’s first 3D digital instrument panel. It’s a clever bit of kit that I can’t “trick” during my short time with it, but those that prefer a flat display will be happy to know it can be turned off.

First drive soon

Photo by Harry Zhou

So a static poke around the GV80 suggests the upstart will upset the established order when it lands later this year. With an entry price of $49,925 for a rear-drive four-pot in America including destination, it will seriously undercut rivals while maintaining a level of luxury buyers expect for that sort of sum. Canadians will be looking at $64,500 to hop in—though part of that has to do with standard all-wheel drive and added features. But the most important question remains: how does it drive?

Like it did to so many other car launches this year, COVID-19 delayed the GV80’s roll-out too. We’ll be getting behind the wheel soon though, and then we’ll really know for sure whether or not Genesis has another hit on its hands. Based on this latest meeting with the GV80 however, and the young brand’s track record, we wouldn’t bet against it.

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Kyle Patrick
Kyle Patrick

Kyle began his automotive obsession before he even started school, courtesy of a remote control Porsche and various LEGO sets. He later studied advertising and graphic design at Humber College, which led him to writing about cars (both real and digital). He is now a proud member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), where he was the Journalist of the Year runner-up for 2021.

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