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2021 Genesis G80 Preview: Hands On With the Korean 5 Series Fighter

Lately the Genesis G80 has been the Rodney Dangerfield of the Korean brand’s lineup: it don’t get no respect. The second-generation model should change that.

A lot rode on the first G80’s broad shoulders. It launched the Genesis brand for 2017, though really, it was a rebadged Hyundai Genesis rather than a new model. The luxury marque has expanded since, with the larger, plusher G90 and the smaller, sportier G70. The G80 has shrunk into the background, overshadowed by its younger siblings as well as the brand’s first SUV, the upcoming GV80.

Now 2021 is the time for the mid-size sedan to shine. A second-generation model is coming, a clean-sheet design sharing its platform with its GV80 big brother. Earlier this summer we got to spend part of an afternoon with them both (check out our GV80 coverage here). While we weren’t able to take either new Genesis model out on the road—soon, soon—here’s what we gleaned from our first hands-on experience with the new G80 sedan.

Goodbye old looks, hello twin bars

Photo by Harry Zhou

The second-generation G80 will be the first Genesis sedan to get a full redesign under the brand’s new design direction. The G90 offered a taste, but it was a facelift of an existing model. In the metal, the 2021 G80 has a more organic look than either of its sedan siblings. The gently curving shoulder line—the “parabolic line” in Genesis parlance—gives it a graceful stance, with the sloping roofline stretching nearly to the tail, exaggerating the rear shoulder.

Genesis Canada’s Jarred Pellat was on hand to walk us through this first meeting with the G80. Pellat, who is fluent in Korean, kicks off about the G80’s design language, which the brand calls Athletic Elegance. He starts, as one would expect, with the front, the “face” of the car. “If you look really closely, the crest grille and the quad lamps, which are the two main elements, are derived from the Genesis winged emblem,” explains Pellat. “So you can see the grille comes from the shield, and you have the two lines come out from the wings. And the two lines aren’t just in the quad lamps in the front, they carry all the way through the side of the vehicle—if I put the turn signal on—you can see how it’s nicely aligned, and then it carries all the way right to the back. You’ve got this really cohesive design, we’re very happy with it.”

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

As we move around to the tail, the G80’s Sportback-like proportions are clear. The integrated spoiler and negative space in the back deck are inspired by the American and European sports cars of the 1960s: designer SangYup Lee was responsible for Bumblebee and the C6 Corvette during his previous stint at GM.

This new G80 has presence. The current model is handsome enough, but fairly anonymous. Spot one on the road, and you might ask yourself what it is. With this new twin-line identity, Genesis is banking on a different response: no matter which angle you see the car from, you’ll be able to immediately ID it as a Genesis.

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Genesis isn’t abandoning sedans

Photo by Harry Zhou

“I had someone this morning say to me ‘sedans are dead, what are you doing with sedans?’ muses Pellat as we poke around the G80. His response: “I said ‘you’re right, sales volume may be shrinking. But there are still a lot of consumers out there who want a car that is more about that driving experience, but still has that versatility and functionality that you’re not compromising in terms of rear-seat passenger space or storage space.'”

We talk about servicing the more nuanced needs of luxury buyers. The GV80 is for someone who wants slightly more space and an elevated driving position. It’s easier to get in and out of, and the extra ride height will provide peace of mind for those in snowier climes. But importantly, Genesis acknowledges that people want choice: if they prefer the traditional, more connected feeling of a sport sedan and a brand doesn’t even offer that, then that’s a lost sale. So it follows, then, that the addition of the GV80 helps define the G80’s role in the lineup more clearly.

SEE ALSO: 2020 Genesis G70 Review

And hey, it’s not like that swoopy roofline eats into storage space: the G80 will still swallow four golf bags.

Reading between the lines, it’s also understood—if not outright stated, a la Acura—that a company needs to keep at least one foot in sedan territory if it wants to lay claim to any sort of dynamic strength.

Tons of tech, including segment-firsts

Photo by Harry Zhou

The G80’s interior manages to cram a lot of tech into a very minimal design. The big 14.5-inch touchscreen is where the eye gravitates first, but let your eyes move down and there are still physical buttons. The 80-series vehicles will introduce the first major rethink of the Genesis infotainment system since the brand launched, and it represents a challenging tightrope for the Korean brand to walk. How do you increase the breadth of abilities while maintaining ease of use?

For Genesis, the answer is in multiple input devices. “Sure it’s not as simple as it once was, but we’ve built enough different inputs into it,” says Pellat. “Want to use a touchscreen? Cool. You don’t want to use a touchscreen? It’s too big, too far away? No problemo, we’ve got you with the scroll wheel and the control pad.” There are gesture controls too, and the control pad accepts handwriting. The scroll wheel is immensely satisfying to use, clicking like an old iPod dial, and that same tactility exists in things like the door-mounted mirror controls. It produces a sense of consistency, of a symbiotic relationship between all of the controls.

SEE ALSO: 2020 Genesis G90 Review: a Second Crack at Premium Luxury

A similar sense of consistency applies to the G80’s 3D digital instrument panel: the consistency of providing drivers with options. If you don’t like the 3D feel, you can just turn it off. Same with the HUD.

Genesis will introduce a number of brand-firsts with the G80 and GV80. An available electronically-controlled suspension works in concert with nose-mounted sensors to pre-emptively adjust the suspension ahead of bumps, for example. Plain ol’ adaptive cruise control doesn’t cut it here: instead, Genesis is giving it machine learning, allowing the G80 to learn your driving habits and more closely mimic them when ACC is active. There’s also the second iteration of the company’s Highway Driving Assist, which will now execute lane changes with only the activation of the turn signal.

The best of both worlds

Photo by Harry Zhou

There’s a reason the G80 launched the Genesis brand a handful of years ago. It represented the ideal blend of what the fledgling brand wanted to offer customers. Pellat explains:

“Genesis is really, with these two products [G80 and GV80], coming into our own in terms of developing a very clear and distinct brand identity,” explained Pellat. “As you know, it’s called ‘Athletic Elegance’, and this is the next evolution of that. It’s really important to understand Athletic Elegance in that G80 sits at the core of our sedan lineup, it’s our mid-size executive sedan. If you made a spectrum from athletic to elegant, G80 would sit right in the middle. So it’s the best of both worlds.

“The G80 is in the right space to deliver: elegant, in that it’s comfortable, it’s functional, and it looks great; and athletic, in the sense that it’s still really fun to drive. Both engines it comes with, the 2.5T is a four-cylinder, turbocharged, but it’s still making 300 horsepower, which is pretty crazy for a four-cylinder engine. And then the V6, 3.5 twin-turbocharged engine, 375-horsepower. I think we’re striking a good balance.”

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First drive later this autumn

Photo by Harry Zhou

The realities of a global pandemic have meant a delayed roll-out of both the G80 sedan and GV80 SUV. We’ve been looking forward to driving both since their respective reveals early in the year, and thankfully the time is almost here. Pellat and Genesis Canada Brand Director Richard Trevisan both confirmed that the first drives would happen a little after the leaves start turning colors. Customers can also expect the new models in dealerships and experience centers before the end of the year. Trevisan was happy to report that initial GV80 reservations are vastly outpacing any previous model too.

American prices for the G80 will begin at $48,725, including destination, for a rear-drive four-cylinder model. Graduate to the top-shelf 3.5-liter all-wheel drive model in Prestige trim and you’ll need $68,675. The Canadian lineup kicks off with the $66,000 CAD G80 2.5T Advanced AWD, moving up to $76,000 CAD for the 3.5T Prestige AWD.

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