Located about an hour and a half north of San Francisco, California’s Napa Valley is a magical place that’s adored by wine aficionados the world over.
Engine: 3.3L twin-turbo V6
Output: 365 hp, 376 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
US Fuel Economy (MPG): 17 city, 25 hwy, 20 combined (RWD)/17 city, 24 hwy, 20 combined AWD
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 13.8 city, 9.7 hwy, 11.9 combined
US Price: $56,225, incl. delivery (RWD), $58,725 (AWD)
CAN Price: $62,000 (AWD only)
Hundreds of estates dot this valley’s 30-mile length, with untold acres of vine blanketing practically every flat parcel of land, and plenty of hillsides as well. It’s truly a sight to behold, as grapes of all variety roll from horizon to horizon like a verdant throw rug cast down from heaven.
Ritzy without feeling oppressively haughty, this oenophile’s paradise is an ideal backdrop for introducing upscale vehicles. Automakers are keen on hosting drive programs in Napa because of its breathtaking local scenery, agreeable weather, and surfeit of high-end hotels. The region’s abundance of circuitous and well-maintained roads doesn’t hurt, either, providing an excellent proving ground.
A Perfect Pairing
Genesis is the luxury segment’s newest player, serving as South Korean automaker Hyundai’s premium division. It launched as a standalone subsidiary just one year ago and has only been selling cars for 10 months. Not wanting for ambition, this brand’s leadership team set its sights on established players like BMW, Lexus, and Cadillac. Despite Genesis’ new-carmaker smell, it stands a good chance of stealing sales away from these rivals and others.
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Leading the charge into hostile territory is the new 2018 Genesis G80 Sport. On paper at least, this 5 Series-sized sedan has the features and refinements needed to compete with established nameplates. Bold design, an upscale cabin, muscular drivetrain, and plenty of standard amenities also means this four-door is a perfect fit in Napa Valley.
The Merlot Down
Compared to the standard G80, Sport models benefit from numerous enhancements, not the least of which is a large mesh grille, which dominates the car’s front end, giving it an intrepid appearance. This alone should make the G80 Sport stand out in a segment known for its design conservatism. There are also black exterior mirror caps, new sill extensions and a reworked rear bumper punctuated by quad exhaust tips.
For added style, 19-inch rims are standard and about a pound lighter than the same-sized wheels offered on non-sport models. A host of wispy spokes partially obscure meatier 13-inch front brake rotors that help provide fade-resistant stops with firm pedal feel.
Naturally, a host of changes have been made inside the G80 Sport. Carbon fiber trim gives the cabin a technical feel, ditto for the black suede headliner. More generously bolstered bucket seats hug the driver and front passenger during aggressive maneuvers and are dressed up with copper-hued contrast stitching, a signature Genesis design element.
The G80 Sport’s interior is well laid out and spacious, with cushy accommodations and mostly well-placed controls. Even persons of the larger persuasion should find its back bench roomy in all three dimensions. The trunk is equally spacious, measuring more than 15 cubic feet.
Build quality in the models we evaluated was without fault, though the center stack’s design and some associated plastics – both of the hard and soft varieties – are decidedly more Elantra than E-Class, though nothing you see or touch on a daily basis seems oppressively inexpensive.
Cult-Wine Quality, Jug-Wine Pricing
In typical Hyundai fashion, the G80 features plenty of standard equipment. Desirable amenities like rear cross-traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, lane-keep assist and automatic high-beams are included. All these items are extra-cost options on the Mercedes-Benz E300, BMW 530i, Volvo S90 and Cadillac CTS.
Sport models also come with a standard 9.2-inch touchscreen navigation display, multi-view camera, full LED headlamps that illuminate corners when the steering wheel turns and wireless device charging. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are part of the deal.
When it comes to pricing, the G80 Sport represents a strong value. The base rear-wheel-drive model is priced to sell, starting at $56,225, including $975 in freight charges. That’s only a couple grand more than a stripped-down E-Class or 5 Series, both of which feature four-cylinder engines. Opt for all-wheel drive in this Genesis (and you should! More on this later) and plan on spending about $3,500 more.
[Note: In Canada, all Genesis G80 Sport models come standard with AWD. Pricing is an all-inclusive $62,000. That price includes all freight and delivery fees, valet service, complimentary scheduled maintenance, map updates and more for 5 years or 100,000 km.]
See, Swirl, Sniff, Start
Ensuring the G80 Sport can outrun rivals is a refined and muscular twin-turbocharged V6. With a piston-swept area measuring 3.3-liters, this engine is rated at 365 horsepower with torque maxing out at 376 lb-ft. Along with numerous advanced engineering details, sodium-filled exhaust valves keep heat in check, helping provide longer life and better performance.
Non-sport versions of the G80 are offered with a base 3.8-liter V6 or sonorous 5.0-liter V8, though all versions of the car feature a Hyundai-designed eight-speed automatic transmission. Swift and speedy, this torque-multiplier never failed to respond, neither did it miss any gear changes during our testing.
The transmission’s tuning is spot on, though the choice of using an electronic gear selector is a curious one. Shift-by-wire technology can usefully improve interior storage space by relocating the gear selector to a small corner of the dashboard rather than leaving it on the center console where it gobbles up precious real estate. Still, this is the place Hyundai engineers opted to put their fiddly shifter. Why bother with all this electronic hoopla if you’re not going to take full advantage of it? A push-button gear selector or rotary knob would be preferable.
The Drive: Cabernet Sauvign-YAWN?
Not surprisingly, the Genesis G80 Sport accelerates like a cannon ball. The engine hits peak torque at just 1,300 rpm, which remains at the party until four-and-a-half grand on the rev counter. This mesa-flat torque “curve” provides instant performance at any elevation, grade or load.
As mentioned, rear- or all-wheel drive is offered in this car, but – and this was rather a shock – examples equipped with four-corner traction are noticeably better to drive. Usually, the opposite is true as this technology adds undesirable complexity and mass.
Rear-drive models exhibit a bizarre handling quirk that makes them feel like each end of the car is completely separate. Turn into a corner and the front responds but the rear doesn’t immediately follow; there’s an odd split-second delay, which does nothing to build driver confidence.
These cars also seem to rotate with unexpected ease. Prod the accelerator mid-corner and the back will slide, which can be tons of fun if you know what you’re doing. Also, in our testing with the stability control system on the G80 never got out of hand or felt dangerous, it’s merely willing to have a little fun,
All-wheel-drive models feel much more planted and stable, exhibiting none of these handling quirks. Depending on conditions, they can send up to 90 percent of the engine’s torque rearward for enhanced hoonage, though they are much less likely to oversteer.
No matter which version you choose, this Genesis’ steering is dull and uninvolving; it’s definitely the car’s weakest dynamic element. Even the chunky, Sport-exclusive wheel provides no sense of how much grip the front tires have, nor does it give you any sense of the road surface beneath you. This makes the Sport a point-and-shoot kind of car, not a finely balanced dancer.
The G80’s ride quality is supple without being sloppy. It does exhibit a wisp of body roll through tight corners but this is hardly a concern. Over rough or rain-battered pavement it remains mostly unperturbed.
If improved handling isn’t reason enough to opt for all-wheel drive here’s another. The system has minimal impact on fuel consumption. Rear-drive models sticker at 17 miles per gallon city and 25 highway, scores that result in a rating of 20 mpg combined. Snap up an example with four-corner traction and the highway rating goes down by one. That’s it; city and combined ratings are identical.
The Verdict: 2018 Genesis G80 Sport Review
So it is yay or chardon-nay? The 2018 Genesis G80 Sport is a welcome addition to the midsize luxury sedan segment. While not a best-in-class offering, rivals are probably more fun to drive and refined, it’s nonetheless a strong value thanks to its spacious interior, rapid acceleration, and generous warranty coverage. In fact, the powertrain is guaranteed for 10 years or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first; there’s also complimentary scheduled maintenance with valet service for the first three years of ownership. Perks like these are hard to argue with, especially for the price. Thanks to coverage like this, the G80 Sport should age gracefully, just like a fine Napa Valley wine.
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