2021 Genesis G80 Review: First Drive

Clean-sheet second-gen luxury sedan is a sophomore smash.

Life moves at a different pace up in Muskoka, Canada.

Ontario’s cottage country is so much more removed from the hustle and bustle of Toronto than the two hours’ drive suggests. Up here, in more typical times, there’d be folks lounging on docks in the chairs named after the region. But it’s November, so most people I come across are in big trucks not even approaching the speed limit. And the 2021 Genesis G80 is tugging at the leash.

Waiting for another one of the area’s great driving roads to clear, the scene serves up a timely contrast. As a brand, Genesis has been moving at relative light speed: it didn’t even exist five years ago. Yet here’s its latest mid-size sedan, a ground-up rethink that is every inch the measure of the dominant Germans in the class. The 2021 G80 is pampering, involving, and genuinely covetable—but at a price that won’t break the bank.

Merging athletic and elegant

The 2021 G80 is the first second-generation model for the brand. That’s allowed it to forge its own design path, breaking away from the Hyundai-based design of the original. Instead, the G80 is all about what Genesis calls Athletic Elegance. We’ve already seen the twin-bar light motif on the GV80—which shares the same platform—and it works here too. Lead designer SangYup Lee is a fan of using masking tape to show how those lines stretch the length of the car, from the headlights, through the side indicators/vents, and terminating in the taillights. Genesis’ Jarred Pellat says the goal is to make the G80 instantly identifiable on the road, from any angle, and I can’t imagine anybody mistaking it for anything else.

SEE ALSO: 2021 Genesis GV80 Review: First Drive

The family looks translate incredibly well to the different form factor of the G80. The lines emphasize the sedan’s width, visually lowering the whole package. Genesis has given the G80 a fastback profile, resulting in a sportier shape than the more upright 5 Series, E-Class, and A6, but keeping a traditional trunk. Wheels are either 19s or 20s depending trim, including some awesomely intricate multi-spoke deals. Genesis isn’t afraid to get a little outré.

It’s the same case with the interior, which is adventurous and sumptuous in equal measure. There’s a real wraparound quality to the doors and dashboard, helping me feel cocooned away from the frosty temps outside. A thin strip of open-pore wood splits the leather dashboard, offering a bit of tactile delight when your hand searches for the engine start button. In fact, just about everything in here feels good to the touch. There are knurled dials everywhere, and they all have consistent weighting. The intricate design on the massaging front seats looks great too. I defy anybody to find a more detail-oriented cabin for this price.

Back-row riders won’t feel short-changed either. There’s class-leading legroom back here, and a powered rear glass curtain—plus side ones on the Prestige. Even with that sharply raked rear glass, there’s enough storage space in the trunk for a long trip to the cottage.

Distinguished road manners

Back to the back of this truck I’ve been staring at for the last few miles. I’m in the top-of-the-line G80 3.5T AWD Prestige. Just like the GV80, it uses an enlarged 3.5-liter V6. With the aid of two turbos, it spits out 375 horsepower and 391 lb-ft, which is bang-on with the competitive set. It produces that power in a subtly different manner to the SUV though, lending it just a hint more sporting character. It’s an ample amount of shove, because as soon as the dotted line appears, the G80 is around the dawdler before you can say “advanced all-wheel drive.”

SEE ALSO: 2018 BMW 5 Series Review

The eight-speed auto transmission is a flawless dance partner here, selecting the right gear for the job and barely letting you know when it’s between them. Switching the drive mode over to Sport forces the G80 to hold gears for longer. You can also take on conductor duties via the wheel-mounted paddle shifters, with reasonably quick shifts with each pull.

As fun as it is to hustle the G80 around the bends—thanks to a curb weight some 220 lb (100 kg) lighter than before, and well-weighted steering—both the car and driver are happiest at a cruising pace. The G80 wafts along up here, the adaptive suspension smoothing the broken pavement without letting much noise inside the cabin. Hop on the highway and the experience is similarly near-silent, thanks to acoustically-laminated glass (on all trims).

SEE ALSO: 2021 Hyundai Sonata N Line Review: First Drive

I also spend some time in the 2.5T. It’s a good engine too—it was a blast in the Sonata N Line the week before—but it can’t match the effortless power of the V6. It does save at the pumps though: the EPA says the AWD 2.5T will do 25 mpg average, while the six-pot manages just 21. Its ride is more cosseting still, thanks to the 19-inch wheels’ taller sidewalls, but the tradeoff is a slightly more floaty ride over undulations.

Smart tech majors on user-friendliness

Lending the G80 a true next-generation feeling is its main infotainment system. Genesis has developed its own interface here, and it’s an elegant, powerful example of the breed. It also has a lot of screen real estate to work with, at 14.5 inches across. The whole setup functions as a touch screen, but you can also use a dial on the center console, including handwriting recognition. Responsive and fast, the system is easy to learn. If you’d rather stick to your mobile, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are of course both supported too.

Prestige models include Genesis’ very cool three-dimensional digital instrument display. It looks natural, and gives the car a very Iron Man vibe from behind the wheel. Not your bag? Simply turn the effect off.

Every single G80 trim includes a gaggle of driver assists, including forward collision-avoidance assist, lane keep and follow assists, blind-spot warning, and rear cross-traffic alert. An available parking exit assist alerts drivers of oncoming cars (or cyclists) as they leave a parallel spot. Not just in the nearest lane, but from one over.

The G80 also includes the latest edition of Highway Drive Assist, which works without issue on our mostly dry test route. An adaptive cruise control uses a segment-first machine learning feature. Our day drive isn’t enough for it to glean our habits, but Pellat tells us drivers can expect to see the G80 mirroring their driving habits within about a week.

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Verdict: 2021 Genesis G80 First Drive Review

I’ve gone this far without mentioning that all-important price. The G80 starts at just $48,725 for a rear-drive 2.5T in the USA—in basic white, as every other color costs $400. Canada has it a little tougher, needing $66,000 CAD to get in the door. That’s for the well-equipped 2.5T AWD Advanced, which goes for roughly $57,000 in America. The top-shelf 3.5T AWD Prestige tested here is $69,075 ($76,000 CAD). Across the whole trim line, you’re looking at thousands more from the competition to match the G80’s equipment.

It’s a shame the G80 is destined to be a bit player in terms of sales. Not just in its segment, but within Genesis’ own lineup: the GV80 SUV is expected to account for roughly half the brand’s sales here in crossover-happy North America. The G80 is an accomplished, opulent mid-sizer, and in some ways even more impressive than its SUV sibling. Folks shopping for a luxury mid-size sedan owe it to themselves to check this one out.

If this is how far the Korean brand has come in just four years, the next four should be very exciting. As for the German establishment? They can ignore Genesis at their own peril, but doing so may see them all wind up like the trucks in Muskoka: passed.

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