This is going to be a big model year for Genesis, the high-line Hyundai spinoff just launching its first SUV, the GV80. But there’s another critical new model rolling into showrooms right about now, the G80 sedan.
“The core of our brand lies within the G80,” Genesis chief William Lee said when the automaker pulled the wraps off the new model earlier this year. It was, in fact, the marque’s first offering, its roots going back to the sedan called Genesis when it was still part of the Hyundai brand. But for 2021, what is now the Genesis G80 gets a complete makeover, complete with updated styling, a more dynamic driving experience and plenty of additional high-tech safety and infotainment technology.
Overview: The upstart Genesis brand has plenty of challenges ahead of it in an already crowded and highly competitive new car market. Things are even more complicated considering that, until the arrival of the GV80 utility vehicle, the marque’s line-up consisted entirely of sedans in an SUV-crazed market.
Demand for “three-box” models won’t vanish entirely, however, and for those who’ve had their eyes focused on German brands like Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, or Japanese imports like Lexus and Infiniti, the G80 is worth pausing for a closer look. As appealing as the initial sedan was, the 2021 Genesis offering takes things to a new level.
Exterior: The new sedan picks up on key styling details first seen on the bigger G90 launched last year — as well as the GV80 SUV. That starts with the distinctive split-quad headlamps that frame an enlarged version of the Genesis crest grille.
The G80’s long hood flows into a sweeping, coupe-like roofline and fastback rear that brings to mind the latest Audi A7. A single “parabolic” accent line flows from nose to tail — a design cue also found on the GV80. “It’s all about simplicity,” design chief SangYup Lee suggested during a recent Zoom call. Bulging arches frame the sedan’s 20-inch chromed wheels.
“… The split/quad headlamps are echoed by marker lights on the front quarter-panel and, again, in the taillights. The twin exhaust pipes, meanwhile, pick up on the shape of the Genesis crest grille …”
Interior: While smaller than the flagship G90 that recently got its own makeover, one of the big surprises with the midsize G80 is just how roomy it is inside. There’s plenty of leg and headroom for four or five passengers, even with the sloping, coupe-like roofline, Genesis engineers slightly lowering the rear seats compared to the outgoing model.
Inside, the 2021 sedan gets upgraded details that align it closer to the top-line G90. The instrument panel flows low and wide, a horizontal layout enhanced by the new air vent design. The instrument panel features a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster and a 14.5-inch broad infotainment screen topping the center stack.
The plushly upholstered front “motion seats” feature seven air cells that subtly change shape while driving, Genesis says, to improve comfort and reduce fatigue on long trips. Two- and three-zone control systems are available.
From a more classic luxury perspective, the new G80 features a range of different interior material choices, including a premium leather package and open-pore woods.
Powertrain: With the departure of the 3.3-liter V-6 in the old G80, the new “base” engine becomes a turbo-4 displacing 2.5 liters, making 300 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque. The upgrade is a 3.5-liter turbo V-6 punching that up to 375 hp and 391 lb-ft.
Both engines are now paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive is available as an option with both drivetrains. Fuel economy comes in at a combined 26 mpg for the 3.3-liter V-6 with rear-wheel drive, 25 for the all-wheel-drive option. For the 3.5-liter package, it’s 22 and 21 mpg, respectively.
In Europe and some other overseas markets, G80 buyers can order a 2.2-liter diesel but, for now, there are no plans to bring it to the U.S.
Genesis, like its mainstream sibling Hyundai, is planning some big moves when it comes to electrified powertrain technology. We would not be surprised to find the marque adding some form of hybrid package during the lifecycle of this new G80 sedan.
Technology and Safety: There’s plenty of technology onboard, starting with the reconfigurable cluster, large touchscreen and big head-up display. It also includes both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A smartphone app allows a driver to monitor and control vehicle functions, such as locking and unlocking doors, remotely.
Genesis is rapidly migrating to digital key technology which allows a driver to use their smartphone instead of the key fob to enter, operate and then lock the vehicle.
“… With the G80, a motorist also can push a button, step out and have the sedan remotely park itself …”
Automatic emergency braking and blind-spot collision avoidance are among the many advanced driver assistance features. Genesis also notes a “Machine Learning” feature allows the sedan to learn and mimic a motorist’s driving style, while the “Highway Driving Assist II” feature automatically changes lanes with a tap of the turn signal.
There are plenty of advanced driver assistance systems integrated into the new sedan, such as the Highway Driving Assist II package that can operate virtually hands-free and even execute a pass simply by tapping the turn signal. Genesis also notes a “Machine Learning” feature allows the sedan to learn and mimic a motorist’s driving style, using that to control its active cruise control system. With more aggressive drivers, for example, that will change the way the car brakes and accelerates when cruise is active.
Like so many new models, the G80 now is capable of smartphone-style over-the-air updates though, to our surprise, that currently can be used only for the onboard navigation software.
Drive Impressions: With the Hyundai empire including one of the world’s largest metal producers, the company has always been big on steel. The 2021 Genesis G80 features more of the latest high-strength alloy than ever, but also uses quite a bit of aluminum in its doors, fenders and other parts. That yields a weight savings of more than 240 pounds compared to the old model.
Add new strut braces, a new rear subframe and other body and chassis enhancements and the G80 achieves not only better fuel economy but improvements in both acceleration and handling, as we discovered, taking the new sedan out to our favorite test site passing through the aptly named Hell, Michigan. The smaller Genesis G70 sedan won the coveted North American Car of the Year trophy a couple years back, largely due to its nimble ride and handling. The bigger G80 now delivers a similarly enticing drive experience.
It has a nice, hunkered-down feeling, especially in sport mode, with surprisingly little body roll, even in tight corners. Steering is precise and predictable, with a nicely balanced road feel. In comfort mode, the suspension on our test vehicle did a great job at smoothing out Michigan’s notoriously rough roads.
Wrap Up: When Hyundai first came to market more than 30 years ago it positioned itself as a bargain basement brand. By the time the original Hyundai Genesis sedan debuted it was trying to reposition itself as a “value” brand. Now, the luxury spinoff aims to downplay price and promote itself as a serious, direct competitor to its European and Asian rivals.
That said, Genesis still has a nice price advantage. The base 2021 Genesis G80 2.5T RWD Standard model starts at $47,700, the 3.5T RWD Standard bumping up to $59,100. (Add to those figures another $1,025 in delivery fees.) Absolutely loaded up, the 3.5T will nudge $67,650, according to Hyundai marketers. Though not quite an apples-to-apples comparison, the newly redesigned 2021 Mercedes-Benz E-Class starts at $54,250, while the 2021 BMW 5-Series starts at $54,200.
In the luxury market, cache matters, as does heritage. And that certainly plays to the advantage of the Europeans. But Genesis has plenty going for it, and the lower pricing is just the proverbial icing on the cake. The 2021 Genesis G80 is stylish, well-equipped from the start, fun to drive and, giving chase to Lexus, it has been scoring at or near the top of all the recent quality and reliability studies.
It’s going to take the Korean carmaker time to be taken seriously by highline buyers. But the 2021 G80 is another reason why it would be a mistake to ignore it.