Can the relaunched and rebranded Genesis G80 take the fight to the Lexus ES300h in the battle of plush sedans?
What’s the difference between a medium and large sedan? Going by the two contenders in this comparison, about 15mm.
But, while the G70 is hogging the headlines, Genesis has also, albeit more quietly, relaunched the G80. It’s not new, not by any stretch, first making its presence felt on our roads as the Hyundai Genesis back in 2014. If that seems old, it’s because it is. No surprise, then, there is an all-new G80 coming in 2020.
For now, though, there’s time for one last hurrah for the G80, this time devoid of any Hyundai badging. And it’s aimed squarely at BMW’s 5 Series, Merc’s E-Class, and the car we’re pitting it against here, the Lexus ES.
Except, according to Lexus, it’s not a rival. Y’see, while the G80 measures in at a hefty 4990mm long, placing it firmly in the large sedan segment, the Lexus ES is just 15mm shorter from nose to tail, at 4975mm. And according to Lexus, that makes it a medium sedan.
Just for fun, let’s look at some large sedan contenders that are shorter than Lexus’s medium ES. Audi A6? 4951mm. BMW 5 Series? 4936mm. Mercedes-Benz E-Class? 4925mm. Most tellingly perhaps, Lexus’s own ‘large’ sedan, the GS, measures in the shortest of this lot at just 4880mm, a full 95mm shorter from nose to tail than its own ‘medium’ segment ES. We could go on, but you get the idea.
Segment notwithstanding, what we have here is a classic showdown between two disruptors. One who has been harassing the Germans since 1989, and the other who is only now making a big play for the might of the Teutons.
Pricing and specifications
The Genesis G80 here is pretty much entry-level, lobbing into showrooms at $68,900 plus on-road costs. Our test car came fitted with the optional ($3000) panoramic roof making it a $71,900 proposition. Incidentally, that panoramic roof is the only cost-option to be had, with the nine-colour G80 palette all available as no-cost options. The next step in the range is the G80 Ultimate ($88,900), and then the range-topping G80 Ultimate Sport Design at a hefty $92,900.
The Lexus ES300h Sports Luxury lists at $74,888 and, as is the Lexus way, the only optional equipment is premium paint at $1500 a pop. Our test car was finished in standard-fitment Onyx, the only colour not commanding a premium. It’s the range-topper in the two-car ES300h line-up, the entry-level Luxury asking for $59,888.
So, at a smidge under $3K difference (in favour of the G80), the two combatants are closely – if not evenly – matched on price, size and equipment.
Common across the G80 and the ES300h are LED headlights and daytime running lights, 18-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, a 360-degree camera, DVD player, leather trim, and electrically adjustable seats for passenger and driver with memory function (although it should be noted both front seats in the Lexus score memory settings, while in the Genesis it’s only the driver who can set-and-forget seat settings).
Infotainment in the Genesis is anchored by a 9.2-inch screen with satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity and a 17-speaker premium audio system. The Lexus’s infotainment system is anchored by a 12.3-inch display with satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, and matches the Genesis with a 17-speaker premium sound system.
Both cars have wireless charging pads for phones but neither come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Genesis because it’s, well, old, and the Lexus, because, well, Lexus. It’s a glaring omission in both in these modern times, but to Lexus's credit, it will join the game (if markedly later than most rivals) by adding CarPlay and Android in October.
The Lexus scores a crisp head-up display, something the Genesis can’t match. Both cars feature a digital instrument display.
Both bring plenty of safety tech to the table, with the Lexus Safety System+ featuring autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, adaptive cruise control, 10 airbags, auto high beam, a 360-degree camera, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane-keeping assistance.
The Genesis matches the Lexus for the most part, although has one less airbag (nine against 10), and its lane-keeping function is a warning only, not an assistant as found in the ES300h. Both wear a five-star ANCAP rating, although it should be noted the G80’s was awarded in 2014, while the Lexus achieved its score in 2018.
Cabin comfort and tech
Same result, vastly different approaches.
There’s an inherent solidity to the G80’s interior – a reminder this ain’t no Hyundai, despite its lineage. It is, in a word, plush. But, it’s also looking a little dated, or, if you prefer, skewed towards an older buyer.
The combination of Sand Beige leather-appointed seats with Oak stripe woodgrain effect trimmings and genuine aluminium accents isn’t to everyone’s tastes. That said, the quality of materials and the fit and finish are excellent.
The electrically adjustable driver’s seat is supportive and comfortable, while both front pews offer heating, although not cooling. There’s a solidity to the steering wheel, too, and all the switchgear, on both the wheel and the centre console, are nicely damped. It all amounts to a solid, premium experience.
The G80’s infotainment system might not be the latest and greatest, but it works solidly and effortlessly. Pairing your device via Bluetooth is quick (there’s no smartphone mirroring, remember), while the screen itself is crisp and clear.
The G80’s back row again highlights the premium bent of the Genesis, with a generous amount of space and comfort. It does lack for creature comforts, though. There are air vents out back, but no separate climate controls and just a single USB charging point. The fold-down armrest hides a pair of cupholders, houses controls for the audio system and, strangely, controls for sliding and reclining the front passenger seat – for those times when you just want to be annoying.
Like the front, there are no bottle holders in the doors, merely small cubbies for smaller items like wallets and phones. And the rear seats don’t fold down to free up boot space (493L), although there is a ski port through the centre armrest. A space-saver spare hides under the boot floor.
Hopping into the Lexus highlights the Genesis’s ageing interior. It’s at once more modern, flashy even, with angles and design elements straight out of the Lexus playbook. Our test car was finished in Rich Cream accented-leather with Shimamoku Brown woodgrain trim. Unlike the tan interior of the G80, this colour combination oozes chic, although it’s worth pointing out the near-white leather seats were already showing signs of grubbiness. A good supply of leather cleaner and some elbow grease are must-have accessories for those opting for this colour combo.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive with plenty of adjustment, as well as heated and ventilated (the G80’s are only heated). Every touchpoint yields nicely under hand, adding to the premium ambience of the cabin. The steering wheel, too, feels solid in hand, and like the Genesis, the well-damped switchgear can’t be faulted.
What can be faulted (spoiler alert… Infotainment whinge coming up) is Lexus’s persistence with its fiddly, clunky and not entirely user-friendly touchpad controller to toggle through the system’s functions. It remains overly sensitive, making selecting the right option difficult at best, frustrating at worst.
Equally as frustrating is pairing a device via Bluetooth, the function for which is hidden in a series of submenus that necessitate more fiddling with the touchpad controller than any one person should have to endure. For those interested, to get your phone via Bluetooth you do not enter the Phone menu, but rather the Bluetooth Audio connection submenu where you connect your phone as a music device. Only from there can you then add it to the list of paired smartphones. Annoying. And counterintuitive.
The back row is the place to be in the ES300h – a plush affair with space aplenty and an ambience of luxury. The seats are heated in the second row, something the G80 doesn’t match, and adjustable for recline. Like the Genesis, a tech-laden fold down armrest offers audio controls, but the Lexus trumps the G80 for connectivity with two USB points and a 12V outlet for rear seat passengers.
The Lexus falls behind the G80 for boot space at 454L (against 493L), and like the Genesis the rear seats don’t fold down, with a ski port providing a small measure of load length. And, like the Genesis, the ES300h is equipped with a space-saver spare under the boot floor.
On the road
It’s under the bonnet where these two reasonably similar offerings differ the most.
The G80 gets its mumbo from a 3.8-litre naturally aspirated V6 with 232kW of power at 6000rpm and 397Nm of torque at 5000rpm. Those outputs are transmitted to the rear wheels via a slick eight-speed auto. Genesis provides no performance figures for the G80, but rest assured there’s plenty of grunt under foot from that atmo V6.
Acceleration from standstill is brisk and beautifully linear, the eight-speed auto barely perceptible as it rows through its cogs. And there’s plenty in reserve for overtakes when the need arises, the G80 leaping forward with a deft touch. And, as befitting a large sedan targeting the likes of Germany’s finest, the cabin remains whisper quiet. Genesis has done a great job of sound deadening, adding to what is already a luxury experience.
While eager on longer highway runs, the G80 is at its best around town where the drive experience remains effortless and cosseting. The outside world remains exactly that.
That feeling is only enhanced by the ride, which is at once supple, comfortable and refined. That’s in part because of the standard-fit adaptive suspension – new for this iteration having previously only been available overseas. And then there’s the famous local suspension tune tailored specifically for Australian conditions.
Our test car sat on 18-inch alloys with decent-sized rubber, and in tandem with the locally fettled set-up and adaptive suspension, the ride was, in a word, sublime. Minor road imperfections are dispatched with barely a ripple in the cabin, while larger hits are dealt with subtlety, the G80 quick to settle without wallowing or ‘porpoising’ as is often the case with larger cars like these.
The combination of powertrain and suspension tune all adds up to a refined driving experience, and exactly what buyers of this car would, we’d venture, expect.
The Lexus goes about its business in a different manner. For starters, there’s no grunty V6 under the long snout of the ES300h. Instead, its motivation comes from a combination of four-cylinder petrol power and electric motors, hence the ‘h’ in its model designation. For hybrid.
It’s a simple formula that Toyota-slash-Lexus has mastered, and mastered well. Primary power comes from a 2.5-litre, naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine running the more efficient Atkinson Cycle. That petrol unit alone is good for 131kW and 221Nm, but when teamed up with the ES300h’s magnet-electric motor with 88kW and 202Nm, overall outputs jump to 160kW/221Nm, and good enough for a claimed 0–100km/h sprint time of 8.9 seconds.
Drive is sent to the front wheels via Lexus’s CVT automatic, which does a decent job of selecting the right ‘gear’, although it’s not flawless. You can, if you want, opt to use the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, but changes are dripping with lethargy. Toggling through Eco, Normal and Sport drive modes does little to enhance the experience.
If that all sounds a little on the negative side, be assured the ES300h actually remains a comfortable and refined, not to mention frugal, large (okay, medium) sedan.
That’s thanks largely to the excellent characteristics of its hybrid drivetrain. Around town and in stop/start traffic, the Lexus is at its best when relying purely on its electric motor for drive. Whisper quiet, serene even, the petrol engine only kicks in when a dollop of throttle is applied for rapid acceleration or when speeds start to nudge 40km/h.
And it’s a seamless transition between battery motivation and petrol power, the ripples of combustion barely felt inside the cabin, and the ES300h just getting on with its business of providing a serene and comfortable drive experience.
That quietude is only enhanced by the excellent ride which, like its Genesis rival, is supple and smooth. MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link set-up at rear do a great job of ironing out imperfections, while larger bumps are likewise tackled with aplomb, the ES300h settling back into its rhythm quickly and with minimal fuss.
It all adds up to a plush experience, albeit with one caveat. As good as the hybrid drivetrain is around town and at slow traffic speeds, asking more of the 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine on the highway results in a slightly underwhelming experience. Whereas the G80 surges along effortlessly and with an intent appropriate to its large dimensions, the Lexus’s powertrain seems underdone in terms of performance. It really is at its peak in slower environs.
It’s a minor gripe, though, when a quick scan of the indicated fuel consumption hovers around 5.5L/100km. The Genesis, in comparison, sat on 12.1L/100km, while the best figure we saw on an extended highway run was 9.2L/100km.
On the surface, there’s a big win for the G80 in this department with Genesis offering five years’ complimentary scheduled servicing.
Additionally, Genesis’s Concierge service will see a technician collect the car from you – within a 70km radius of the CBD – and deliver you a loan car while your vehicle is in the workshop. Genesis backs the G80 with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
Lexus covers the ES300h with a four-year/100,000km warranty with scheduled services required every 12 months or 15,000km. Like Genesis, Lexus will pick up your car for its scheduled servicing, and like Genesis, Lexus also offers the use of a loan car.
Even better, the first service with Lexus is on the house. Beyond that, however, Lexus doesn’t offer capped-price servicing like the majority of its rivals, but did release some estimates late last year, revealing an average cost of just over $600 per scheduled trip to the hoist for the first four years.
There’s no question both of these cars fulfil their intended purpose and fulfil it well. Both offer levels of refinement and luxury beyond their sub-$100K pricepoint, albeit in very different manners.
The Genesis G80 is an impressive large sedan, with power to burn and refined road manners that would put some far more expensive cars to shame. But, it’s also an ageing beast – remember, there’s a new G80 due in 2020 – and that counts against it, especially when stacked up with the ES300h.
The Lexus, for its part, lacks some of the top-end performance offered by the G80, but its impeccable manners at more sedate speeds, coupled with its almost impossible-to-believe fuel consumption figures, are a big tick.
Its interior is better resolved, too, more modern in design with nicer materials than the G80, and the only black mark against it is Lexus’s insistence on persisting with the fiddly touchpad interface.
Get past that, and what you have is a luxury sedan that ferries you around in comfort and style – exactly what buyers in this segment are after.