If first impressions of the 2020 Genesis GV80 are anything to go by, the fledgling South Korean luxury marque has knocked this oh-so important foray into SUV out of the stadium.
In one sense, it’s fulsome and downright different enough to be able to lure premium SUV buyers away from the usual European suspects on critical merit – brand cache notwithstanding. Yet, in the much larger and perhaps more significant context, it demonstrates, in metal and leather, a big lunge forward in delivering models to match its lofty brand aspirations.
The Genesis GV80 looks, feels and even smells like New Genesis. Like its G-something four-doors before it were a practice run.
At the SUV’s global premiere in Seoul, South Korea, where we got to drive the machine just hours after it was unveiled to the world, the company’s heavyweights went to some length in promising that its fresh-faced family hauler sets the mould for models moving forward in everything from core design to execution in detail.
Is this suddenly, almost magically, the new benchmark for luxury large SUVs, no less from a marque that arrived just five year ago? Probably not. I can tell you it won’t have the roomiest cabin in segment, that a Volvo XC90 is better packaged, and it's questionable how frugal its diesel engine option is or how much luggage either of the five- or seven-seat formats offer (Genesis didn’t even have figures on hand).
But what is certain is that the GV80 is bold, inspired and unlike any logical competitor for sheer appeal and vibe. And the ‘Korean spec’ flagship examples we drove in Seoul were so overflowing with features and niceties that half of the goodies didn’t even rate a mention in the long-form press material.
Some are extremely handy, such as dual blind-spot camera feeds into the digital dash, ala Honda Lanewatch, if five times better and clearer. Some are novel and daft: such as ambient ‘mood sound’ to augment the mood lighting. And other stuff - such as the first-to-third-row intercom, so you don’t have to yell back to the kids – is downright inspired (if not a world first).
So there was a lot of ‘surprise and delight’, they call it, prodding around and discovering neat and weird little touches beyond the host of leading edge features Genesis chose to highlight and detail, such as the predictive adaptive damping that uses a camera to read the road ahead, the Benz-like ‘augmented reality’ navigation feature, the ‘active motion’ driver’s seat (with seven air pockets for constantly adjusted lumbar support), and the middle air-bag (of ten fitted) that inflates between the two first-row seats.
That’s not to mention the big, obvious stuff such as an all-new ‘M3’ rear-drive-oriented platform – also slated for forthcoming new G80 sedan – and, oh yes, a whole new 3.0-litre straight-six turbo-diesel engine development.
Yes, Genesis threw everything plus the proverbial kitchen sink at the GV80s, at least the version we drove, and it’s quite remarkable the company had well over one hundred examples on hand to sample on South Korean roads one afternoon and yet so little information about this SUV leaked into the public forum prior to its global unveiling that morning.
Of course, it’s so easy to get excited about an almost completely unknown vehicle that reveals itself with so much stuff, and so much of it meeting or exceeding expectation, to fawn over.
It’s a characterful machine in the metal, a little Bentley here and Volvo there if you squint hard enough, but it owns its adventurous styling confidently, particularly on top-spec 22-inch wheels. The grille is humongous, the new Genesis signature Quad Lamp LED lighting is inspired, and while the long bonnet and triangulated D-pillar do inevitably impact outright packaging and outward visibility from row three, concessions to pragmatism here and there would merely homogenize the stylistic form.
There’s a host of full gloss and satin paint finish choices and, to this scribe’s eyes, the semi-gloss effect mostly compliments the brawny, crease-heavy bodylines.
In terms of synergy and design integration, the interior is more inspired. And while it might pinch some inspiration from other marques – Jaguar transmission dial and TFT climate control display, Audi-esque horizontal air vent format – it looks and feels uniquely Genesis in combined effect and is vastly cleaner, simpler and more modern than any Korean sedan to proceeded it. Everything is logically arranged, ergonomically sound and from every item of switchgear to the patterned (probably leatherette) lower door trims, it’s conspicuously upmarket, with no obvious concession to corner cutting in presentation and materials.
Take the huge, pin-sharp 14.5-inch touchscreen, for instance. I’m not alone in having kicked previous Genesis models for Hyundai hand-me-down infotainment, but this new and impossibly slick format is a quantum leap forward, if hampered somewhat with its finger-pad console controller.
Then there’s that two-spoke steering wheel: not the prettiest or most grip-friendly direction finder, but a bold statement of this car’s point of difference and a spirit to thumb its nose at convention and trends. The fact that this cabin design couldn’t be more of an antithesis to the overly fussy and convoluted directions premium German carmakers are heading, is one of this New Genesis’s most appealing traits.
The cabin is cosier than pictures might otherwise suggest, but the row-two accommodation has split-sliding seating and can be adjusted for generous legroom. There's also power-fold remote control for row three access, for seatback stowage to maximize luggage space, and row two can be reclined from the driver’s seat if rear passengers happen to fall asleep in transit. It really is brimming with thoughtful touches and clever solutions, few of them truly original if rarely executed quite so impressively.
I spent a long time trying to find something, anything to nitpick about. Perhaps the door bins could be flocked. And the alloy-look console controls are prone to finger smudges. Yes, I know, not much to gripe home about. But row three is very tight, mostly in quite limited headroom, and there are certainly friendlier options out there if you’re regularly using all seven seating positions.
On the road, what strikes you is just how quiet it drives and how nicely it rides. The GV80 features quite sophisticated active noise cancelling, but how little thrum you hear from those huge 265mm-wide Michelins is remarkable. We are, however, keenly aware that the road loop chosen for the launch is comprised largely of smooth Korean motorways with a smattering of urban driving, so it remains to be seen how it fares on coarser and rougher surfaces back home.
The suspension is strange, if in no negative way. The SUV wafts over undulations with a lot of compression movement, yet the damping settles the body very quickly. So much so that when you stick it hard into a corner – or, in this case, any one of Seoul’s many circular highway junctions – you expect excessive body lean and lack of body control. Yet the GV80 sits impressively flat and remains reassuringly neutral and composed. If there’s any markdown in the handling department, it’s that the steering feels a little aloof and the brake pedal is a touch spongy.
The powertrain is wonderful. It’s not the assertive if ample energy of the turbo-diesel straight six that impresses the most, but just how smooth and refined it is in operation and how impressively quiet it is on the move. Response is nice and crisp off the mark, downright lusty on the move, and its tied to Genesis’s proprietary eight-speed auto which is so seamless in swapping ratios that you have to eyeball the tacho to see that it does so at all.
Outputs of 207kW and 588Nm put it more in the high-power band of the luxury SUV segment and I’ll wager it’s going to be one of the finest out there, but evidence is that it likes to drink. Even on our mostly highway drive route, consumption was at best high eight litres per hundred.
We didn’t get to dig too deeply into the SUV’s myriad active smarts, including the adaptive cruise control’s facility to learn and adopt, to a degree, a particular driver’s habits. Or that it can reduce the cruising speed automatically to adhere to fixed speed camera locations before returning to the driver-selected speed afterwards.
If there’s one glaring call-out, it’s that the blind spot monitoring system is far too hyperactive – or, at least, too sensitive to deal with Seoul’s often chaotic traffic flow and near-suicidal lane-changing culture.
It’s evident that Genesis pulled out all stops on this all-new and oh-so crucial foray into SUVs. And it’s pretty obvious that this scribe is hugely impressed with both its execution and its boundary-pushing to come up with, as whole, something quite unique on the family-hauling landscape. At least, that is, on first impressions.
The really big question mark is whether the GV80 can maintain its mojo in local spec, with local pricing, once the broader range arrives in Australia around July this year. Only then will we see how ‘special’ this SUV is with alternative petrol-power, localised suspension tune, and with genuine standard equipment levels across different variant grades.
It’s not hard to assume the Aussie range might tip in at the mid-$80k mark and I’m keener than anyone to see how fighting fit a more basic version might be.
The gut feeling is that so much of the GV80’s goodness is actually intrinsic to its core that it’d take some effort to strip that out of the equation to create a ‘cheap’ version. And if this the first true taste of a New Genesis moving forward, it should serve the company’s brand aspirations just nicely.