Can the Genesis G80 repeat Lexus’s feat with its 1989 LS400 limo and send the German luxury brands back to the drawing board? We pit the premium Korean sedan against an E-Class to find out.
Can the Genesis G80 repeat Lexus’s feat with its 1989 LS400 limo and send the German luxury brands back to the drawing board? We pit the premium Korean sedan against an E-Class to find out.
In the Book of Genesis Motors, the G80 is Chapter 2. It follows the 2018 G70 mid-size sedan that was the proper beginning of Hyundai’s biggest commitment yet to taking on the established luxury brands, with its own Lexus-style premium division.
Here we have the all-new G80 that is not to be confused with the previous nameplate, which was simply a rebadged/restyled version of the Hyundai Genesis limousine – a decent model that between 2014 and 2017 dipped a toe in luxury-car waters without creating much of a ripple.
The G80 sits on Genesis’s M3 platform, shared with the GV80 SUV that has also now launched in Australia – and, along with the upcoming GV70 SUV, will inevitably be more pivotal to determining whether Genesis’s fortunes will follow those of either Lexus or Infiniti in this country.
The G80’s 3010mm wheelbase has ended up being coincidentally identical to that of the former Hyundai Genesis, while the new G80 is marginally longer (4995mm), 35mm wider and 15mm lower.
The previous models found their strongest popularity among chauffeurs, though the 2021 G80 has aspirations of finding buyers not just using HC numberplates.
The G80 is priced more ambitiously, starting from $84,990, whereas the Hyundai Genesis was as little as $60,000.
Here we have the flagship 2021 Genesis G80 3.5T AWD that costs from $99,900. Over the entry 2.5T it brings a twin-turbo V6 with all-wheel drive rather than a four-cylinder turbo and rear-drive combination. Our test car is the G80 at its most lavish and most sophisticated, featuring an optional $13,000 Luxury Package.
To truly test whether Hyundai has significantly ramped up its luxury credentials with the Genesis brand, we’re pitching it against the quintessential Mercedes-Benz – the E-Class.
The E-Class very much remains the German marque’s signature car despite the rampaging sales rise of its SUVs. It’s now five years since the 10-generation E-Class was released, though late 2020 saw the arrival of an updated version.
To get as close to our G80’s $112,990 total (before on-road charges), we have the 2021 Mercedes-Benz E300 sedan that’s priced from $117,900. Despite the badge suggesting a 3.0-litre six-cylinder, the E300 features a turbocharged four-cylinder.
PRICE AND EQUIPMENT
The Genesis approach to equipment is very similar to that of Lexus – impressing with a long list of standard features and minimising options.
That also includes minimising variants in the G80’s case, as there’s just one specification level divided into two engine offerings, though the V6 model also gains mechanical upgrades (detailed later) and larger, 20-inch wheels.
So, even the four-cylinder G80 has highlights including a 21-speaker, 1050-watt Lexicon by Harman audio system, 14.5-inch high-definition infotainment display, 12.0-inch head-up display, augmented-reality navigation, panoramic sunroof, hands-free boot lid, electrically adjustable steering wheel, heated/ventilated front seats, and genuine wood and leather for the interior.
The G80 looks and becomes even more sophisticated with the $13,000 Luxury Package, which adds more than 20 features including remote vehicle operation for parking, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, quilted nappa-leather upholstery, soft-close doors, extended electric front seat adjustment including cushion extender and posture assistance, and heated steering wheel.
Chauffeurs will be especially keen to note the enhanced rear-seat experience created by the option pack, which adds heating/ventilation to the outboard seats, an electric rear window blind, dedicated temperature control, a rear armrest console, and dual 9.2-inch entertainment screens.
The rear side window blinds remain manual, though (whereas they’re powered in the GV80).
|2021 Genesis G80 3.5T||2021 Mercedes-Benz E300 Sedan|
|Engine||3.5-litre six-cylinder turbo petrol||2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol|
|Power and torque||279kW at 5800rpm, 530Nm at 1300–5500rpm||190kW at 5800–6100rpm, 370Nm at 1800–4000rpm|
|Transmission||Eight-speed automatic||Nine-speed automatic|
|Drive type||All-wheel drive||Rear-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||10.7L/100km||8.0L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||9.5L/100km||10.0L/100km|
|Boot volume (rear seats up/down)||424L||540L|
|ANCAP safety rating||Not yet tested||5 stars (tested 2016)|
|Warranty||5 years/unlimited km||5 years/unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Lexus GS, Jaguar XF, Mercedes E-Class||Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Genesis G80, Lexus GS, Jaguar XF|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$112,900||$124,500|
The Mercedes E300’s upholstery is also real leather (an upgrade over the $96,900 E200’s artificial version), while carried over from the entry E200 are heated front seats, extensive LED cabin lighting, dual 12.3-inch displays for infotainment and instrument cluster, and it matches the G80 for electrically adjustable front seats and steering wheel.
The E300 also features 20-inch AMG wheels (to match the rim size of its rival) and advanced Multibeam LED headlights with 82 individually controllable LEDs compared with 32 for the G80’s Intelligent Front Lighting headlamp system that is also part of the Luxury Package.
Mercedes also equips the E300 with air suspension compared with steel springs for the G80, with both vehicles providing adaptive/selectable damping.
Both models include metallic paint (E300) or gloss paint (G80) as standard, with additional exterior treatments available for extra cost.
Drive-away pricing is $122,970 for the G80 Luxury and $127,999.50 for the E300. However, an important note is that Genesis is currently applying a non-negotiable approach to its pricing, whereas deal-making remains almost a tradition with virtually all luxury brands.
And an E300 prospect may want to do some haggling. To get closer to the G80 Luxury’s features, they would be looking at an extra outlay of nearly $20,000.
This includes the $6600 Vision Package (fitted to our test car) that adds a panoramic sunroof, head-up display and Burmester audio, while other options include augmented-reality nav, soft-close doors, rear entertainment pre-installation, and a $9500 Energising Package Plus for buyers who want enhanced cabin air quality, climate control and heating/ventilation for all seats.
A luxury-car challenger needs more than a generous equipment haul to help persuade buyers away from a traditional, deeply entrenched choice such as an E-Class. An emotive, high-quality interior is also essential.
The Hyundai Genesis (and the G80 facelift) struggled in this respect with a cabin that was upmarket, but rather generic and uninspiring in execution. Although the 2021 G80’s interior isn’t exactly what you would call progressive, the trad-modern approach succeeds in giving Genesis its own distinctive presentation.
It’s a design that also impresses in quality, with an array of impressionable materials in prominent places, carpeted sides of the centre console and – via the Luxury Package – suede lining for the roof, pillars and rear shelf. The large door speakers for the Lexicon audio are also made from real metal.
Genesis also uses ‘open pore’ wood – where you can feel the natural grain – for parts of the dash, doors and centre console.
There are two types of wood offered within a selection of two-tone interiors, with an all-black interior also available. Our test car was in the beige and dark grey combination. Silver-tipped stalks, a frameless rear-view mirror, the knurled-metal infotainment controller and tempered-glass transmission dial are all neat little embellishments.
There’s also all the adjustability the driver needs from the Luxury Package’s 18-way seat, which includes cushion extension and pelvic and bolstering adjustment.
The side bolsters automatically apply more of a squeeze when the G80’s Sport mode is activated, as well as at higher speeds. There’s also posture assistance that after an hour of driving automatically adjust the pelvis and lumbar ‘air cells’, while for longer drives there are stretching modes to help limit fatigue behind the wheel.
There’s an admirable elegance to the E-Class’s interior as well – a design that, while undoubtedly contemporary, would unlikely shock a former W124 owner jumping into the W213 for the first time.
The design is little changed from 2016, with the classic-modern interplay epitomised by a fascia that features an elongated panel of dual high-resolution displays. These sit atop a sweeping middle dash section comprising four circular vents and genuine wood that is also applied to the centre console and parts of the doors.
Soft-touch materials are equally in abundance here, and there are plenty of metallic touches, including the classy-looking speakers for the optional Burmester audio.
The seats may not have quite the extensive range of adjustment as the G80’s front pews, though there’s still plenty of it, plus there’s well-judged side bolstering that supports in corners yet is less noticeable when driving straight. The cushioning feels perfect, too – neither too firm nor too soft.
If you opt for the same all-black interior as our test car, the optional dual-pane panoramic sunroof is a worthwhile investment to add some much-needed light to the cabin.
The G80 is 40mm longer than the E-Class and its 3010mm wheelbase stretches 71mm further.
That’s noticeable when comparing rear seats. While both provide rear door apertures sufficiently wide for graceful entries and exits, knee space in the Benz is merely good, whereas it’s more akin to a limousine in the Genesis. The E300’s rear seats also feel a touch short under thigh, though it has the more generous head room.
The limo effect in the G80 is enhanced by the Luxury Package’s armrest console that gives those in the back control of seating features, climate adjustment and the entertainment screens.
The side of the front passenger seat also features adjustment buttons so a rear passenger can change its position. The side window blinds are manual operation, though, and a large transmission hump makes the G80 realistically a four-seater.
Still, the rear of the G80 feels like you’re stepping up to First Class after the Business Class seats of the E300. Which is good news for hire car drivers who accounted for the majority of sales of the previous iterations of the G80 and are ready to upgrade.
The E-Class, however, has the better boot for international airport collections. At 540L, its quoted capacity exceeds the 424L of the G80.
INFOTAINMENT AND TECHNOLOGY
The G80 (and GV80) debut a new 14.5-inch, wide-format infotainment display that, importantly, is distinguished from the new 10.25-inch screen making its way into various Hyundai (and Kia) vehicles.
Genesis also brings its own interface that comprises horizontally presented function tiles, split-screen functionality, plus a brand-unique concave rotary controller that incorporates a touchpad.
The display is also a touchscreen to give the front occupants another interface-control option. The touchscreen requires a slight reach for average-length arms, so the rotary controller is the more ideal method for using the infotainment system when driving.
However, we found the touchscreen preferable for inserting destinations on the navigation as the touchpad’s writing function is fiddly and not always accurate. This is compounded by the need for the driver to use their left hand (unless they write left-handed, of course).
A raised controller like BMW’s iDrive set-up takes less focus, especially as some functions require a fairly deep dive into the G80’s menu system. But getting accustomed to Genesis’s flatter rotary dial doesn’t take too long and haptic feedback (which is adjustable) helps confirm selections.
There are Return/Home/Menu shortcut buttons plus scrollers for volume and tuning.
The E-Class update brings a big upgrade. Although Mercedes’s twin-screen arrangement made its debut on the 2016 E-Class, it now follows other models with the introduction of the excellent MBUX system. This includes the ‘Hey, Mercedes’ voice command feature, which provides an advantage over the G80 that offers this function only via smartphone integration.
The dual 12.3-inch displays are superb, presented in ultra-crisp resolution, vivid colours and bringing more interesting graphics than the G80’s interface. The central infotainment display is a touchscreen, though also manipulated via a centre console touchpad with shortcut buttons.
Mercedes’s digital instrument cluster is one of the best around. Although the G80’s driver display has an interesting 3D option that creates a multi-dimensional view (without the need for a pair of cardboard specs with red and blue lenses), it lacks the extensive configurability of the E300’s cluster (which can be changed either via the centre touchscreen or steering wheel buttons).
This is perhaps most notable when using navigation. Whereas the Mercedes's display can feature a dominant guidance map while the infotainment screen is used for other functions such as media, the G80’s dials are fixed in size and only directional arrows are presented in the middle segment if the nav view is chosen.
However, the G80’s head-up display can include a junction schematic. Augmented reality navigation is also standard – where guidance graphics are ingeniously laid over a real-time camera image on the central display.
It’s part of a $1300 Innovation Package on the E300, which also adds gesture features for MBUX.
The G80 cluster’s neatest feature is the blind-spot image that, via a camera, temporarily replaces either the speedo or rev counter when the driver indicates left/right. It’s just not exclusive to Genesis as the feature is found on some latest Kia and Hyundai models (as is the G80’s Sounds of Nature cabin-ambience feature).
Another potentially useful function for business people: a Voice Memo function that can record up to 70 minutes for playing back later or export to USB.
Both vehicles feature a comprehensive list of active safety technology, as well as advanced driver aids including partial-autonomous driving.
A couple of notable areas for the G80. Genesis says its adaptive cruise-control system can learn someone’s driving style with the aim of mimicking their typical reactions. And it borrows remote-parking capability from top-spec Hyundais – where the driver can exit the car so it parks itself via the smart keyfob.
The updated E-Class range has been reduced from eight to five variants, as Mercedes Australia has dispensed with the E450 six-cylinder petrol and E350d and E220d diesels.
The E300 uses an upgraded version of the E200’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo, generating some extra power and torque. Outputs of 190kW and 370Nm are sent to the rear wheels via a nine-speed auto and Mercedes quotes 6.2 seconds for the 0–100km/h run.
The Genesis G80 would beat all of those figures even if we had the entry 2.5T model here, as its 2.5-litre turbo petrol produces 224kW and 422Nm and the claimed sprint time is 6.0 seconds.
That’s with rear drive, yet the 3.5T combines a 279kW/530Nm twin-turbo V6 with all-wheel drive for even more rapid performance: 0–100km/h in 5.1 seconds.
The G80 flagship would be undoubtedly quicker if it weren’t blighted by a heavy kerb weight. Despite the use of aluminium for the doors, bonnet and boot lid, it weighs 2023kg. The E300 – which uses a similar construction combination of steel and aluminium but in a different mix – is 1755kg by comparison.
Interestingly, we achieved the same 1.1-second gap between the models in our performance testing, though we could get only within half a second of the claims: 5.6 seconds for the G80 and 6.7 seconds for the E300.
Another noteworthy point is that the G80’s quickest time was produced with the vehicle in Sport mode. In Comfort mode, with less forceful shifts, the time was 6.0 seconds.
In everyday driving, there’s no doubt the G80 offers the more potent performance, its V6 purring away nicely as the driver applies increasing pressure to the throttle pedal. The engine also stays hushed in the background when simply cruising, while the smooth eight-speed auto is excellent.
At higher revs, engine noise isn’t as well suppressed in the E300, though its four-cylinder has a nice note, if slightly artificial, and the engine is likeably flexible and not short of some muscle.
It works neatly in tandem with the nine-speed auto, which is decisive and smooth in its shifting even when challenged with steep, winding freeway sections.
The E300 offers the more responsive throttle when these cars are in their Comfort vehicle modes.
Official fuel consumption figures suggest the E300’s smaller engine meets expectations of superior efficiency – 8.0 litres per 100km versus 10.7L/100km. (The G80’s figure is only marginally improved over the 10.8L/100km of its predecessor’s 3.8L V6, though the new model’s turbocharged performance is far superior.)
Our real-world testing produced a different picture, with the G80 indicating 9.5L/100m against the E300’s 10.0L/100km. This incorporates our performance-testing component, as well as a decent freeway stint.
Individual testing of the cars in pure suburbs-focused driving reversed the situation, with the E300 – which unlike the G80 features stop-start technology – being the slightly more economical sedan.
ON THE ROAD
Both these large luxury cars ride on multilink suspensions, though there is a marked difference to how they’re sprung. The E300 utilises air springs, whereas the G80 opts for conventional steel springs.
Each is also equipped with adaptive damping, though ironically the E-Class misses out on a G80 tech feature that was pioneered by the 2013 S-Class.
Genesis’s Road Preview system works like the old S-Class’s Magic Body Control system, using a camera to scan the road ahead. The electronically controlled continuously variable dampers are then individually adjusted up to 100 times per second to pre-empt upcoming bumps or dents in the road.
And we imagine an S-Class passenger would be quite impressed with the G80’s ride as it manages to roll across smaller surface aberrations with minimal fuss. This despite wearing large 20-inch wheels wrapped in tyres that are low in profile, particularly at the rear (35 rear, 40 front).
Remarkably, the 20-inch-wheeled E300 is fitted with tyres that are even thinner – 35 front, 30 rear. They’re also run-flats with inherently stiffer sidewalls, creating a combination that doesn’t work in the Benz’s favour around town.
The E300 can struggle to absorb smaller impacts, occasionally bordering on brittleness at the rear, while its suspension is also noisier when encountering potholes.
The G80’s secondary ride is quieter and more compliant, if not always perfect with bigger low-speed bumps eliciting a short-lived but ungraceful wobble from the Genesis’s body.
The air-sprung E300 has the edge in primary ride – an area that’s particularly important for those who travel long distances regularly.
The E-Class brings a wonderfully controlled suppleness to undulating country roads and is especially comfortable on the freeway – where very limited wind noise confirms the E300 as the pick for a capital-to-capital run such as Sydney-Melbourne.
The G80 generally rides well on the freeway, though wind noise is more noticeable around the windscreen, and the Genesis’s suspension is prone to porpoising on rolling sections of bitumen.
On a country road, choosing the stiffer Sport setting is recommended for the best body control. The G80’s steering feels artificially heavy in Sport, though the option is there for owners to use the Custom setting and keep the steering in its more natural Comfort setting while the suspension is set to Sport.
And it’s in this configuration where the G80 offers something more for the keener driver than the E-Class, if not endangering the benchmark handling of BMW’s 5 Series.
We preferred to switch off the G80’s active lane assist, though, which is too sensitive and can often interfere with the steering even when the G80 isn’t seemingly encroaching on markings.
The E300’s similar system is much better, tugging at the steering wheel only when there’s an obvious lane transgression.
The Mercedes’s steering feels perfectly weighted in Comfort – effortless without being ridiculously light.
Neither of our testers noticed a major suspension difference between Comfort and Sport, though the E300 is best kept in Comfort where it shines – with less engine noise and more naturally weighted steering.
We incorporated brake testing into our performance exercises, which produced an exceptional result for the G80 – using its big rotors and high-performance Michelin tyres to great effect to stop from 100km/h to standstill in 35.1m. This was 4.7m shorter than the E300’s stopping distance, and a result you would expect from a hot hatch.
Genesis was the first luxury brand in Australia to introduce a five-year warranty, with Mercedes-Benz becoming the first German luxury brand to offer this longer warranty.
If Hyundai’s luxury division no longer has the segment benchmark, it makes a statement with complimentary servicing for five years. This saves nearly $5000 compared with the E-Class sedan, which asks $4800 for a five-year maintenance plan where payment is upfront. Three- and four-year plans are available as well as annual, capped-price payments that cost extra in total.
Genesis’s Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane dealerships will also collect and return vehicles due for a service, and provide a courtesy vehicle for the interim. The caveat is that owners must live within 70km of those dealerships.
Both brands provide 24/7 roadside assistance as long as owners adhere to official servicing.
To say Genesis needs to build its dealership - or 'studio' - network is an understatement, though - it currently has only one store in Sydney, with others to come this year in Melbourne (Q2) and Brisbane (second half).
Genesis will never be able to match the storied history of Mercedes-Benz, or most other luxury carmakers for that matter. What it can do is create a convincing portfolio of products that don’t feel like spruced-up Hyundais that are trading simply on a bargain price and an overly generous kit list.
The Korean luxury brand will also be acutely aware that there’s a large section of customers who simply won’t be swayed away from an established brand such as Mercedes-Benz.
But the Genesis G80 has a distinctive design both inside and out – even if with strong hints of Bentley – plus a convincing package of presentation, refinement and performance that could persuade open-minded buyers.
Taking on an E-Class is a tough ask, especially as there’s much to appreciate about the E300 with its supple high-speed ride, linear steering, terrific dashboard technology, nicely crafted interior, and a handsome exterior shape that’s been improved with revised headlights and tail-lights.
At around the $120,000 mark, however, it’s not unfair to suggest there should be more standard features, as well as more of a statement engine up front – a six-cylinder such as that offered for similar money by not just the G80, but by Audi with its A6 55TFSI.
The E300 also deserves chubbier, non-runflat tyres that would help improve its urban ride, while its rear seat is lacking spaciousness compared with rivals beyond the G80.
In contrast, the G80’s rear cabin would satisfy VIPs and executives as well as family members (provided they’re not particularly tall). The Genesis’s V6 engine is also quieter yet more powerful than the E300’s turbo four-cylinder, and its tyres are generally quieter, giving the Genesis the refinement win over Mercedes.
This is a promising new chapter indeed for Hyundai’s fledgling luxury brand.