Luxury Cars – Test drive: The 2021 Genesis GV80 is ready for its unexpected fame
It’s a strange thing to get into a vehicle that one of the most famous people in the world just wrecked. Not the actual damaged vehicle, but one just like it.
I was at the hospital for a routine visit when news broke that Tiger Woods was in another hospital on the other side of the country with serious injuries after rolling off a California road in a Genesis GV80, the same model that was sitting in the garage waiting to take me home.
Based on preliminary evidence, the accident wasn’t due to any fault of the GV80’s, but chalked up to Woods driving carelessly on a tricky road as he was rushing to work. Nevertheless, it put the vehicle in a somewhat different light as I retrieved it from the garage and headed off to continue my evaluation of what had all of a sudden become a celebrity.
The GV80 is a midsize SUV with a starting price of $49,995 that’s designed to compete with pricier vehicles like the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE. It’s the young, Hyundai-owned luxury brand’s first utility vehicle and off to a strong start as its best-seller so far this year.
Woods was driving a loaner from Genesis. The automaker had hired him to host a golf tournament it had sponsored the week prior to his accident, which gives you an idea of the sort of high net worth customers it aspires to lure from their more established premium brands. The GV80 might have the goods to do it.
The GV80 has distinctive, head-turning looks courtesy of an oversized shield-shaped grille and spilt lighting design are signatures of the Genesis lineup. Its interior is a blend of simplicity and opulence that looks like a greatest hits of luxury cars and can stand up to anything near its price point.
Practically every surface from floor to ceiling is trimmed in either premium upholstery, real metal, open-pore wood or a soft composite material, and a colorful ambient light strip wraps around the cabin into the back seating area.
The second row seats are heated, reclining and can moved fore and aft, but aren’t particularly roomy. Fold them down, however, and the GV80 has more cargo space than the X5 or GLE. Top GV80 models powered by a 375 hp turbocharged V6 are also available with a small third row of seats, but my test vehicle was one of the entry level models with a 300 hp turbocharged four-cylinder that it’s not currently offered in.
The GV80 is available with either rear-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive, both with an 8-speed automatic transmission. The power is more than enough to get you in trouble and make the V6 seem unnecessary. It’s smooth for a four-cylinder and a noise reduction system both helps keep it quiet and offers three levels of volume to fill the cabin with. Fuel economy is disappointing, however, with the highway rating at just 25 mpg.
The handling is excellent for a vehicle this size, especially in my Prestige trim level tester that was equipped with a computer controlled suspension that literally reads the road ahead of it. The system uses a camera to scan the surface for bumps and then uses that information to adjust the shocks for impact. The suspension is on the firm side overall, and the short-sidewall rubber on the 22-inch wheels isn’t well-suited to poorly-maintained city streets, but you’d really have to be driving this like you stole it to get beyond its limits.
There’s also a Highway Driving Assistant for cruising on the freeway that combines adaptive cruise control with a very effective, self-steering lane-centering system. Technically, you’re supposed to have your hands on the wheel at all times for it to operate, but there were a few stretches where I removed them for over a minute before it scolded me.
Additional driver aids include blind spot cameras that display in the instrument cluster and a 360-degree bird’s-eye-view for parking. That’s something you don’t have to do, at all.
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The GV80 features a remote parking assistant that lets you pull the vehicle into and out of a space from outside of it by holding down a button on the key fob. It’s mostly useful when you return to your car to find someone parked too close to it to open the door, but will also amaze and delight your kids. At least once or twice before they get over it.
I’m not about to speculate on what happened to Woods, but the one thing about the GV80 that distracted my driving was the infotainment system. It has an impressive 14-inch touchscreen display on top of the dash and a little out of reach, but also a unique controller on the center console.
It’s comprised of a flush metal rotating ring with a button in the middle that also works as a pinch and swipe pad. I never really got used to operating it and navigating the on-screen menus can be tricky. Automakers are constantly trying to reinvent this interface and few have hit the mark. Sometimes less is more, even in a luxury car. That said, I fully endorse the climate-controlled massaging front seats.
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As far as safety is concerned, the GV80’s NHTSA and IIHS crash test ratings haven’t been announced yet, but it does come with 10 airbags including one that pops up between the front passengers to keep them from banging into each other during a rollover event like Woods suffered. He was alone, but there’s a good chance the side curtain and knee airbags helped lessen the severity of his injuries in a wreck that first responders on the scene thought he was lucky to survive.
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The GV80 was a finalist for the North American Utility Vehicle of the Year award against the Land Rover Defender and Ford Mustang Mach-E. The Ford won, because it’s electric and the future and all that, but that’s not a bad showing for Genesis’ first effort and it appears to be well-deserved.
2021 Genesis GV80
Base price: $49,995.
As tested: $64,425
Type: 5-passenger, 4-door all-wheel-drive SUV
Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder
Power: 300 hp, 311 hp
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
MPG: 21 city/25 hwy