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The 2021 Genesis GV80.

Courtesy of manufacturer

The mid-sized GV80 is the first SUV that Genesis has ever produced, and it’s up against some stiff competition. It’s also the first vehicle created to actually be a Genesis product – the three sedans already in the line-up were originally conceived as Hyundais, before the Korean automaker decided five years ago to go all-in and have its own premium brand.

This means the GV80 really has to stand out in its crowded market. In a world where most buyers want to drive SUVs, the entire future of Genesis may be resting right now on the broad wheelbase of its newest addition.

How does it stand out? It’s opulent and comfortable, with a simple cabin design that doesn’t overwhelm its passengers. It’s quiet, with active noise cancellation in the top trim that means those passengers never need raise their voices to be heard. It’s powerful and comparatively frugal, with two available turbocharged engines. It’s safe, loaded with driver’s assistance features. And it handily undercuts the competition on price, starting at $64,500 and topping out at $85,000. Those prices include all delivery charges and comprehensive five-year roadside assistance.

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There are four available trims for the 2021 Genesis GV80.

Courtesy of manufacturer

There are four available trims and, except for small things like paint colour, there are no additional options on top of those trims, but they’re very well equipped. All Canadian models come with all-wheel drive (Americans have the cheaper option of rear-wheel drive) and an eight-speed automatic transmission. The two least-costly trims come with a 2.5-litre four-cylinder, and the two more expensive trims are powered by a 3.5-litre V6.

All trims have heated seats as standard in both rows, a wide 14.5-inch central touchscreen, wireless charging for your smartphone, and a panoramic sunroof. Spend some more for the “Advanced” level and you’ll get a heads-up display that you can’t see through polarized lenses, and some other niceties that you don’t really need: surround-view monitor, ventilated seats, blind-spot camera monitors in the instrument cluster, and larger wheels.

All Canadian models come with all-wheel drive.

Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

It’s the extra money for the V6 engine that provides some of the unique-to-the-brand features, as well as a third row of seats, better sound system, and 22-inch wheels. For example, the active suspension uses a camera to monitor the road surface ahead for bumps and potholes and prepares the vehicle beforehand. It also includes an electronic limited-slip differential in the top end “Prestige” model that will send 100 per cent of the power to either one of the two rear wheels, if needed.

As well, Genesis is very proud of its “world’s first 3D digital instrument cluster,” available with the Prestige. It uses a pair of discreet infrared cameras to monitor the position of the driver’s eyes and display the instrumentation in what appears to be a stacked pattern. It’s very effective. Of course, you’ll forget about it, and it won’t be until you accidently switch it off that you’ll remember it’s there.

If you spend too much time sightseeing out the window, or looking at your passenger while chatting, those cameras will notice that your eyes aren’t properly on the road and will flash up a warning to pay attention to the drive. In fact, the entire vehicle is monitoring your driving pattern for any suspicious deviations. Fortunately, you can adjust the sensitivity for this.

The GV80 is designed for comfort, safety and more than most, for style.

Courtesy of manufacturer

I drove the top-of-the-line Prestige model on a return trip to Ottawa from Toronto.

On Hwy. 401, I set the electronic drive mode to Comfort and pressed two buttons on the steering wheel to activate its semi-autonomous driving. It seemed to want to hug either of the sides of the lane a little closer than I wanted, however, so I preferred to steer it for myself. To be clear, this is a First World Problem.

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I left the main highway north of Kingston to take some twisty, bumpy country roads through the Canadian Shield. For this, I switched the drive mode to “Sport” and waited for my wife, in the passenger seat, to start complaining. It didn’t take long. The camera that previews for bumps was probably overwhelmed by the fast-approaching choppy pavement, and the active noise cancellation was defeated when she insisted on opening windows to counter the swaying of the SUV.

However, this was an unfair test. The GV80 is very powerful and well-mannered but it’s not a sporty vehicle. Nor should it be. It’s designed for comfort and safety and, perhaps more than most, for style. When you’re the new brand on the block, style is perhaps the most important feature of them all.

TECH SPECS:

  • Base price/As tested: $64,500/ $85,000
  • Engine: 2.5-litre turbocharged inline four; 3.5-litre turbocharged V6
  • Transmission/Drive: Eight-speed automatic / AWD
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km):
  • Alternatives: BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE, Audi Q5, Lincoln Aviator, Jaguar F-Pace, Lexus RX, Acura MDX


LOOKS

The Genesis GV80 almost looks like a Bentley but is a lot less costly.

Courtesy of manufacturer

Twice, I was asked if the GV80 was a Bentley, thanks to its imposing grille and refined face. However, the twin headlights, side turn-signal lights and rear lights are lined up as a double band around the vehicle to help it identify as a Genesis. I was driving the expensive Prestige trim level, with 22-inch wheels that add to the vehicle’s muscular looks, but even so – the Genesis is a lot less costly than any Bentley.

INTERIOR

The GV80 has quilted real leather seats for the win.

Courtesy of manufacturer

The entire cabin feels spacious and airy, thanks to well-integrated touch controls that are mostly confined to the central touch-display screen and the centre console. The electronic transmission is operated with a round knob made of tempered glass – very classy – while another round bezel in front of it works as a controller for the screen that’s a bit too far away to reach comfortably.

The air vents are integrated discreetly into a panel that stretches across the entire front fascia. The wood trim is real wood, the quilted seats are real leather, and everything is opened up by the panoramic sunroof over both the front and second rows.

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Passengers will be as comfortable in the second row as in the front, and if they’re in the top-end trim, their heated seats will even be ventilated. Anybody in the third row, however – only available with the larger engine – will still need short legs.

PERFORMANCE

The two least-costly trims come with a 2.5-litre four-cylinder, and the two more expensive trims are powered by a 3.5-litre V6.

Courtesy of manufacturer

Both engines are powerful enough to tow 6,000 lbs (2,722 kg). There are drive modes for Sport and Eco and Comfort and Smart (which learns your driving patterns to respond as it would expect you to want), but also “terrain” modes for snow, mud, and sand. Only the most costly trim offers the electronic limited-slip differential, but all models include steering-wheel paddles for shifting the eight-speed transmission.

Fuel consumption is good for such a large and comparatively heavy vehicle. The claimed consumption for the larger V6 is a combined average of 11.8 L/100 km/h, while my normally lead-footed driving returned a slightly better 11.5 average. The 2.5-litre claims a more frugal average of 10.5 L/100 km.

TECHNOLOGY

The car is fully-loaded with clever driver's assistance features.

Courtesy of manufacturer

Full connectivity is a given these days, but the Genesis is fully-loaded with clever driver’s assistance features, including collision assistance both front and back, and remote parking using just the key fob. One time, a car pulled out from a gas station right in front of me, and while I steered to change lanes and avoid it, the seat belts tightened snug in case of a collision. Another time, while about to overtake a car that suddenly braked hard for something, the brakes came on automatically to help prevent getting too close. There’s no doubt, the SUV was smarter than me.

CARGO

It boasts of 91 litres space behind the second row, and 2,379 litres behind the first row.

Courtesy of manufacturer

This is one of the few mid-sized SUVs that offers third-row seating as an option, though only if you opt for the fewer features in the 2.5-litre editions. There’s a reasonable amount of space back there – 991 litres behind the second row, and 2,379 litres behind the first row – but there’s no spare tire. Apparently, most drivers would never want to change a flat tire, and Genesis’s five-year roadside assistance plan that’s part of the purchase price makes a spare tire redundant for buyers in those first few years.

THE VERDICT:

There’s no doubt that Genesis can hold its head high against its well-entrenched premium competition. Give it enough time to gain recognition among brand snobs and high-quality vehicles like the GV80 will start eating away seriously at the sales of the German brands.

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The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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