In four short years of existence, Genesis has now won two 10Best awards. Clearly, the brand has our attention, even if the general public has no clue what to make of it. Like the other Genesis models, the GV80 has a not-so-subtle winged badge on its nose. If passersby confuse those wings with Bentley's Flying B, so be it. The GV80's design and presence only add to the ruse.
It shouldn't be surprising that Genesis found inspiration in Bentley. After all, the Hyundai Group employs former Bentley design chief Luc Donckerwolke, and while styling is subjective, it doesn't feel like much of a stretch to say that the GV80 is more attractive than a Bentley Bentayga.
If you're thinking, "Well, anyone can rent a tuxedo," the GV80 has real substance beneath its sheetmetal. Under the skin is Genesis's new substantial-feeling M3 platform—yep, that's what they call it. Solid and quiet, the crossover has a multilink setup on both axles. The handling and steering are crisp and carlike. There's a lack of stress, even when you exceed the tires' limits. The GV80 drives lower than it is, the body remains flat, and its weight is distributed such that no single tire seems overwhelmed, but there's also a suppleness in the vehicle's moves.
The softer side of the GV80 is truly intoxicating. The ride quality blends relaxation with athleticism, and the twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6—the upgrade engine pick—never raises its voice too loudly, although you can adjust the volume of the engine noise piped into the cabin. This 375-hp six offers up 391 pound-feet of torque just off idle, which means the powertrain is never out of step; a heady surge of acceleration is just a toe dip away. There's also a 300-hp turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-four in the lineup, and aside from exhibiting a touch of lag when accelerating from a stop, it pulls with authority and does its work without making much of a fuss.
Double-pane front glass and active sound cancellation help block out the world, but at highway speeds, there is a bit more tire roar than expected. It's possible that all the Bentley cues may have raised our expectations into the superluxury sphere. To the sound-level meter, there's no difference: The GV80's low 66-decibel hum at 70 mph is right there with the Bentley Flying Spur's. But while the volume level is identical, the sound itself is not as pleasant.
Inside, Genesis piles on the luxury, with carefully stitched patterns on the seats, a big 14.5-inch infotainment screen, available soft leathers and handsome woods, an audio system that's better than the one in your house, the ability to use your smartphone as a key, and even thick carpet to give your shoes some love. The uncluttered instrument panel is close enough for contact but visually distant—a clever design trick. Set in front of the driver on the top-tier model is a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster. All other trim levels have a smaller screen with a digital tach and analog speedo. On every GV80, though, the tachometer needle swings counterclockwise, possibly a nod to the way Aston Martin does it.
Amid the exquisiteness are just a couple minor missteps. The gear selector and the rotary control for the infotainment system are easily mistaken for each other. Swapping their placement would help avoid confusion. The two-spoke steering wheel that looks sort of like a '74 Chevy's has an unbecoming bit of plastic trim on its top side. Finally, buyers who option the third row should consider it a temporary position and know that the extra seats rob the GV80 of a spare tire.
We drive many new vehicles where it's obvious the designers and engineers benchmarked only direct competitors. That strategy can produce good cars, but it almost never produces breakout ones. Inspiration for the GV80 clearly came from Bentley and Rolls-Royce. Of course, the GV80 isn't a superluxury SUV, but it's not a cheap knockoff, either. Its design and refinement allow it to sing many of the same notes as vehicles twice its price.
Aiming high and pricing low—the GV80 starts below $50,000—is how you get noticed. That's how Lexus and Acura did it over 30 years ago; now it's Genesis's turn.
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