HE SEEMED the most unlikely of fans, but our friend – hanging half in and half out of the passenger window of his pal’s BA Falcon as we cruised at 80km/h – was more than enamoured with our steel grey Genesis GV80, gesticulating wildly, giving us the thumbs-up and grinning broadly.
It’s an interesting start to our time in what will likely be quite a crucial car for this upstart luxury brand, which hopes to take ground off the Germans where others have failed.
What is the Genesis GV80?
It also brings Genesis into the fold a bit more; until now, its lineup has focused solely on a sector of the market which is heading in one direction, and that’s not up.
Built on top of parent company Hyundai’s M3 platform, the GV80’s role is simple; create enough noise and distraction to shake potential customers out of their Euro – or Japanese, for the matter – loyalties and give them enough reasons to switch their allegiances for now and forever.
“We think it will tempt buyers of large prestige SUVs to our brand,” says Chris Saltapidis, product planner for the Genesis brand in Australia.
Living with the Genesis GV80
On pure presence alone, the large GV80 has the runs on the board. It’s big, and manages to stay juuust this side of brash.
At the front its all about the light signature – the headlights are divided yet still connected with the bodywork, sitting astride an enormous grille that will make BMW feel a little better about itself.
Those vertical lighting structures stride down the side of the GV80, with faux vents on the front guards and a deep crease along the rocker panel tying into the GV80’s horizontal taillights.
Huge rims – up to 22 inches on the top-spec variants – work well with minimal overhangs, while a speccy $2000 matte paint finish sets the GV80 apart. Just be careful how you wash it, we’re told.
Mechanically, the GV80 can be had in rear- or all-wheel-drive, and with the choice of 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol (five-seat rear-drive and seven-seat all-wheel-drive), 3.0-litre turbocharged diesel and 3.5-litre twin-turbocharged V6 (both with seven seats and all-wheel-drive) engines.
The only gearbox choice is an eight-speed torque-sensing auto, the diesel gets an electronically controlled rear limited-slip diff and the V6 gets bigger front brakes, while the chassis itself gets a bespoke set-up over the closely related G80 sedan to give it more ground clearance and extra strength.
Spec-wise, you want for little with the GV80, even with the $90,600 entry-level five-seat rear-drive 2.5T. Open-pore wood trim and leather abound in the spacious, airy cabin, while knurled metal details on crucial controls lift the GV80 from pleasant to special.
The two-spoke steering wheel won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but the driver’s position is pretty spot on in most respects.
The seats are heated, vented and adjustable every which way, there’s inductive charging for your phone, a huge 14.5-inch multimedia screen, digital dash, a panoramic sunroof, automatic headlights and wipers, 20-inch rims, a powered tailgate and loads more as standard.
There’s plenty of standard safety kit including ten airbags and clever adaptive cruise control, but you need to add a $10,000.
What's the GV80 like to live with?
Stepping into the car that Genesis expects to sell most of, the $103,600 3.0D, and you’ll get 22-inch wheels and the aforementioned LSD, as well as a refined, quiet and punchy powerplant that feels so un-diesel like that it’s worth checking the fuel cap twice before reaching for the 98RON nozzle at the petrol station.
A brief blast of the 3.5-litre twin-turbo petrol-powered variant also impresses – though for me, the diesel does the bulk of the same work for a not-inconsiderable $5000 less.
What's it like to drive?
The almost five-metre-long SUV has a locally tweaked handling package that favours ride over roll support, albeit only ever so slightly.
It steers with impressive accuracy, tames broken surfaces with aplomb despite its cartoonishly large rim spec and is impressively quiet, thanks in the main to acoustic glass and the SUV-spec Michelin Pilot Sport tyres.
Not all that impressive at first blush is the overcomplicated interface with the multimedia screen; it can be accessed via a dial, console buttons, handwriting recognition, touch and steering wheel controls, but is still not as intuitive as it should be.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto mirroring, too, can’t fill the whole screen, while the age of the system means that the GV80 can’t yet offer wireless support, rendering the inductive charger redundant when using your phone.
You also have to spend big - $10,000, to be exact - on a Luxury pack which gives the GV80 a clever noise-cancelling system that uses mics in and out of the car to quell rumble. It also scores remote parking capability, which is sure to impress the neighbours.
Will it impress them enough to trade in their Audi Q7s, BMW X5s and Mercedes-Benz GLEs? Quite possibly.
Value is a stronger buzzword than brand in this new world, and while premium names are currently enjoying salad days of strong sales on the back of cancelled holidays, there’s always a clique of people looking to move into something a little different.
Genesis has lofty plans to flesh out its local range with market-relevant products, while its service and support offering is also strong (though it lacks a physical presence in many key areas).
The GV80’s overt yet attractive styling, its mature and refined presentation and its generous equipment levels will definitely bring eyeballs to the brand – the trick is to convert them into bums on seats.