With a name that references the dawn of mankind – a great beginning, if you will – one could argue that Hyundai’s luxury offshoot Genesis is playing a risky game. After all, attaching grand connotations to a name runs the risk of attracting ridicule should the brand fail to deliver on those expectations.
But after a trio of premium sedans, the South Korean maker might have just delivered a decisive hammer blow - its first SUV. A savvy move, if the trend against three-box sedans is anything to go by.
It’s called the Genesis GV80 and it enters a competitive segment - but one that might be open-minded about new contenders. We met the newest member of the Genesis family in its native South Korea to see exactly how this intriguing new model promises to shake up the segment.
It won’t arrive on Australian soil until half way through 2020, but when it does, this ambitious newcomer has a number of compelling features to offer. Its engine line-up, for starters. Three options will be up for grabs including a pair of turbo petrols in V6 and four-cylinder configuration, and an all-new diesel inline six.
During our first encounter only the third option - a diesel - was available, and this sublime new addition to the Genesis stable is the most notable, and possibly most surprising, GV80 feature.
The GV80 packs not a V6 but a silky smooth inline six. It’s a format that BMW has stayed with and Mercedes-Benz has returned to (with its GLE 400d being a key GV80 rival), yet the debut of a diesel straight six within the GV80 came as something of a surprise given Genesis has stuck with a V6 format for its petrol six-pot. Yet even though this inline diesel is box-fresh, it brings almost as much sophistication as the motors in its German rivals.
At idle the 3.0-litre is eerily silent and smooth but awakens with impressive muscle as soon as it’s required. Torque is instant and acceleration from a standstill is both eager and accompanied by a satisfying note. There’s little in the way of in-gear turbo lag and the impressive six-pot pulls strongly all the way to its red line.
It can’t quite match the high-revving and power-happy nature of BMW’s 3.0 litre diesel, but 588Nm of torque leaves the driver wanting little in the way of performance.
Equally impressive is the eight-speed automatic transmission that sends power to all four wheels. This gearbox, an exclusive in-house development by Genesis and not a supplier such as ZF, is beautifully refined. An occasional jolt when moving from park to either drive or reverse may have been an anomaly but, generally speaking, the transmission delivered a performance as slick as the motor it’s bolted to.
Regrettably, our time with the GV80 was almost entirely on the network of freeways around Seoul, which allowed decent evaluation of cruising qualities but nothing of the GV80’s handling characteristics.
Ordinarily, this would be low down on the appraisal criteria but this new model rolls on a brand new rear-drive platform that comes complete with an electronic limited slip differential at the rear axle and promises dynamics focused on enthusiastic driving.
Rear-drive versions will be coming to Australia but our steed was the all-hoof variety and it felt as planted as you might expect on dry cool roads. During what little cornering we could find, the hefty body resisted roll surprisingly well and the steering, while light, was pleasingly chatty if not quite as sharp.
In Korea, three wheel sizes will also be offered from a standard 19-inch rim, through 20s up to the flagship 22-inch wheel. The GV80’s chassis has been well tuned to suit the 22s that were bolted to our car and while the ride was predominantly on the soft side, body control was excellent and settled fast after large road imperfections. This is a machine that would devour many miles of road tripping with total ease.
A new noise cancellation system also makes its debut in the GV80 and the six-microphone set up is highly effective. Unlike some previous systems from other manufacturers which could make you feel a little deaf, the Genesis system masks unwanted noise while allowing you to hear the things you want to.
That includes a choice of ambient background sounds. For those who can’t stand complete silence, there’s a choice of lightly lapping waves, footsteps though snow, rain dripping from a roof and even a busy cafe to keep your ears caressed with unique, if a little weird, noise.
Adding to the novel tech, a brilliant 3D digital dashboard creates an almost unsettling sense of depth for the instrument panel, and we particularly liked a blind spot-eliminating camera that flashes up in place of the tachometer when the left indicator is used, and the speedo for the right indicator.
There’s more cool electronics in the form of a 14.5-inch wide touchscreen that’s well-proportioned with a low profile and displays fantastically sharp graphics and themes. If only it matched the bizarrely different design of the digital instruments, it would have been better integrated.
The large screen also displays a clever new augmented navigation option that actually overlays direction information such as street names and house numbers over an image relayed from a forward-facing camera. It’s probably only a few years before you see this tech creeping in to head-up displays for the ultimate application, but this is class leading for now.
Other standout tech includes a clever average speed calculator that automatically starts when entering an average speed camera zone, and active cruise control that will slow the vehicle when nearing a fixed speed camera. It’s highly unlikely either system will make it Down Under but it’s okay to dream right?
Technology is just one part of the premium equation but the GV80 backs it up with an opulent cabin too. Real cow-derived leather, sophisticated synthetic equivalent or a combination of both? The fact that we couldn’t tell exactly what was upholstering a majority of the cabin is testament enough to the quality.
There are also lovely choices of open-pore wood, and enough flexibility in cabin colour and trim options to give sales consultants cause to step in and perhaps limit one or two of the more extreme pairings.
Both a five- and seven-seat GV80 are available but unlike some other offerings that share similar exterior dimensions, the Genesis is not particularly roomy when optioned with a third row. Adults in the rearmost two seats must lean forward to clear the diving roofline, and it cannot brag the same day-to-day usability of something like a Santa Fe.
Seven-seat versions rob a little space from the second row occupants as well, meaning it’s not just those in the last row that are deprived of comfort. If you’re keen to experience the most luxurious GV80 available, stick with the five-seater.
In this configuration there’s tons of room in all spots and a light-filled cabin offers excellent visibility from all seats - particularly the driver’s. Seven air –filled bladders in the front seats can be inflated or deflated to custom-fit each occupant, and can also automatically alter their pressure to evenly distribute the weight.
Genesis claims the unorthodox two-spoke steering wheel is ergonomically superior to other designs. While that may be the case, we would prefer the more pleasing aesthetics of something a little more traditional.
However, the most commendable characteristic of the GV80 interior is how virtually nothing appears to be shared with a Hyundai. Its interior is uniquely Genesis without trying too hard. Can even a Lexus claim the same distance from its parent Toyota?
And that design journey brings us to the exterior - an area normally too subjective to warrant comment. But the GV80 scores bonus points here too. There are hints of Bentley Bentayga in the tail, Volvo XC 90 in the nose, and you could even draw a line from Porsche’s four-point headlights.
There’s no doubt, however, that this is the most handsome Genesis to roll out yet, and while there are certainly a few homages to other luxe SUVs, the GV80 wears a look all of its own.
There is so much more to successfully establishing a new brand in Australia’s fickle new car landscape than simply offering a good product, but it certainly is a desperately important part of the equation for something pitched at the premium end of town. Only time will tell if Genesis Australia has nailed the rest of the package, including marketing, aftersales care, warranty and - critically in the case of the GV80 - pricing.
Encouragingly though, not only has the company’s first SUV foray convincingly aced the luxury high-rider formula, the Genesis GV80 is also the first model that might truly represent the literal meaning of its maker’s name.