So far, I’ve really enjoyed my time in every Genesis vehicle I’ve driven. First was the G70 sedan, which I genuinely felt rivaled the 3 Series as a sporty, premium family car. Then it was the G80 sedan, a stylish, more interesting alternative to the BMW 5 Series. However, the Genesis I was itching to drive more than any other, since I first saw its press photos, was the Genesis GV80 SUV, the brand’s BMW X5-fighter.
After driving a couple of Genesis vehicles, the GV80 seemed like the perfect car for the brand, as a midsize SUV should allow Genesis to play to its strengths (comfort, style, interior design), while minimizing its typical weaknesses (slightly choppy ride, ho-hum exterior looks). Now that I’ve driven the GV80, is it actually good enough to take on one of my favorite modern SUVs, the G05 BMW X5?
It’s a Handsome Thing
Whoever is designing Genesis’ vehicles lately is doing a good job. Mostly. Admittedly, the G70 Shooting Brake, while awesome in theory, is a bit of a miss. Aside from that, though, the rest of the lineup looks really good, GV80 included. I personally didn’t love the wheels that came on my Genesis GV80 2.5T Advanced test car, as I much preferred the stunning wheels of my previous Genesis G80 sedan tester. However, I really liked the rest of it.
BMW fans will call me hypocritical for not complaining about Genesis’ massive grille as much as I do BMW’s but the fact of the matter is that, as obnoxiously large as it is, the grille on the GV80 is more cohesive than those from the 4 Series and M3/M4. Sure, it’s too big but it has a cheeky blingy-ness to it that’s sort of fun. Would I prefer it to have a smaller grille? Yes, but the GV80 pulls it off better than most. Plus, it’s flanked by a split headlight design that’s really unique and looks slick at night.
That same split light design makes its way to the back of the car as well, giving it taillights to match its headlights. It’s a bit unusual to see headlights and taillights that are essentially the same but it somehow works. I also like how Genesis ditched the rear handle on the tailgate, relegating it to a release button on the rear wiper, which really cleans up the look of the rear end. Neat touch.
The Genesis GV80 isn’t some groundbreaking design, one that’s going to turn heads wherever it goes. However, everyone that saw it up close stopped and asked me about it and told me they liked how it looked. It’s very different looking from the sea of German SUVs that it stands out, even if its design is relatively reserved.
It’s All About the Interior
Let’s get the bad out of the way first — Genesis’ infotainment system isn’t good. It’s not terrible, it’s not unusable (see: Lexus), but it’s just too fussy. The rotary controller is flush with the center console, so it’s slightly annoying to use, it features too many on-screen tiles to click through, and it’s complicated enough to make you to take your eyes off the road more frequently than you should. It’s not horrific but it’s frustrating.
Also, the rotary controller sits ahead of the rotary gear selector but the latter is taller than the former. So you end up having to crane your wrist over the gear selector to operate the infotainment screen, which is annoying. That’s where the criticism ends, though.
Outside of the fussy infotainment, the Genesis GV80 cabin is nothing short of fabulous. Seats are excellent; comfy and supportive, with just the right combination of both for an SUV of its size. Everything you can see and touch, and even some things you can’t, is made from high end materials and it feels as expensive as it looks. Built quality is great, as the whole cabin felt strong throughout my week with it. I also just love the design; it’s fresh, it’s modern, and makes you feel like you’re sat in something very expensive. There’s a sense of occasion to the GV80’s cabin that makes every drive feel more special.
I’m also a big fan of Genesis’ instrument panel. It’s half analog and half digital and yet it’s far more interactive and customizable than BMW’s Live Cockpit Professional. The speedometer is analog and, like in the G80 sedan, it’s one of the best looking dials of any kind I’ve ever seen on a modern car. It’s gorgeous; trimmed in brushed metal, with a black clock face, white numbers, and a lovely metal needle. It looks like a Swiss watch. The tach is a digital version of the beautiful speedo, which annoyed me in the G80 but actually makes more sense on my more heavily optioned GV80.
With the Advanced Package equipped, my Genesis GV80 test car had blind spot cameras built into the blind spot monitor system. With that, when you flick one of the turn signals on, the digital tachometer suddenly switches over to the corresponding camera’s view. So in your driver’s display, you can see your blind spot camera, in addition to the blind spot monitor light on the side mirrors. It’s very slick tech and extremely useful. I absolutely loved using it during my week with the car.
Powertrain is Ehh
I’ve yet to drive a big Genesis with a punchy powertrain. So far, I’ve only driven the four-cylinder models. In the GV80, it’s a 2.5 liter turbocharged four-pot that makes 300 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque, paired with an eight-speed automatic, and all-wheel drive. Despite being a little four-cylinder in such a big, heavy vehicle, it pulls hard enough to never make it feel underpowered. Not once did I want for more power during my week with it; not merging onto the highway, not passing slow drivers in the left lane, and not even when I wanted to have a bit of fun. Power is not its issue.
However, it’s not a very charismatic engine. SUVs don’t really need charismatic engines but the BMW X5’s base engine is a 3.0 liter turbocharged I6, which is far, far more enjoyable to use than the GV80’s four-pot. In Genesis’ defense, there is a 3.5 liter turbocharged V6 available as well but I didn’t get the chance to test it. So I can’t comment on how it compares to BMW’s own six-cylinder.
Gearshifts are good, though, from the eight-speed auto. Never did I feel like I wanted it to be in a different gear. Manual shifts were just a hair less responsive than the ZF unit in all BMWs but not slow enough to be frustrating. Still, it’s best to just leave it in “D” and forget about it.
On the whole, though, the Genesis GV80 has a powertrain that will sort of blend into the background; it will do everything you ask of it, without fuss, but it just won’t be very exciting or interesting to use.
Athletic but Not X5-Athletic
Drive a BMW X5 and you’ll be immediately surprised at how athletic it feels for an SUV. It’s not a 3 Series but it hustles far better than an SUV of its size should. While the Genesis GV80 isn’t quite on the X5’s level, it’s not too far off. Nicely weighted steering, with impressive front end response, proves that Genesis is learning from the best. Actually, if there’s a car I would compare the GV80 to, in terms of driving feel, it’s the BMW X5, just at about 7 or 8/10ths as good.
There’s a smoothness to the GV80 that I really like, though. It sort of glides around in a way that really charmed me. It doesn’t handle quite as well as the X5, nor does it ride quite as well, but it has a really nice balance that should satisfy most, if not all, customers.
I will say that Genesis needs some work on its suspension calibration, though. The GV80 is very supple and comfortable over 80 percent of bumps and road imperfections. However, high-frequency, sharp bumps do make themselves known more than I’d like in a car as premium and high-riding as the GV80. It’s not bad by any means but cars like the X5 do feel more sorted. I guess that comes with the decades of experience that BMW has and Genesis just doesn’t.
Can it Hang with the BMW X5?
The short answer is yes, it can. The Genesis GV80 isn’t perfect and it’s not quite as polished or as enjoyable to drive as the X5. However, it is several thousands of dollars cheaper, comes with a lot more equipment for the same money, has some very nifty tech features (such as the blind spot cameras in the dash), and is more interesting to look at and sit in. If it were my money, I’d personally still get the X5 because I value its slightly better ride/handling balance over the GV80’s. However, I really like the Genesis a lot and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a stylish, comfortable, and tech-filled family SUV.