It’s difficult for new mid-size luxury sedans to break through the groupthink that sways drivers into the seats of the German Big Three. The Benz E-Class, the BMW 5-Series, and the Audi A6/A7 have a stranglehold on a niche that’s equal parts size, price, and prestige.

That’s not to say they have lacked serious challengers, like the well-loved and now-gone Cadillac CTS—and the Genesis G80. In just a few years, Hyundai’s Genesis brand has needled its way into the conversation despite being saddled by a small dealer footprint, no name recognition, and the lack of an SUV in its showrooms until this year (that’s solved with the 2021 Genesis GV80). 

Today’s Genesis has a consistently excellent field of vehicles in its lineup. The 2021 Genesis G80 underscores that growing credibility, and pitches itself closer to stardom. On a shared architecture with the GV80, it’s lovely to look at, user-friendly, bursting at its seams with technology, and eager to win friends with a lavish warranty and service.  

2021 Genesis G80

2021 Genesis G80

2021 Genesis G80

2021 Genesis G80

2021 Genesis G80

2021 Genesis G80

2021 Genesis G80

2021 Genesis G80

Master strokes

The G80’s leading masterstroke is its body. The car retains the long hood, short-deck design of its predecessor but now looks wider and more hunkered down, resulting in a powerful stance. You’ll also find all the latest Genesis styling cues like the crest grille, a kammback rear, and quad-light arrangement at both ends. The headlights and taillights try a little too hard to earn their LED stripes, and there’s some thickness at the rear pillars that probably helps it translate into an SUV more easily, but in all, the G80’s a stunning shape with the poise of an archer.

The interior shares the GV80’s sensible and sensual appeal, albeit with some subtle differences like the placing of a few controls. The dash sits low, slathered in skintight leather and graced with a billboard of a touchscreen. The cockpit is an overachiever in the design and materials, and glints with hints of metallic trim that coordinate with its leather and open-pore wood, though in base trim those latter two get hot-swapped for synthetic leather and piano-black accents. It’s still an inviting and soothing atmosphere that’s second to none: the high quality of its assembly is apparent even to people who aren’t so picky about stuff like French seams and nappa hides. (We call them savages.)

2021 Genesis G80

2021 Genesis G80

Blazing a digital trail

Technology suits up to play offense in the 2021 G80. The focal point is a 14.5-inch split-screen infotainment system that sits at the top of the dash. It’s controlled both by hard buttons and a center console-mounted controller with handwriting recognition. 

The system backfires as a backup for steering-wheel controls and voice commands. For starters, it inverts the commonly understood interface of a clickwheel; users must spin its metallic ring then tap on its perimeter to log in a command. It’s physically awkward  and spatially vague all at once. It takes too much motion to register what could be done with a single poke of the touchscreen—if only that billboard of a screen didn’t lie out of arm’s reach for most of us. And somehow, it corrupts Apple CarPlay and Android Auto interfaces into kludgy software. 

The digital displays get better elsewhere. Base models come with analog gauges and an 8.0-inch screen in the instrument cluster, but pricey versions add a full digital gauge cluster that toggles through views to deliver data on tire pressures, satellite radio stations, and more. There’s a neatly rended head-up display on the order sheet, too. 

2021 Genesis G80

2021 Genesis G80

The wheel deal

The 2021 G80 banks on a new platform and lightness to deliver big handling gains versus its previous incarnation. Underpinning the vehicle is a modified version of the brand-exclusive M3 rear-wheel-drive platform that debuted in the GV80. Thanks to the use of lightweight materials in the platform’s construction, particularly aluminum, the new G80 weighs around 243 pounds less than its predecessor. Curb weight still checks in at 3,957 pounds in base 2.5T RWD spec, 4,497 pounds in top-end 3.5T AWD trim.

The use of the M3 platform also means powertrain options in the G80 match those of its SUV sibling. The base engine is a 2.5-liter turbo-4 with 300 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque; above this is a newly developed 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 with 375 hp and 391 lb-ft of torque. In both cases an 8-speed auto is standard. 

We were split between coasts for drives. Bengt Halvorson says he found the turbo-4 perky enough, but not truly lively until dialed into Sport mode, with acceleration to 60 mph likely in the seven-second range. “This is a luxury car with performance flair,” he writes. “You might as well go big under the hood.”

I’m in sync there. I arrowed from Atlanta to the foot of the Appalachian Trail in the G80 3.5T AWD, and tapped its 375 hp to snip ahead between slower cars over dashed yellow lines and to loaf at an easy 80-mph clip on the way back into the Perimeter. The V-6 does the best impression of the late, lamented 5.0-liter V-8 formerly available; though the 8-speed and the Genesis’ comfort drive mode aren’t eager to jump off the line, a spin into Sport mode and a full mash on the pedal kicks it into hyperdrive, with some urgent hustle to go with its bucketfuls of panache.

Grip isn’t the question in the all-wheel-drive edition, thanks to its orderly transfer of power from the rears to the front, and to big 20-inch wheels. The G80’s adaptive suspension brings up the uncertainty: is it too relaxed, or too eager? It can be both. As we found in our drive of the GV80, the G80 seems too softly set in its comfort mode, a little too edged in its sport setting. 

Genesis’ hardware might benefit from some deeper coding: the continuously adaptive shocks take their lead from a single camera that reads the road ahead and signals for more or less damping, depending on obstacles it sees. On Atlanta’s ring road it pattered and thunked with minor ripples in the road; on wide smooth bends, it bounded until I dialed it into Sport mode, where it filed off all those edges into a more uniform ride motion. There’s an Individual drive mode that allows that suspension setting to be paired with a calmer setup for the transmission and throttle delivery. 

With the turbo-4 the G80 omits the adaptive dampers. Halvorson reports that it rides well over most surfaces, with confident straight-ahead tracking and a tight, near silent cabin amid some gusty crosswinds. He said the setup feels “like a good, relatively firm sweet spot for most situations—albeit too soft for performance driving.”

Nitpicks aside, the G80’s a fabulous car that drives well. We’d just be keen to sample a rear-drive 3.5T without adaptive damping—something that’s not currently on the menu.

2021 Genesis G80

2021 Genesis G80

Space, price and features

The G80’s well-suited to carry four adults and some weekend bags. Upgrading from the turbo-4 car to the turbo-6 nets a bunch of upgrades—leather from the synthetic stuff, more bolstering, quilted stitching—but it doesn’t change the fundamentals. The G80 makes the most of its spacious cabin with fantastic front seats that heat, cool, slide, puff, and snuggle in myriad ways. Genesis sculpts the back seats into supportive nacelles for outboard passengers, but boxes in a flat section in the middle for an unlucky fifth wheel. You might as well keep the wide, plush-looking center console with built-in cupholders folded down. The trunk’s only 13.1 cubic feet, too, so a fifth person better not have any carry-ons, either.

Safety technology carries on Genesis’ reputation for a plethora of technology. Standard are adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and blind-spot monitors; the options list includes a surround-view camera system and remote park assist, where they’re not standard. 

Every G80, even the base $48,725 G80 2.5T RWD, also comes with LED headlights, 18-inch wheels, synthetic leather upholstery, 12-way power heated front seats, and a 14.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Options range from 19- or 20-inch wheels to matte wood trim, 21-speaker Lexicon audio, heated rear seats (on rear-drive models), and wireless smartphone charging.

The G80 3.5T AWD I drove checked in at $69,075, including $400 of Himalayan Gray paint and a Havana Brown interior, along with the electronically controlled suspension, 20-inch wheels, a panoramic sunroof, nappa leather, the surround-view camera system, and blind-spot cameras that project obstacles into the gauge cluster. It’s a features list worthy of a starring role—one the 2021 G80 acts out beautifully.

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Genesis delivered a car full of gas to our driveway so we could hustle to the North Georgia mountains and back.