The Genesis G80 Sport is the latest model from the new Korean luxury brand, which is taking on Lexus, Infiniti, and even the Germans with top-tier design and an emphasis on high-end service.
More powerful than the standard G80 midsized sedan, the G80 Sport (from $55,250) gets 365 hp from an all-new 3.3-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 and boasts a stiffer suspension, bigger brakes, and snappier shifts from its 8-speed automatic transmission (manually shiftable with paddles on the steering wheel). Visually, the G80 Sport is differentiated by a cross-hatched front grille treatment, gloss black side mirrors, 19-inch dark chrome wheels, and a rear diffuser flanked by quad exhaust tips.
“We wanted to do something sporty with a mix of tradition as well,” says Luc Donckerwolke, Chief designer for Genesis. He also points out copper accents in the headlight assembly and on the center wheel caps. “Copper is hardly used anywhere [in car design]. I like the contrast of the warmth with technical materials.”
The G80 Sport is not simply a new car, it’s another step in a journey that began more than a decade ago when Hyundai set out to develop its own luxury division. Since then, Genesis has assembled a dream team hailing from some of the world’s most prestigious brands. Its global head, Manfred Fitzgerald, spent twelve years at Lamborghini. Donckerwolke, as well as exterior designer Sanyup Lee, came from Bentley. In the U.S., the brand is overseen by Erwin Raphael, a polished yet approachable leader who oversaw engineering and quality at Hyundai during the years the company transformed itself into a serious industry presence.
On a drive from California’s Napa Valley to the Mendocino coast, the G80 Sport proved a thoroughly enjoyable getaway car. There’s plenty of power for passing on two-lane roads, with all 376 ft lbs of torque on hand as low as 1,300 rpm. Genesis has fitted the G80 Sport with selectable drive modes that adjust suspension, throttle response, shift points, and the variable ratio steering. The vehicle is available in a rear-wheel drivetrain, or with all-wheel drive. The latter defaults to a 40/60 front-rear torque bias, but constantly adjusts electronically where needed.
Perhaps predictably, we prefer Sport mode, where the G80 Sport handles the curves alongside Highway 1 with stability and composure. Sport seats with power adjustable bolsters hold us snugly; copper interior stitching and a sport steering wheel emphasize the car’s performance-oriented character. Steering is comfortable and responsive without feeling overly heavy, and shifts from the gearbox are crisp and come just at the right time. But the G80 Sport is not a true sports car, nor does it pretend to be. The car is superbly quiet—with just the hint of a deep exhaust note—and four adults fit comfortably, without any complaints from the back seat.
Part of the G80 Sport’s appeal is the simplicity—and value—of its packaging. Advanced safety systems include blind spot detection, lane keep assist, and adaptive cruise control—all standard. The car also comes with navigation, Android Auto, and Apple Car Play. But the G80’s suite of features isn’t overwhelming. “We don’t add technology for technology’s sake, but technology that matters,” says Raphael. As with other Genesis models, the G80 Sport includes a range of complimentary services, such as remote drop-off and delivery for service appointments.
What’s next for Genesis? A new SUV will hit the market in 2019, the first vehicle to be fully designed by Donckerwolke and company. A concept version, dubbed the GV80, was shown this year at the New York Auto Show. When the production version arrives, it won’t just look like a bigger G80. “Many of those elements will carry over,” Donckerwolke says. “But we aren’t making Russian dolls. Every car will have a different character.”