Back when ordinary cars were pretty awful, all a luxury car needed to be was pretty good. Genesis, Hyundai’s nascent luxury division, is cursed to be trudging up the long hill to luxury legitimacy at a time when ordinary cars are danged nice. And that includes a lot of danged nice Hyundais being sold right alongside the Genesis vehicles in stores with big Hyundai signs out front. The new, twin-turbocharged 2018 G80 Sport is the next step up that steep incline.
Maybe it’s a half-step.
The G80 is the smaller of Genesis’s two sedans that, if it were a Hyundai (and it isn’t), would fill the slot held by what was formerly known as the Hyundai Genesis sedan between 2009 and 2016. In fact, the G80 is the same car introduced for the 2015 model year as the second-generation Hyundai Genesis sedan. The mostly superficial transmogrification into the G80 took place heading into the 2017 model year.
This would be less confusing if the powers that be had chosen to name their luxury division after a different book in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy was available, and Exodus would’ve been a letter shorter. Leviticus might have been a reach, but even that would have clarified matters.
Genesis’s big challenge here is the Sport part of the G80 Sport equation. The G80 is a sweet-natured car, but it has never been sporty. The G80 Sport is a leap of faith into the sports-sedan unknown.
A Breath of Life
To breathe the G80 Sport into existence, Genesis swiped the twin-turbocharged 3.3-liter V-6 from the larger G90, mated it up to Hyundai’s eight-speed automatic transmission, and planted both of them under the hood. Easy peasy.
Genesis (and Hyundai, previously) use the same transmission with the G80’s naturally aspirated engines, a 311-hp 3.8-liter V-6 and an optional 420-hp 5.0-liter V-8. As in the G90, when burning premium fuel the twin-turbo 3.3-liter is rated at 365 horsepower and a thumping 376 lb-ft of consistent torque from a low 1300 rpm to 4500 rpm. So, while the turbo V-6 gives up 55 horses to the V-8, it produces only 7 lb-ft less grunt, hits the torque peak at much lower revs (the V-8 needs 5000 rpm to hit its max), and sustains that torque production over a greater portion of its operating range. Ain’t turbos something?
The ratios in the G80 Sport’s gearbox remain the same as in the 3.8 V-6 and 5.0 V-8 models—with fifth at a direct drive and sixth, seventh, and eighth all overdrives. The turbo model also shares a 3.91:1 final-drive ratio with the naturally aspirated V-6 instead of the 3.54:1 ratio used with the V-8. And yes, there’s a manual-shifting mode that can be controlled with paddles located just behind the steering wheel.
Genesis projects that about 60 percent of G80 Sports will be sold with rear-wheel drive, wearing a price tag of $56,225. The rest will be equipped with all-wheel drive (and a heated steering wheel) for an additional $2500. As a nearly one-spec car, all G80 Sports will be comprehensively equipped from the top of their panoramic sunroofs to the bottom of their P245/40R-19 front and P275/35R-19 rear tires.
Turbo sixes have become the go-to engines for mid-size luxury cars, and the G80 Sport’s feels similar to those from Cadillac and Mercedes. That means there’s plenty of thrust but not much personality. There’s no feeling of eagerness, no thrilling trill from the exhaust, and no sense that the engine is ever straining. In a way, it’s more reminiscent of the lazy V-8s that General Motors once put in Buick Centurions and Oldsmobile Regency 98s than of the entertaining (though less powerful) sixes once found in the BMW 5-series. And far be it for anyone writing here to badmouth thrust.
Let There Be Heavy
It appears the engineers never read Genesis 1:3 (“Let there be light”), because the company claims its rear-drive G80 Sport weighs in at a profoundly not-light 4519 pounds. That’s 42 pounds less than what the company asserts for the G80 equipped with a V-8, but it’s between 232 and 494 pounds porkier than the weight C/D measured for any of the five mid-size, six-cylinder luxury sedans in our recent comparison test of the segment. And the all-wheel-drive G80 Sport grows another 155 pounds tubbier than that.
With that in mind, the G80 Sport is almost $16,000 less expensive than the most affordable car in that comparison test, the $72,175 Audi A6 3.0T. And it’s almost $35,000 less costly than the test winner, a $91,175 Mercedes-AMG E43 4MATIC.
The G80 stretches out over a long 118.5-inch wheelbase, and the Sport’s interior is roomy and sweetly detailed. The seats are well shaped, the materials all feel of high quality, and the switchgear operates with precision and ease. Beyond all that, the head-up display is effective, and both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration are included at no extra cost.
The G80 Sport is a handsome car made more attractive by subtle copper details along the black-chrome, cross-hatched grille’s edge and around the wheel center caps, among other places on the exterior. Genesis should continue those copper accents more prominently inside the car. There are a few copper-colored threads in the upholstery’s contrast stitching, but carbon-fiber trim dominates. Currently fashionable, carbon fiber has become a cliché for identifying sports sedans. And copper elements integrated within the carbon fiber would be sweet, don’t you think?
Goes Like Sport
Grab the thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel, toe into the accelerator, and the G80 Sport swooshes forward as if a hydraulic ram were doing the pushing. The cabin is so well insulated that it isolates the driver almost too much from the dynamic experience, and there’s no discernible noise to announce the acceleration. Still, the scenery gets moving real quick.
This twin-turbo V-6 propelled a 4824-pound, all-wheel-drive G90 to 60 mph in only 5.3 seconds, and in the somewhat less massive G80 Sport it should accomplish the same trick. Maybe even a bit quicker. And that’s competitive with its pricier rivals.
The electrically assisted steering is mostly numb, the brakes are drama free, and the cornering is flat even if the G80 Sport doesn’t seem excited about the challenge. It’s either a luxury car fighting to become a sports sedan, or it’s a sports sedan wrapped in a luxury car’s shell. It all feels slightly shy of fully baked.
Frankly, the G80 Sport is a stopgap. It’s a performance version of a car that used to be a Hyundai, not the full flower of Genesis’s ambitions. That may need to wait for the next-generation G80 when it arrives some years from now. (Or perhaps the forthcoming 2018 G70 sports sedan that is aiming for BMW’s 3-series will embrace that role.)
And maybe that will give Genesis a chance to consider how to add a patina of authenticity to the brand. Mercedes-Benz built the first car, BMW invented the sports sedan, and Jaguar created glorious beasts like the E-type, and they all still lean on heritage for their street cred. What can Genesis rely upon? Right now, not much beyond keen pricing, Hyundai’s traditional long warranties, and the inclusion of three years of SiriusXM Travel Link traffic data.
Genesis is off to a solid start—Adam and Eve are out of the Garden, but there’s still a flood to come. It’s going to be a long story.