Test Drive

2018 Genesis G80 Sport Test Drive Review: Can This Swift Thrift Take On The Germans?

G80 Sport delivers comfort and luxury with a bit more poke.

Taking on the Teutonic luxury trio is not an easy task. Ask Cadillac. Ask Lincoln. Ask Acura and Infiniti. Even Jaguar, a company with a history spanning nearly as long as all the German brands, sells a paltry number of cars in comparison. Does upstart Genesis even have a chance? Since 2008, Hyundai has ratcheted up its luxury game with the Genesis sedan while drastically improving the quality of all its mainstream cars across the board.

Now, two years after spinning off Genesis as a standalone luxury brand, the Genesis G80 sedan has been given some sporting credentials. Does it hold candle to the established midsize sports sedans from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz? The 2018 Genesis G80 Sport, a new addition to the G80 range, combines the best attributes of the large, comfortable, effortless sedan with the mechanical, beating heart of the Kia Stinger, slotting in between the naturally aspirated 3.8-liter V6 and 5.0-liter V8 G80 models. The Sport’s 3.3-liter twin-turbocharged V6 spools up 365 horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque, and sends its power through an eight-speed automatic before arriving at the rear or all four wheels.

During my test of the G80 Sport AWD, the engine was more than capable of launching the large car hard without setting my pants on fire. Instead, a very linear wave of torque with minimal turbo lag contributed to smooth acceleration regardless of chosen drive mode—Normal, Sport, and Eco. On the highway, the V6 couldn’t be heard in the cabin whatsoever, but its eight-speed automatic was on the clunky side of sharp when the car was in Sport mode and a bit too eager to hold revs and gears when off throttle. In Normal and Eco, the slushbox was almost silky smooth.

The Genesis finds its basis in a platform larger in every dimension, with a longer wheelbase and wider track for a smoother, more pleasant ride. Keeping its four 19-inch wheels and tires firmly planted on terra firma is an independent five-link front and rear suspension setup with continuous damping control, the latter of which you can only get on the Sport. Even with slightly stiffer suspension tuning, the G80 Sport doesn’t punish it’s driver. Over hundreds of miles of highway driving, I never once climbed out of the G80 Sport feeling tired. Still, this isn’t a car you hustle at the speed of sound around corners, even if its slightly heavier-than-normal steering may attempt to tell you otherwise.

This is a touring sedan in the fullest sense of the term and its dynamic suspension gizmos are meant more to smooth out crumbling infrastructure than to stiffen up the car for enthusiastic corner carving. If there’s one aspect of the suspension I'd knock, it’s the hollow sound that emanated throughout the cabin over larger bumps—far from the muffled thud you’d get from one of its German competitors. Speaking of the Germans, the G80 Sport AWD is best compared against the BMW 540i xDrive M Sport Sedan, Mercedes-Benz E400 4Matic AMG Line, and Audi A6 3.0 TFSI with S-Line flourishes.

All of the sedans are powered by six-cylinder engines with forced induction (the Audi is supercharged) making approximately the same amount of power and torque (though the G80 is the thirstiest at at 17 city/24 highway/20 combined mpg). The German options all cost more to start, though the G80 Sport is better equipped. Heated and cooled seats are standard on the Genesis, optional with the Germans. Adaptive cruise control, too, is part of the base G80 Sport package. It gets a larger wheel package, has more horsepower, more torque, and offers more space in most interior dimensions. And yet the Genesis is significantly easier on your pocketbook than the BMW, Merc, or Audi by thousands when comparably equipped.

Value is where the Korean upstart has an edge. While the German triumvirate will nickel and dime you for every option, sometimes astronomically so, configuring your G80 Sport is a simple, inexpensive affair. Pick rear- or all-wheel drive, a paint shade, interior color… and that’s it. Simplicity comes with its downsides, though, such as a lack of individualization options popular with those who buy in this segment. But if the main driver behind your buying decision is value, you’re unlikely to care about special paint shades and other bespoke options. It’s not like you are giving up luxury accoutrements to make up for the savings with the G80 Sport, either.

Inside, our tester was plush with supportive seats featuring adjustable bolsters, a suede headliner, and a substantial amount of standard convenience and driver’s aid kit. Adaptive cruise was predictable and lane keeping unintrusive. The touchscreen infotainment, measuring in at 9.2-inch touchscreen, comes with Apple CarPlay (something you now need to pay for separately in a BMW) and Android Auto. A 17-speaker Lexicon surround sound audio system isn’t an upgrade. Qi wireless device charging is part of the package, too. On paper, the G80 Sport doesn’t just beat its German competitors at the same price—it absolutely obliterates them.

Still, even after crunching all the numbers there are to crunch, comparing all the features there are to compare, the Genesis G80 Sport can’t match its competitors on one of the most important aspects of any luxury good: prestige. Perceived brand strength comes at a cost, something for which the Germans are more than willing to charge. How much is prestige fueled, feel-good superiority worth? How much are you willing to pay to stand on that metaphorical step above? $5,000? $10,000? $20,000? Believe it or not, there are a number of buyers—and I consider myself one of them—that put value on a higher pedestal than prestige.

Where others may see a new brand without history, I see an opportunity to buy in low. After all, Genesis may actually have history on its side. In 1989, a newfangled sedan landed in America from Japan with the exact same value proposition. It was called the Lexus LS—and while it may not have offered absolutely everything available in Germany’s top-flight sedans, it was enough to tip the scales, make people think different about luxury, and build an entire brand atop it it. I seek value in luxury trappings and want an extra bit of poke to go along with it. The G80 Sport may just be the Lexus LS of our generation. If you feel the same, Genesis has an interesting $58,745 proposition for you.

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