Fun Stuff

First-Ever Genesis SUV One Helluva Highway Cruiser

Editor’s note: Dan’s full review and video about the 2021 Genesis GV80 will be published in the weeks following this feature story.

With each vehicle I evaluate, I do my best to live with it the way one might in the event they actually own it.

When I test a Jeep Wrangler, it’s all but required that I spend some time on the trail (plus, it’s incredibly fun); with an electric car like the Tesla Model S, you can bet I’ll be hypermiling my way around town and scoffing at each gas station I pass; and when I’m putting a pickup through its paces – well, I drive around with nothing in the bed just like a typical truck owner.

So what was I to do with the 2021 Genesis GV80, the premium brand’s first-ever SUV, during a two-week test spanning the holiday season? Head for the hills, of course. But not just any hills – I mean the snow-covered slopes of Quebec’s Laurentides.

A four-day foray to the posh region north of Montreal seemed the ideal way for me and my girlfriend to ring in the new year with just the two of us. With the usual celebrations with family and friends shelved due to the pandemic, a romantic getaway seemed a most excellent alternative. So we booked a secluded cabin, packed our bags, and hit the road for the 600-km journey east.

One Helluva Highway Cruiser

Before we could even consider rubbing proverbial fenders with high-society types heading north from Montreal, there was the pesky problem of all the topography in between. Anyone who’s made the drive along the hellscape known as Highway 401 through Central Ontario knows it’s about as boring as anything else this side of the Prairies. Plenty of lovely communities may dot the route, but that stretch of tarmac can be politely described as absolutely soul-sucking.

Instead, we opted for the scenic route: the trusty ol’ Trans-Canada. It takes a little longer but is well worth it for the sights alone. With traffic sparse along the 401, we rode it out until we could take it no more. We veered off at the family-favourite Highway 37, heading north to the tiny community of Actinolite, Ont. – blink and you’ll miss it, as my grandmother used to say – before setting off east along Highway 7 all the way until it hooks up with Highway 417 outside Ottawa.

Whether slogging along the multi-lane abyss or snaking through the snow-covered surroundings of the Trans-Canada, the way the GV80 managed to fade into the background brought it right to the forefront of my attention. Having spent plenty of time on these roads behind the wheels of plenty of different vehicles over the years, the cruising comfort of this first Genesis SUV is truly something to behold.

This is exactly the kind of driving the GV80 was built for. While the upgraded engine under the hood is certainly thirsty – the best I could muster from the twin-turbo V6 was 11.7 L/100 km despite cruising almost exclusively at highway speeds – it makes for quick work of slower traffic when passing, opportunities for which are precious on a winding route like the eastern stretch of Highway 7.

Beyond the powertrain, this might well count among the most comfortable cruisers on the market this side of $100,000 – and perhaps even beyond. Take the BMW X7 I tested exactly one year prior to this – and took on a holiday adventure to the opposite end of Ontario – with its four-corner air suspension and body-roll-reducing electric motors; this GV80 has it beat when it comes to ride quality, the adaptive dampers dispatching all manner of road imperfections before they reach the cabin.

To do this, the suspension in V6-powered models uses camera and navigation information to constantly adjust the damping force at each corner. It’s the exact kind of electronic trickery that makes the GV80 a road-trip wonder, and there weren’t many bumps the system didn’t take the sting out of despite the massive 22-inch wheels my tester rode on.

If all that wasn’t enough, the seats in the top-of-the-line 3.5T Prestige proved simply sublime. Cloaked in quilted leather and boasting both three-stage heat and ventilation, as well as 16-way adjustability for the driver and 12-way for the passenger, there was barely a stir from either of us the entire way. As I was the one behind the wheel, I also benefited from a massaging seat that gently – and quietly – worked to keep any soreness away. Finally stopping for fuel outside Mont-Tremblant, Que., there wasn’t even a hint of fatigue after a little more than five hours on the road.

Enough Style to Stand Out

Of course, we could’ve taken my own car, and one that would be perfectly suited for such a highway drive: a diesel-powered Volkswagen Golf wagon. And while it certainly wouldn’t have been out of place in the ski-and-spa paradise north of Montreal – as usual, I spotted more than a few examples sporting roof boxes and ski racks on this particular trip – the GV80 would be far more at home among the well-to-doers making similar journeys to chic chalets in the area.

Turning heads on a highway populated with Porsches, Audis, and everything in between was easy for the GV80, its slick styling and relative rarity garnering plenty of attention along the way. More than a few motorists were caught doing double-takes as we rolled alongside them, some doing their best to glimpse the badge on the snow-covered hindquarters while others poked their co-pilots with obvious gestures in the GV80’s direction.

It’s not an especially large SUV, but this Genesis boasts a presence nonetheless. From the gaping diamond-pattern grille to split LED lighting and the right amount of chrome finishes all the way around, the GV80 captivates in ways that well exceed its price tag ($85,000 before tax, in the case of the fully loaded version I tested). While I’m not sold on all the styling – the lights in particular don’t quite do it for me – if you want your family hauler to get attention, this isn’t a bad way to do it.

Oh, There’s Always Snow

With countless childhood trips to visit family in la belle province under my belt, I’m all too aware that wintertime in Quebec is predictable for its unpredictability. An excessive amount of snow is all but guaranteed, it’s only a question of when it will arrive – and how often it will return. The parental preparedness of a father who was born and raised in Montreal meant every trip from November through April included boots and gloves for the whole lot of us. Because you just never know.

My last winter road trip to Quebec was behind the wheel of a Subaru Crosstrek. A crossover shod in winter rubber that constantly sends power to all four wheels is about as good as it gets as far as traction is concerned. But the GV80 is no slouch either, boasting a slick all-wheel-drive system of its own that shuffles power around on the fly. Yes, that’s to be expected in a modern SUV; but this one in particular uses more electronic gizmos to put its capability beyond question.

Now, I should point out that this happy accident is what prompted me to turn in this road trip report for your reading pleasure in the first place. It’s what got me thinking about the GV80 with a whole new respect, and it all started with bad directions.

If you’ve ever booked a stay through a service like Airbnb before, it should come as no surprise that the check-in instructions were a little less than clear. Coupled with our arrival after nightfall and the snowstorm that had enveloped the area, and I was relieved we didn’t make the trip in my front-wheel-drive wagon after all. Because what seemed like a level laneway covered in a dusting of snow turned out to be a short-yet-sharp hill climb of hidden ice (not to mention the wrong driveway in the first place).

Having sunk in snow up near the rocker panels, the GV80’s massive winter tires were searching for traction that simply wasn’t there on the slick surface below. In other words, we were stuck. Well, I prefer to call it stuck-ish. I probably could’ve simply reversed back down the way we came, but then there isn’t much fun in that. So I reached for the terrain mode switch on the centre console and bore witness to one of the most effortless self-recoveries ever.

Much like the all-wheel-drive system itself, a terrain management system is par for the course in a premium SUV these days. But the effectiveness of the GV80’s snow setting was a sight to behold; the powertrain, all-wheel-drive, and traction control systems working to quickly and quietly pull us up to the top of the hill like it was never a problem in the first place. By slowing down the torque delivery and sending it to the wheels with the most traction – all the available torque can go rearward and to either back wheel thanks to a trick electronic limited-slip differential – the terrain mode system stops the wheels from spinning hopelessly on the ice and snow. But it was the lack of drama of the entire experience that made it truly special. There was no beeping and flashing. The traction control system didn’t grunt and grind. And the engine wasn’t working overtime. It just sort of happened.

The Long Road Home

The return leg of a road trip always manages to feel longer than the journey to your destination, doesn’t it? There’s not much excitement when you’re heading home – especially not after four days of relaxing by a wood-burning fireplace with a snow-covered lake right outside the window and not another soul in sight (well, except the guy who managed to stuff his Honda Civic into a snowbank on the main road one night).

The roads were clear and the sun was shining just about the whole way home – ideal conditions for a highway cruiser like the Genesis GV80. And yet for six and a half hours, all I could think about was our misadventure up the wrong driveway and how reassuring the entire experience was. Those hundred metres or so gave me a glimpse at a side of the brand’s first-ever SUV that would’ve gone otherwise unnoticed. And I’ll tell you this much: I like what I saw.