It’s just not enough to be packed with luxury car equipment or have specs and proportions that look the part. And it’s certainly not enough to have a price tag that’s lower than everyone else’s. It’s just not enough because the car formerly known as the Hyundai Genesis outsold all but the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5 Series most years.Seriously.
And yet, can you really envision anyone truly putting it on the same luxury car pedestal as even an Infiniti or Volvo? You know, the pedestal that creates satisfaction for owners and breeds desire in everyone else? It takes creating an actual luxury brand to really do that, and it’s with the 2018 Genesis G80 Sport that we can see the ongoing evolution of just that.
Although every G80 is updated for 2018, it’s with the Sport where the best attempt is being made at establishing the sort of emotional connections and points of differentiation that can make someone want a car rather than simply buying one because it makes sense.
And in the G80 Sport, it all begins with copper. Yep, the stuff of pennies, kettles and Moscow Mule mugs, and a finish you won’t find on any other luxury car. There are copper details in the Sport’s headlights, wheel caps, dash clock and leather stitching – they are subtle but classy and effective. Those trim pieces further pair with brass-like bright work that takes the place of traditional chrome throughout the exterior. True, it doesn’t work with every paint color and in every lighting condition (such as when the Polar Ice blue car in photos met overcast coastal skies), but we think a lot of people will appreciate that this non-silver trim combo is new and different. It’s hard to stand out from the crowd if you wear the same makeup as everyone else, and we wouldn’t be surprised if more Genesis cars adopt it.
There are differences beyond the trim, though, as the Sport’s lower fascia is more aggressive than the slightly altered one found on every other 2018 G80. There are three separate intakes sculpted to strongly resemble an M Sport BMW’s lower fascia. The Genesis grille also has a glossy black mesh insert rather than horizontal bars, though the look is still hampered by the conspicuous adaptive cruise control’s radar emitter. At the back, there are darker taillights, enlarged housings for the quad tailpipes and the now-ubiquitous glossy black rear diffuser.
If the regular G80 is handsome and well-proportioned, but a tad anonymous, the Sport does just enough to gussy it up. You might prefer its look. But, will you prefer everything else that comes along with it?
Well, if by “everything,” you mean available Genesis feature content, then yeah, you literally get everything. The Sport comes standard with the 3.8 trim level’s Premium and Ultimate packages. Highlights of these include a panoramic sunroof, LED headlights, ventilated front seats, a driver seat with adjustable thigh support and bolsters, an upgraded 9.2-inch tech interface and a 17-speaker Lexicon sound system. That’s on top of the immense G80 standard features list that includes Genesis’ well-executed array of safety tech and driver aides (a driver inattention monitor and pedestrian detection were added for 2018). Compared to its price tag of $56,225, a comparably equipped Mercedes E300 (with far less power) would be more than $70,000 and a BMW 530i (ditto) would be about $66,000. Heck, an Acura RLX would be about $60,000.
Of course a price tag isn’t simply the result of inventorying a features list. There are harder-to-quantify elements like engineering sophistication, driving dynamics and interior perceived quality (not to mention the aforementioned brand cachet) that go into determining whether Jane D. Carbuyer finds a particular price palatable. And in these areas, the G80 Sport’s lower price makes some sense.
On paper, at least, it boasts an impressive list of attributes. Like every G80 it has a multi-link rear suspension, but bolsters it with continuously adaptive dampers that firm up when Sport mode is activated. The electric power steering system is rack-mounted for better road feel and response, while its exclusive, three-spoke steering wheel feels great in your hands. The brakes are also enhanced for better heat resistance up front and with bigger rotors at the back.
Ultimately, though, what the G80 could really use is a more rigid structure. The regular G80’s ride seems pleasantly plush until you hit a big bump and the car uncouthly shimmies in a way that you won’t experience in its competitors. It can feel insubstantial, something that the Sport’s firmer suspension makes things worse with a nervous and occasionally brittle ride quality over most road surfaces.
Yes, that suspension does improve road holding and controls body motions well through turns and over undulations, but we think those same potential buyers attracted to the Sport’s look could be put off by the unsorted ride. They probably won’t like the odd steering, either. It seems to almost lock into your turning angle through a corner and briefly resists your efforts to return to center or make a mid-corner adjustment. It almost felt like the lane-keeping assist system was on – it wasn’t.
The engine enhancement makes a better case for itself. Whereas the regular G80’s 3.8-liter V6 and 5.0-liter V8 get subtle updates for 2018 to improve fuel economy, the G80 Sport gets its own engine (take note, Acura TLX A-Spec). It’s the 3.3-liter twin-turbo V6 good for 365 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque first seen in the Genesis G90 and coming soon in the Kia Stinger GT. It provides effortless, relaxed acceleration most of the time, but can add just the right amount of snarl during aggressive acceleration to make you nod with satisfaction. Sure, said snarl is piped in through the speakers, but the G80 is such a whisper quiet car that doing so is a necessity.
The eight-speed automatic transmission carries out its orders without fuss or notice, and although the Sport summons rev-matched downshifts when using the steering wheel paddleshifters, we doubt you’ll be inspired to use them. Yes, the Sport is sportier than the regular G80, but it’s ultimately just not engaging nor sorted enough to be considered a sport sedan.
Frankly, it probably doesn’t need to be, but it should probably get some more attention inside. Elements like the rubbery switchgear and dashtop don’t match the quality you’d find in the G80’s upper crust competitors. The switchgear in particular looks far too Hyundai in origin, whereas the silver switches in the Genesis G90 look properly distinctive and ritzy. Genesis would’ve been wise to trickle them down ASAP, much as you can find E-Class bits and S-Class pieces in lesser Benzes. It’s also curious that the G80 and G90 have different tech interface controls.
Then again, the G80’s huge number of features are bound to make up for some of the perceived quality shortcomings, as we’d bet a great many would prefer to have standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto than a richer-looking dashtop.
They also might prefer the various ownership advantages Genesis provides. Besides the 5-year/60,000-mile basic and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranties that best every other luxury maker, you also get three years of complementary scheduled maintenance and service valet – in that someone comes to your house, drops off a loaner car, and takes your G80 to get serviced without you paying a dime or wasting time.
Doing so will also avoid visiting a Hyundai dealer, which is where one buys a G80 and a place where Genesis must literally improve. Though 90 percent of Hyundai stores will happily sell you a G80, only 30 percent are certified for the full Genesis experience complete with a separate dealership area (they’re also the only ones that can sell the G90). In either case, pondering a $56,000 luxury sedan lined up alongside aisles of Elantras and Tucsons can’t be a selling point.
Of course, taking this cautious approach could be deemed fiscally prudent as dealers aren’t being asked to risk building fancy separate stores for a new, untested brand. One would imagine those will arrive if and when Genesis establishes itself on that luxury pedestal.
It’s certainly not there yet. The promise of another sedan, a coupe, two SUVs and inevitable evolutionary improvement will help for sure, but the 2018 Genesis G80 Sport importantly shows that its brand is on the right track. Yes, the Sport will still mostly appeal to dollars-and-sense buyers, but all that copper and bronze at least has the potential to differentiate it from a crowded field and spark an emotional attraction. Me-too won’t cut it. The G80 Sport is its own thing and is better for it.