2018 Genesis G80 Sport first drive

With 365hp lurking behind its mondo grille, the G80 Sport is a Genesis with guts

The 2018 Genesis G80 Sport adds a dose of excitement to Genesis’ midsize luxury sedan, but could use some additional tweaking and refinement.

When we tested the Genesis G80 earlier this year, we found it to be a capable and comfortable luxury cruiser that didn’t offer much excitement. That makes the 2018 G80 Sport an interesting proposition indeed.

As it develops new models to fill out its lineup, Hyundai’s newly minted Genesis luxury brand is giving the G80 an extra dose of attitude for 2018, dropping in a new engine, tweaking the chassis, and adding sportier styling elements to create the brand’s first truly performance-oriented model.

Genesis invited Digital Trends to California’s Napa Valley to see how sporty the G80 Sport really is. The wine region’s backdrop of upscale resorts, and its many twisty roads, seemed like the ideal place for a sporty luxury sedan, but did Napa flatter the G80 Sport, or expose its flaws? Read on to find out.

What’s new

The G80 Sport is a new variant of the Genesis G80 sedan, which actually debuted for the 2015 model year as the Hyundai Genesis before Hyundai decided to create the standalone Genesis luxury brand.

The biggest difference between the Sport and other G80 models can be found under the hood. That’s because the Sport is the only version to get the 3.3-liter twin-turbocharged V6 from the larger Genesis G90. Like the other G80 engines, the 3.3-liter is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, but Genesis says the gearbox was retuned for a sportier feel.

Other changes include sport-tuned suspension, upgraded brakes, and model-specific exterior and interior styling elements.

Trim levels & features

The G80 Sport basically constitutes its own trim level within the G80 lineup, adding its sportier mechanical and styling features to other equipment already available on other G80 models.

With each prod of the throttle, the entire car tenses up and launches itself like a sprinter out of the starting blocks.

While some automakers go for simplicity with their sports or performance models, Genesis threw in everything but the kitchen sink. So in addition to the 3.3-liter V6, sport-tuned suspension, brakes, and transmission, and model-specific styling, the G80 Sport comes standard with everything from a panoramic sunroof and leather seats, to navigation and a full array of driver-assist features.

In fact, the only options on the G80 Sport are exterior and interior colors, and a choice of rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The rear-wheel drive model is priced at $56,225, and the all-wheel drive version is priced at $58,725.

The exterior styling doesn’t depart too drastically from the standard G80, but Genesis did try to advertise the Sport’s more aggressive character in a subtle way. A new front fascia incorporates a copper-accented mesh grille and large lower air intakes, while a new rear bumper sports a diffuser and quad tailpipes. The G80 Sport also rides on special 19-inch wheels with copper accenting around the center caps.

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Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

The changes from the standard G80 are all textbook sporty elements, and help perk up what is otherwise a handsome but derivative design. We got quite a few looks from bystanders during our drive, all of which seemed to be directed at the massive grille. As on other versions of the G80, it makes quite a statement, although it may also make people mistake this car for an Audi

Genesis knows how to make its cars look imposing and expensive, now it needs to make them look unique.

Technology overview

The G80 Sport comes standard with a 9.2-inch touchscreen display, which sits within easy reach of the driver’s fingertips in a well-designed dashboard. The display is augmented by an array of analog buttons on the console below, plus a rotary controller and even more buttons on the steering wheel.

The central touchscreen is backed up by a 7.0-inch digital display in the gauge cluster, and a head-up display. Graphics for both in-dash displays were crisp and easy to read, and remained legible even in the strong California sun. The head-up display was well placed, keeping within the driver’s line of site without being a distraction.

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Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

The G80 Sport comes standard with navigation, and Genesis offers three years of complimentary map updates, plus SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link real-time traffic information. The latter allowed the car to warn of traffic and suggest alternative routes. However, it proved no match for California’s notorious traffic, which choked even the alternative routes the system tried.

While the built-in navigation system is good enough to rely on, the G80 Sport also comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, for drivers who prefer a smartphone-specific interface. It also features Qi wireless phone charging, plus two USB ports and an auxiliary jack in the center console.

The G80 Sport also features a surround-view camera system, a feature that is proliferating among cars the way rearview cameras did a few years ago. It certainly makes maneuvering this big sedan through parking lots easier.

Interior fit & finish

While the exterior styling changes are relatively subtle, the G80 Sport interior upgrades really take things to the next level. In addition to the leather upholstery of other G80 models, the Sport gets a microsuede headliner and real carbon fiber trim on the dashboard, giving the cabin a sportier and more upscale feel.

Another nice touch is the copper accent stitching throughout the interior. Genesis considers copper its calling card and uses it on everything, including the press materials supplied for this car. But while some of the copper bits on the exterior are hard to notice, the stitching contrasted nicely with the colors of the leather and other trim pieces. Too bad Genesis couldn’t weave it into the carbon fiber as well.

On the functional side, the G80 Sport also gets a three-spoke steering wheel with a nice thick rim. The wheel is a good size, being small enough that you don’t bash your elbows into things during high-speed maneuvering. Genesis swapped out the front seats for Sport-specific pieces with more bolstering to keep occupants in place during vigorous cornering. They did exactly that, and were pretty comfortable to boot.

The rest of the interior carries over from the standard G80, meaning it’s incredibly spacious, and features a well-designed dashboard that’s simple and functional, but also an unusually high seating position for the driver.

Driving performance & MPG

The G80 Sport is appreciably sportier than a standard G80, but with its full complement of luxury and tech features, it’s not a hardcore performance car. Instead of track time, it’s best suited to weekend jaunts on twisty roads, which is exactly what we did with it. Racking up the miles through California’s Napa Valley and hugging the Pacific Coast on Highway 1, we put the pedal down to see if the G80 Sport lived up to its name.

Suspension responses on corners were lethargic. Along with numb steering, this made precise control during cornering difficult.

The 3.3-liter twin-turbocharged V6 produces the same 365 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque as it does in the larger G90 sedan. In the G90, this engine impressed us with its low-end torque, but it really comes alive in the (slightly) lighter G80 Sport. With each prod of the throttle, the entire car seems to tense up and launch itself like a sprinter out of the starting blocks.

But while it produces more power than the 3.8-liter naturally-aspirated V6 offered in the base G80, the twin-turbo engine can’t match the 420 hp and 383 lb-ft offered by Genesis’ optional V8. Genesis said it chose the twin-turbo V6 over the V8 for the Sport because of weight considerations and the V6’s low-end torque. Despite the V6’s impressive performance, we can’t help wondering if the G80 Sport would have been better off with the V8.

The rest of the car didn’t quite live up to the engine. The suspension did a good job of keeping body roll in check, while only sacrificing a smidgen of refinement and comfort. Yet its responses in corners were lethargic. Along with numb steering, this made precise control during cornering difficult. The brakes at least proved impressive, stopping 4,519 pounds of rear-wheel drive car (or 4,674 pounds with all-wheel drive) with no drama.

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Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

We tested rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive versions of the G80 Sport. Normally rear-wheel drive is the preferred setup for enthusiastic driving, but it didn’t have any discernible advantage here. The all-wheel drive car at least had the benefit of extra confidence-inspiring grip, so that’s what we would recommend in this case.

The G80 Sport gets an EPA-rated 20 mpg combined (17 mpg city, 25 mpg highway) with rear-wheel drive, and loses 1 mpg in the highway category with all-wheel drive. We averaged closer to 17 mpg in both versions in mostly back-road driving, according to the cars’ trip computers.

Safety

The G80 Sport may encourage enthusiastic driving, but it doesn’t skimp on safety equipment. Standard safety features include nine airbags, plus a host of driver-assist systems like adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert and lane change assist, and a driver attention monitor.

Crash-test ratings for the standard G80 should carry over to the Sport. The G80 is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick+, and a five-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Conclusion

The 2018 Genesis G80 Sport addresses one of the major weak points of Genesis’ midsize luxury sedan. It adds more excitement to the driving experience so, if you’re considering a G80, this is the one to have. It also represents a good value compared to German, American, or Japanese luxury sedans in this class. But there is still room for improvement in the handling department, and being sportier than the standard G80 doesn’t make this car a bona fide sports sedan.

Genesis has taken a big step toward making the G80 into a more well rounded luxury sedan, but it still has some work to do.

Highs

  • Gutsy engine
  • Upscale interior trim
  • Roomy, comfortable cabin
  • Good user interface

Lows

  • Dull steering and suspension
  • Generic styling