When Toyota launched the Lexus brand in 1989, it did so by beating the best car in the world. The original Lexus LS 400 was so refined, so impeccably engineered, it surpassed the Mercedes-Benz S-Class to become the benchmark luxury car. On pre-Clarkson Top Gear, presenter Chris Goffey called it “petrifyingly good”.
Now Hyundai has followed Toyota’s lead with its own luxury brand, Genesis. However, instead of a headline-grabbing halo model, the South Koreans have launched an array of cars in quick succession, from an electric crossover (GV60) to a sleek estate (G70 Shooting Brake).
The GV70, a midsize SUV that costs from £39,450, sits at the core of the range. It’s not a game-changer like the LS 400, but it’s good enough to make the established players pay attention. If you’re looking at a Lexus or mulling over a Mercedes, you should pay attention, too.
Bold like a Bentley
Helpfully, you won’t miss the GV70 in a car park. Design director at Genesis, Luc Donkerwolke, previously held the same job at Bentley, and there are hints of Bentayga in its bold, rather brash look. A plunging roofline creates a coupe-like profile, while the ‘crest’ grille and split headlights are meant to resemble the winged Genesis badge.
Inside, the GV70 feels more American than Korean, with plenty of plush leather and polished metal. There are even some Bentley-style knurled switches and stalks.
The super-sharp 14.5-inch touchscreen is beyond easy fingertip reach, but the clickwheel controller on the centre console works well. Shame the naff two-spoke steering wheel appears to have been stolen from a 1970s Yank tank.
Genesis has pledged to go fully electric from 2025, so it isn’t pussyfooting around with hybrids, plug-in or otherwise. Instead, the GV70 offers a binary, somewhat old-fashioned choice of 304hp 2.5-litre petrol or 210hp 2.2 diesel engines. With fuel queues looming and my sensible hat on, I opted for the latter.
Calm and controlled
Diesels might clash with the zeitgeist, but their mid-range muscle and relative frugality are well suited to an SUV. The GV70’s four-cylinder unit is quiet and wafty, aided by a smooth eight-speed automatic transmission. You can change gear yourself via wheel-mounted paddles, but you probably won’t bother. If you insist, the 0-62mph sprint takes 8.0 seconds, versus 6.1 seconds for the 2.5 petrol.
That said, the GV70 2.2D is no easy-breezy land yacht to drive. Genesis engineers apparently made use of Hyundai’s Nurburgring test centre, clocking up hundreds of laps of the 12.9-mile circuit – and it shows. The ride is firm but supple, with well weighted steering, good body control and a sense of rear-biased balance.
A forward-facing camera primes the electronic dampers for bumps and potholes before they happen, while switching to Sport mode inflates the driver’s seat bolsters to lock you into place.
More clever tech comes with the pricey-but-worthwhile Innovation Pack (£4,190), which includes adaptive LED headlights, remote hands-free parking (ideal for tight garages), a head-up display, surround-view cameras and a child-safety system that prevents the rear doors from opening if a car or cyclist is approaching. There’s also an excellent blind-spot monitor that activates a real-time camera view when you indicate to change lanes.
This time it’s personal
Genesis faces an uphill struggle for recognition, but the GV70 is proficient – and simply different – enough to make a strong start.
Like Lexus, Genesis also promises hassle-free ownership, with a five-year warranty, five years of collection-and-delivery servicing, free over-the-air updates and five years of breakdown cover. Plus, you get your own Genesis ‘personal assistant’ to guide you through the process. For buyers who are cash-rich but time-poor, that sounds like true luxury.
Tim Pitt writes for Motoring Research
TOP SPEED: 133mph
FUEL ECONOMY: 39.8-42.3mpg
CO2 EMISSIONS: 189g/km