Join the Q: New Genesis GV70 faces Audi Q5
Genesis has been snapping at premium players’ heels and is now trying to conquer Europe. Is the GV70 SUV the car to do it?
It has been a long time coming. Genesis as a brand, I mean. We know why it exists: premium means profit. Manufacturers of ordinary cars look at the space that Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz occupy with envious eyes. And it was as long ago as 2004 that Hyundai first developed posh car aspirations of its own.
It took until 2008 for it to happen, with a car badged Hyundai Genesis, the second generation of which came to the UK from 2015, in right-hand drive and small numbers. Small, because while sales of the original Hyundai model in the US were good enough to prompt the establishment of the name as a brand in its own right, we’re a bit sniffy about that sort of thing in Europe.
Lexus was launched 31 years ago with a car – the LS400 – that did things unlike any other luxury saloon. And yet three decades later, its sales in the UK of posh Toyotas hover between 10,000 and 15,000 cars a year. Mercedes sells nearly five times that many A-Classes alone, because it’s easier to go downmarket than up. Ford’s Vignale models will show that. Likewise DS. Infiniti gave up entirely.
But, well, look: the Genesis brand is going to do well in the US, in China and likely elsewhere. Genesis and Hyundai have design, engineering and development centres in South Korea, the US and Europe, so it’s a global range. Even if it doesn’t do huge numbers in Europe, we’ll contribute a bit.
This, then, is a GV70. G for Genesis, V for Versatile, billed in some markets as a ‘premium urban SUV’, but it’s quite a big car here. It’s 4.7 metres long, which puts it at the same length as a BMW 3 Series, while prices start from £40,000. This one, a Luxury Line, starts at £42,820, but this test car sits at £50,620 including options. And although there are electrified Genesis models around or coming, this one, curiously, is launched as a petrol or diesel only. This one’s a diesel.
It goes up against, in terms of volume, a big player. With the GV70, Genesis isn’t trying to find a niche from where nobody else operates (I mean, good luck to it if it could these days), but instead it’s just a few quid and a few centimetres away from a BMW X3 or Mercedes-Benz GLC. Or, as we’ve chosen for these pages, an Audi Q5, a car that sold so many in its first iteration that it surprised even its own maker. It’s a car that in China sometimes outsold the US and Europe combined. It’s a global car – and one we like – so it fits the bill. And at this money, you get very similar positioning, power and performance to those of the Genesis.
The Genesis’s 2.2-litre diesel makes 207bhp while the Q5, facelifted late last year, is a 40 TDI, a £45,235 S line with options taking it to £54,465. Its 2.0-litre makes 201bhp, but its response is augmented slightly at low revs with a 12V mild-hybrid starter-generator that chips in while the turbo is spooling. Both cars are four-wheel drive and have longitudinally mounted engines, but the Genesis is predominantly rear-wheel drive, via an eight-speed torque-converter automatic, with the front axle occasionally receiving torque when needed. The Audi’s lengthways engine orientation, meanwhile, is a red herring – plenty of cars on this platform are front-driven only. Via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, this is a ‘mostly front-drive but sometimes thinking about the rear’ kind of car.
If you want to get a feel for how important – or otherwise – Europe is in Genesis terms, take a look at the design. That big, chrome-laden smiling grille, the up-and-over chrome stripes and a waistband falling towards what one colleague unkindly compared to a Ssangyong Rodius rear. I don’t mind it, but subtle Euro-chic it isn’t.
Open the door and it’s the same. Genesis has gone to a great effort to make the GV70 feel plush: there are only tiny areas of black plastic, a dearth of brittle plastics and instead an array of plum and grey leather and satin metallics. In places – the steering wheel, for one – it’s weird, but it’s very clean, and I mean it as a compliment when I say there’s a touch of concept car about it.
Besides, maybe the fact that it feels less ‘Euro’ matters less than it once would have. But Mercedes is swaying away from trad materials and today’s proliferation of electronics and user interfaces are generally world-friendly: you’ll look at the same screen wherever on the planet you buy your gadgets. With the leather and a big soft-tone screen, this is more American golf club luxe; it doesn’t have the ambience of an appliance.
The Audi is more conservative, more conventionally European in feel. More black. More austere. More precise. Most customers won’t be accustomed to lots of other Volkswagen Group products, but if you are, this is yet another one out of the big VW playbook. There are soft-feel plastics on the door tops and dash, and tight and consistent finishes. But there’s a point in the cabin – generally where that big metallic strip lies – below which the plastics turn harder and more scratchy.
How you call your preference between the two depends on your own taste. Ergonomically it’s similar: they each have their merits.
The Genesis has a relatively car-like relaxed driving position, more so than the Audi’s. There’s more of a saloon vibe, even though the Q5 is only 10mm taller overall (they’re 1659mm and 1649mm). And while the GV70’s thick-spoke steering wheel is as weird to hold as it is to look at, on the dash there is a rotary controller for the gearshift and a separate one – with push-down and touchpad elements, plus some shortcuts – for the infotainment. Praise be, even if they are so close to each other that you’ll sometimes grab the wrong one. One of those ‘you get used to it’ things that you honestly shouldn’t have to.
There’s a lot of head room in the Genesis’s front seats, likewise in the rear for three people, good rear leg room and a 542-litre boot, expanding to a seats-down 1678 litres, beneath the floor of which you can stow the parcel shelf.
The Audi feels more like an SUV. That, perhaps, remains part of its appeal, but I don’t think it’s any more airy for it. In both cars, the window line is at around shoulder-injection height, but the Q5’s is a more upright driving position and you can still see a bit of bonnet. Again, the back is spacious – adults will fit easily behind front-seat adults – while the boot expands from 550 to 1550 litres. The Q5, like the Genesis, retains proper separate switches for the climate control, but most of the rest have moved to the central touchscreen (the Genesis’s is 14.5in to the Audi’s 10.1in). The GV70’s is too big a stretch from the driver to be safely usable on the move – hence the rotary dial – but of the two it’s the warmer, more imaginative screen to look at. Flick it onto a neutral screen when you’re mooching and it shows a gentle mountainscape with a soft overview of the route map. Pretty.
Its separate control pad also gives it a genuine ergonomic advantage over the Audi’s smaller, more clinical display, which is all touch controlled. Unhelpfully for the Q5, I had just spent time in a Q2, which retains a separate dial and is all the better for it. If this stuff matters to you – and I can see it might – it could be what clinches it for the GV70 over the Audi. You and I, mind, probably care about more than just that. So, to the way they drive.
Both cars have quiet engines. The Genesis has a curious high-pitched squirrelly whistle that I don’t think is turbo because it changes with revs, not throttle opening. But it’s sufficiently muted not to be intrusive, and it drives through an automatic transmission that, in normal circumstances, would give refinement advantages over the Audi’s dual-clutch unit. Certainly, the GV70 creeps very easily and can be brought deftly to a halt.
This Audi, though, has that 12V mild-hybrid system. Under steady acceleration it is impeccably smooth and so relaxed that a passenger who didn’t know much better asked if the Q5 was electric.
Both cars let you take control of the gears via paddles, but only the Audi lets you retain it indefinitely; the GV70 quickly reverts to Drive. And given that I saw around 40mpg in each (they didn’t complete exactly the same route; officially the Audi is a 44.8mpg car and Genesis a 38.0- 40.0mpg one), it’s honours even from a drivetrain perspective. The Genesis doesn’t do things the same way as its competitors, but it keeps coming up as good as them.
So it goes dynamically, too. The GV70 has coil springs with adaptive dampers, but our test car came with 21in wheels fitted with 255/40 R21 Michelin Pilot Sport 4s, no less. The Audi came with optional (£1700) air springs but its Continental ContiSportContact 5s were 235/55 R19s.
On good roads, the Audi rides flat and very smoothly. It’s better, I think, than the Genesis, which retains an underlying firmness to it. Nothing serious, but just a minor patter that never entirely settles. As roads get more demanding, though, the Genesis seems to have quicker wheel control, particularly if you start getting different inputs on different sides of the car. Throw in various bumps and cambers and the GV70 gives its occupants less head or shoulder toss, and there’s less steering corruption. The Audi shimmies a little and asks its driver to make subconscious corrections to keep it on track. Neither car is overly agile, but the Genesis’s platform means it corners with more purity. Technical term approaching: it just feels a touch ‘nicer’. Perhaps if it came on the same profile tyres as the Audi it might absorb bumps just as well too, but either way it combines a little extra dynamism with very well-suppressed road noise. There is not a lot in it, sure, but it’s marginally the preferable car to drive. I suppose if those things mattered to you that much, mind, you’d buy a BMW 3 Series.
So here we are: two SUVs, with the new one consistently nipping a small advantage over the establishment. In the end there isn’t much in it, so you might turn to the buying process to sway your decision. I’d be taking a punt, but I think the Audi will end up cheaper. That said, Genesis promises to make your life easy: they’ll collect your car for servicing and leave you with a courtesy car, then swap them back after. It will still be a left-field choice, but that convenience alone could seal it for me. There are various takes on how premium feels, but nothing is as luxurious as time.
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