Genesis GV80 vs. BMW X5 Comparison Test: Luxury Kings Duel for Supremacy

The taxonomy of the midsize SUV segment was simple back in the late 1990s to mid-2000s. Before the public’s appetite for all things large turned insatiable, the definition of what did and did not fall within the midsize class was ironclad. But now in 2021, you won’t find a segment more amorphous and fuzzed than the one occupied by the 2020 BMW X5 and newcomer 2021 genesis gv80.

This chaos is partially the X5’s fault. Arriving just one model year after the revolutionary Mercedes-Benz ML-Class broke ground on the luxury midsize segment in 1997, both SUVs quickly became shared holotypes, forcing other luxury automakers—German or otherwise—to play catch-up for the next few decades. Really, the Mercedes ML—now known as the GLE-Class—and BMW X5 never loosened their grip on the reins, forcing segment up-and-comers to drive between the lines with midsize SUVs either slightly larger or slightly smaller than the Benz and BMW duo.

Midsize Segment Is Now Small-Size

If we hold fast to what are rear-wheel-drive-based (with AWD available), two-row layouts established by the GLE and the X5, the lake of protagonists in this class shrinks to a puddle. Aside from the Benz and the BMW, there’s the Porsche Cayenne and the Genesis. Restrict entries only dimensionally, and the puddle grows to a pond with the inclusion of the Audi Q8, Lexus RX, Land Rover Discovery, and Volvo XC90.

BMW still sits pretty, but Genesis continues to strike at the very core of established luxury. It’s a tired comparison, but today’s Genesis parallels early-1990s Lexus with its German pantomiming. A trio of well-equipped and fabulously engineered rear-drive luxury sedans was the first true salvo from the automaker, and now the first two entries from its corresponding trio of Genesis SUVs are here to steal the bratwurst from under BMW’s and Mercedes’ noses.

Genesis vs. the World

This means the GV80 has to be as good as or better than the best in one of the hottest slices of the SUV market. Smells like a comparison to us, so we requisitioned both a 2021 genesis gv80 and 2020 BMW X5 (BMW only had 2020 models available to loan us; its core mechanicals are the same as 2021 X5s) for a trip into SoCal wilderness. These are shining examples of each breed, too: The BMW X5 arrived in all-wheel-drive x40i trim loaded with ritzy options, including the $5,600 Executive package, which laced it with white-glove features including soft-close doors, rear passenger window shades, heated and cooled cupholders, and four-zone climate control, among others.

It also carried the incongruous $3,950 Off-Road kit, which added air suspension and an M Sport differential, but also came strapped with skidplates and additional off-road-focused terrain modes. Strangely, it also rolled on sticky Pirelli P Zero tires in contrast to the fire-road underbody armor. BMW has since discontinued the Off-Road package for the 2021 model year, so take our comments on how this unicorn performs dynamically with a grain of road salt (the air suspension can still be had for $1,000), provided you’re in the market for an X5 in 2021 and beyond. All in, it would cost you a princely $83,420 to replicate this if you ordered it last year.

Genesis is known for irreproachable bang for your buck, but don’t expect to pay Hyundai money for this privilege. The nearly loaded-to-the-grilles 2021 genesis gv80 will liberate $72,995 from your wallet thanks to $11,800 in Advance and Prestige packages, which include quilted Napa leather, a 21-speaker Lexicon sound system, microsuede headliner, soft-close doors, active noise cancellation, and both heating and cooling for the second-row seats, among other bougie accoutrement.

Some Style, More Substance

Beauty is usually subjective, so it’s up to you to decide which chrome-dipped soap-bar shape is your stem of Champagne. For us, the 2020 BMW X5 is handsome enough, though it is shades of the same design we’ve seen countless times from BMW. We’d cast stones for it looking rather cookie cutter compared to the rest of the BMW lineup, but the rock would zing off the X5’s windshield and rattle the equally homogenous noggins of Audi and Mercedes alike. On the other wheel, consistency is precisely what BMW seeks, so we’ll mark this down as a job well done. Seeking irreverent design from Munich? Leave the X5 alone and check out the new BMW iX.

The 2021 genesis gv80’s exterior is markedly less anodyne, though not as universally palatable as the X5. You might find the massive slab of chrome grille gauche and the matrix motif on the wheels too noncommittal. Whatever—at least it’s something different. Overall, it’s a handsome-ish shape with a bit of flair in a sea of one-note corporate copy-and-paste blobs.

Both SUVs are significantly nicer to interact with than to look at, but one interior blazes as bright as a battlefield flare: The 2021 genesis gv80’s cabin presentation is sumptuous beyond any other SUV short of the big Range Rover and Bentley Bentayga; there are plenty of sharp SUV interiors in this range—X5 included—but most are dark, emotionally cold environments focused more on being cool than cushy.

And cushy it is. The quilted leather seats wouldn’t look out of place in a smoking lounge, and the crystal-ring insert on the transmission shift knob would pair well with whatever cut glass decanter sat on the corresponding mahogany bar top. There’s no mahogany to be found in the Genesis, but its wood trim panels are requisitely rich and complemented our example’s saddle-colored interior palette nicely.

Cushy or Cool?

Don’t think your rear passengers are downgraded to Comfort Plus, either. The second row is almost as lush as the two La-Z-Boys up front, with nearly the same level of amenities. As noted, choosing the Prestige trim both chills and roasts back-seat butts—er, at their discretion, of course—alongside adding a pair of USB ports and a legit three-prong 115V outlet for nose hair trimmers and handheld kitchen mixers. Or laptop chargers, we suppose.

It’s not just materials and presentation, either. The tech is top-tier, particularly with regard to infotainment, and the amount of screens is impressive. You have a screen for the infotainment, a screen for the HVAC controls, and a screen for the instrument cluster. It’s screens all over the place, and those screens scream luxury.

The 2020 BMW X5’s interior falls more into that cold ‘n’ cool category than it does cushy, but you’d have to possess an ass of glass not to sink into the X5’s well-stuffed seats. BMW continues to prove itself the master of materials, with micron-tight trim tolerances that would make a watchmaker blush, and impossibly shaped metal-plated trim that appears more sculpted than mass-manufactured.

For the most part, the BMW X5 matched the genesis gv80 port for port and feature for feature, with the strange exception of ventilated seats. A dash through the desert might sweat-slick your back and bottom, but at least the cooled cupholders will keep your virgin daiquiri frosty, and the rear’s two USB-C ports will keep your passengers’ devices topped up.

Under the Hood

Things continue to diverge when you sneak a peek under the hoods. Our 2021 genesis gv80 dropped the base 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and instead carried the range-topping 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6. Meanwhile, the 2020 BMW X5 x40i’s 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six is the smallest engine on offer in the X5 family. In the Genesis, the big-six tenderizes chunks of granite with 375 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque, thoroughly bullying the X5’s 335 hp and 330 lb-ft. Both are all-wheel drive, and both route all this mechanical motivation through eight-speed automatic transmissions—ZF for the BMW, in-house for the Genesis.

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You might think a 40-hp and 53-lb-ft surplus coursing through the GV80’s tires means it drops the X5 off at daycare when it comes to straight-line hustle. Nope! On our test track, the X5’s 5.1-second 0-60-mph scramble positively obliterated the GV80’s 6.0-second rush. The BMW continues to take the South Korean to Gapplebee’s all the way down the strip in every 10-mph increment, finishing the quarter mile in 13.8 seconds to the Genesis’ best time of 14.4 seconds. Don’t think it comes down to some extra flab on the GV80’s part, either: The two SUVs differ by just 15 pounds.

Rather, it’s all about the transmission, baby. The BMW’s overall gearing is 18-29 percent shorter in the first four gears, and the added leverage that presents to the smaller engine means it just jumps out of the hole a whole lot harder.

How They Handle

There really is something to be said for BMW’s ocean-deep treasure vault of chassis and engine development. Granted, this particular X5 is set up as M-Lite with air suspension, active differential, and P Zeros, but the X5’s fundamentals are shockingly good. We suspect the stars in our eyes wouldn’t dim all that much after driving one not so athletic.

As is the case with all current BMWs—both regular and M varietals—steering is vapor-light, flea-quick, and pinpoint-precise, accounting for size and application. Couple this to a fabulously intuitive chassis and smart throttle mapping, and you’ve got the secret recipe for a 5,000-pound VW Golf GTI a la BMW.

The genesis gv80 didn’t give much ground. It’s undeniably softer and less attuned to a woven country lane than the mercurial X5, but it performed far beyond the needs of its intended customer base. Grip from the all-season tires was good, but the GV80’s adaptive suspension was the standout variable. Its damping is a bit firm when you give it the beans, and it becomes a waterbed filled with oil and soap foam when the path turns craggy and broken.

Honest Heft

In direct contrast to the 2020 BMW X5’s ethereal lightness, the 2021 genesis gv80 is all about heft. Again, just 15 pounds separate these nearly 5,000-pound lumps, so the kudos fall to either BMW for wicking away the bulk or Genesis for retaining just the right amount of sensory mass. It’s probably a bit of both, but Genesis got the formula just right. Some of the background density is real—weight transfer, required brake pressure—but others are deliberate. The crystal shift knob is damped and resistant, as is the pleasantly weighty steering, much like hidden metal weights placed inside midgrade headphones to give the physical sensation of quality—only in the Genesis, these bricks are cast from sterling silver.

Safety

Both SUVs are stellar on the safety front. Each beeped, screamed, and flashed with a full suite of adaptive cruise, collision avoidance, collision warning, steering assist, lane keep assist, and blind-spot monitoring, to name just a few. Luckily, we didn’t get to test some of the more drastic safety systems, but we made good use of the adaptive cruise and highway driving assist on both behemoths. It was a toss-up: Each SUV abstained from playing a nasty game of lane ping-pong, and each was consistently smooth even in tight traffic. BMW gets a few invisible bonus points for the neat animation on the digital gauge cluster, where virtual avatars of the surrounding cars scrolled by providing endless fascination.

And the Winner Is …

In terms of performance of intended function, the meters are pegged for both these luxe sleds. Of course, we’re placing one a bit higher on the lift than the other, but this is one of those frustrating times where it’s a victory of preference rather than merit. The 2020 BMW X5 is, for tens of thousands of customers every year, the absolute standard for the midsize luxury SUV segment. A sentiment we don’t disagree with, though in this case, the laurels pass to the 2021 genesis gv80.

This was not a test of which SUV is better to drive. This was a comparison of which SUV serves its segment best, and the GV80 emerges the winner. Despite baked-in recognition and popularity, it’s glaringly obvious BMW isn’t phoning in a thing with the X5 family; in fact, we believe BMW’s SUVs are better products in their own market space than the company’s sedans are. However, the genesis gv80’s unconventional design, soap-slick powertrain, silken ride, and stunning interior is the cocktail to beat. And so far, no one has.

2nd Place: 2020 BMW X5

Pros 

  • Fantastic handing
  • Silky smooth powertrain
  • Exceptional fit and finish
  • Still one of the best in the luxury midsize segment

Cons

  • Looks like every BMW SUV ever
  • Almost $10,000 more expensive than the Genesis, but not worth $10,000 more
  • Less rear-seat features
  • Down one screen compared to the Genesis

Verdict

Although the X5 is sharp, quick, and beautifully designed, it can’t quite match the genesis gv80 blow for blow on value for money, presentation, comfort, and amenities.

1st Place: 2021 genesis gv80

Pros:

  • A stylistic standout in the segment
  • Unbelievable interior
  • Smells like the inside of a rich cattleman’s outfitter
  • Powerful and buttery drivetrain

Cons: 

  • Some stylistic touches are a bit gimmicky
  • 3D function on digital gauge cluster rarely works correctly
  • Not quite as sharp to drive as the BMW
  • Driver warnings can be intrusive

Verdict

With a stunning interior, a super-slick powertrain, and a striking sense of style, the GV80 proves it’s a serious player in the midsize SUV segment.

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