The Genesis G80 and Lexus IS 350 might be the last of their kind
My driveway is the happiest place on Earth each holiday season. One after another, shiny new cars, trucks and SUVs show up for brief visits, powered by their makers’ belief each one could be vehicle of the year material.
They’re not, but still, each is worth a look. The vehicles descend in quick succession because October through December is crunch time for picking the Free Press and North American car, truck and SUV of the year. I don’t have enough time with them for a focused column on each. The drives are purely to see whether they get my vote and move on to the next step in the judging process.
I can learn things about the vehicles, their brands and the state of the auto industry.
I’m trying to capture that with this column and any similar ones that follow. I’m calling it a quick take on a few notable things about vehicles I don’t know well enough to wholeheartedly recommend or dismiss.
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The last of their kind?
First up, a pair of new luxury-sport sedans, the 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport and Genesis G80.
In a handful of years, sport sedans have swung from being luxury brands’ core vehicles to a relative afterthought, a sideshow compared with the SUVs that rule sales and the electric vehicles automakers believe will be the next big thing.
Sedans are low on luxury brands’ to-do lists, and falling fast. The midsize Genesis G80 is all new. The compact Lexus IS is an update of an existing model. As automakers’ investment in sport sedans declines alongside sales, these may be the last new ones we see for a while, so let’s take a quick look.
Lexus IS 350 F Sport RWD
Like most compact sport sedans, the IS has always aspired to great handling. Suspension tweaks for this mildly updated model deliver sharp steering. You can’t argue with physics, though, and the platform’s nose-heavy weight distribution is no match for the handling of more evenly balanced competitors such as the Cadillac CT4, which manages a near 50/50 front/rear weight distribution.
The IS interior is on the small side, but a touch screen controlling audio, navigation and other features is Lexus’ most welcome move in years. It’s a clear winner in my eyes versus the brand’s console-mounted touch pad – which remains, if you’re a fan.
The 350’s 3.5L normally aspirated V6 is huge by the standard of other small sport sedans, which have largely switched to turbo fours. It’s smooth and beautifully mated to an eight-speed automatic. Promised 0-60 mph acceleration of 5.6 seconds for the rear-drive model I tested (5.7 for the heavier AWD) is OK but not exciting.
The interior, always Lexus’ strength, is covered in soft materials with contrasting stitching. Mark Levinson-branded audio is excellent, as usual.
2021 Lexus IS 350 at a glance
As tested: $42,900 (excluding destination charges)
Rear-wheel drive five-seat compact sedan
Engine: 3.5L V6
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Power: 311 hp at 6,600 rpm; 280 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm
EPA fuel economy estimate: 20 mpg city/28 highway/23 combined
Wheelbase: 110.2 inches
Length: 185.4 inches
Width: 72.4 (mirrors folded) inches
Height: 56.5 inches
Curb weight: 3,748 pounds
Genesis G80 2.5T AWD Prestige
The G80 midsize sedan once again demonstrates that Hyundai is one fast learner – if any automaker with two brain cells to rub together needed further proof. The midsize G80 is elegant, if stylistically derivative, kitted out with top-notch materials and systems, and it's a bargain.
The G80’s long, low profile promises luxury, but isn’t particularly distinctive, except for nice vents on the front fenders. Genesis’ deep grille – Superman-logo shaped, 'cause, why not? – and winged badge stand out a bit more, though the brand’s youth keeps them from being particularly recognizable.
The interior of smooth shapes, real metal and exposed grain wood trim makes more of an impression. It’s roomy and inviting.
Genesis stumbles slightly in new approaches to two main interior controls. A rotary shifter provides confusing feedback. I continually thought I was in gear, only to find myself rolling downhill in neutral.
There’s a wide touch screen above the dash, but Genesis wants you to use a console-mounted touch pad/dial combo for features such as navigation, audio and climate control.
It works but not terribly well. I found myself reaching repeatedly for the touch screen, a little farther than a comfortable reach from the driver.
The G80’s chassis seems competitive. The ride is smooth. Steering response is good.
Bottom line: Take Genesis seriously. Hyundai’s 5-year-old luxury brand is on track to overtake Tier 2 marques such as Infiniti and Acura and appears capable of challenging century-old names such as Cadillac and Mercedes.
2021 Genesis G80 at a glance
As tested: $59,550 (excluding destination charges)
All-wheel-drive, five-seat midsize sedan
Engine: 2.5L turbocharged four-cylinder
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Power: 300 hp at 5,800 rpm; 311 pound-feet of torque at 1,650-4,000 rpm
EPA fuel economy estimate: 22 mpg city/30 highway/25 combined
Wheelbase: 118.5 inches
Length: 196.7 inches
Width: 75.8 (excluding mirrors) inches
Height: 57.7 inches
Curb weight: 3,957-4,156 pounds