Forget the early adopters; this car is for design thinkers.
The first time I heard the idea of ‘design thinking,’ I was intrigued: I knew ‘design’ and ‘thinking,’ but put the terms together, and they are a principle that elevates design beyond the traditional form and function or aesthetics. Design thinking pushes designers to solve problems and increase intuitive function for the humans that use their designs. This is what’s behind the first ever Genesis GV70 luxury SUV.
Design thinking can be applied to anything, from a $5 can opener to a billion-dollar municipal project. It is studied at top universities like MIT and Stanford, and the practice is key to making the things we interact with — buildings, machines, tools, toys — more enjoyable and less frustrating.
But can a car be rethought through design thinking? And can design thinking improve the experience of luxury?
The Glass House: Design Thinking Changes Everything
We took a first-look test drive in the Genesis GV70, which has a starting price of about $41,000, and all-in with every option, about $65,000. Our journey took us through the back roads of Connecticut to New Canaan where we stopped at the Glass House, a simple but brilliantly inventive house designed and built by architect Philip Johnson. A Pritzker Prize-award winner, Johnson is famous for buildings like the Lipstick building and the former AT&T building in New York, but his Glass House was probably his most famous work.
While a glass house sounds intriguing, my first thought was, how can four walls of glass possibly provide an efficient and comfortable place to live? But the idea of a house was rethought to answer another idea altogether: rather than have great art on the walls, what if the walls are the art? Built in 1948, in a time before picture windows and glass walls were a thing, Johnson created a place that allows occupants to be surrounded by the art of the landscape: snowy fields in winter, lush greenery in summer, roaring, fiery hues in fall, running foxes, ambling turkeys, deer grazing on flowers (which no one thinks is cute).
His house also allowed occupants to be open and transparent; with the elimination of walls and closets there is literally no place to hide. Through his life, Johnson, who was gay, challenged many conventions through his work including the one that had long forced people to hide who they are from the rest of society.
Genesis: A Luxury Brand Born From Design Thinking
Step into the Genesis GV70 — any Genesis, for that matter — and you’ll see design thinking at work. Any car company can create a luxury spin-off, benchmark against the competitors, build a pretty car, and call it day.
Genesis sought to stand apart from the field by rethinking form and function in its cars. Its exteriors have unique details like horizontal head and tail lights that wrap around the vehicle’s corners, wide diamond-mesh grilles, and elegant but subdued colors. Inside, there are several details like an infotainment control dial and gear selectors that have a jewelry-like feel, and an approach to ownership that prioritizes the customer’s time, so you can buy or service a Genesis purely on your schedule in your own space; no dealership visit is required.
As a result, Genesis sedans have won quite a few awards, and it’s likely that the GV70 will follow that trend.
Re-Thinking Function Brings About Clever Solutions
The structure of the Glass House is simple: the bathroom is contained in the core of the building and the exterior of the bathroom holds a fireplace; glass panels in the walls swing open to provide air flow on warm days; wiring and plumbing are under the floor, which use radiant heated to eliminate air vents and ducts; the kitchen is a self-contained counter-height free-standing unit.
This approach of simplicity for the greater effect is seen in the GV70, too. You first notice how it’s different on the exterior that, while it carries the aerodynamic shape that defines modern SUVs, is simplified and elegant. All its necessary details — lights, spoilers, air intake vents, bumpers, rocker panels, wheel wells — are integrated into the body rather than standing apart. The wide mesh grille and lights give the Genesis GV70 a unique look, and the rear tailgate has been simplified, giving it a graceful look and feel.
Inside, the rethinking is seen in the command center; the gear selector and infotainment dial anchor the console between the front seats. The gear selector is electronic and no longer needs to be a protruding handle, so Genesis designed a substantial-feeling dial topped with glass and framed in textured metal. It sits closer to the arm rest and out of the way of the rest of the command center: The media dial, volume and tuning controls, media menu buttons, and drive mode selector, all placed where your hand will naturally fall if you’re resting your elbow on the arm rest.
The location of these things isn’t what’s been rethought, though; controls located in finger tip range have been a staple of auto design for a while now. But the media dial is distinctly different from the gear selector dial so you won’t mistake one for the other; and to mistakenly grab the gear selector rather than the media dial would require an awkward twist of the arm.
Design Thinking That Takes the “Finger Tip” to New Heights
Having controls at your fingertips is one thing. But having a first-ever biometric starter is a game changer. Genesis calls it fingerprint recognition, and with only your finger you can start and drive the car. Just your finger. Once you’ve registered your fingerprint, you can open the car via your Genesis app, start it, and drive it. Without a key.
You can also use your phone as a key (if you have an Android phone; the Apple version should be on the way soon). This further allows you flexibility: you can open and lock the car with your phone’s low frequency Bluetooth (not the cloud-based app), hand off the key to someone else, start and drive the car without the key fob and control other details, too such as setting up valet mode.
An Interior Designed to Frame the View
And like the Glass House, the GV70’s interior is designed (as much as possible) to allow the outside in. Despite the sloped roof, I found the sight lines to be solid — easy to see the road and world around you. And, it’s easy to see why a panoramic sunroof is a staple in luxury cars; not only do they allow in the sun, but they create a more open, airy feeling. It’s not just sun, but sky that is part of your experience.
In both the Glass House and in the Genesis GV70, every creature comfort is accommodated in a way that keeps the the experience in focus.
What This SUV Is All About
While the GV70 shares DNA with others in the Genesis family, it is its own SUV with a unique character. I expected the GV70 to be a trimmed-down version of the GV80, but no. The GV70 shares some exterior details with its big sis, but it lives within its own identity.
On its foundation, the GV70 is a mid-sized SUV that is drawn from the bones of the Genesis G70 sedan. Its smaller size gives it more ability for hugging the curves of the road and with two engine options — an ample 300 horsepower or larger 375 horsepower — more than capable.
This SUV is built for 5 passengers and more comfortable for 4, but it’s ideal for two: the driver and front seat passenger. The cockpit is driver-focused, with the screens and controls slightly angled toward the driver but accessible by her passenger. The cabin is designed to literally surround you with luxury and comfort. The seats are leather — starting with leatherette in the base model and elevating to Nappa in the top of the line Prestige model — and details include carbon fiber trim and chrome-framed control panels. A single strip of chrome brings the cabin together, spanning the space at shoulder level and incorporating the air vents; it’s a sublime design detail that you’d probably never really think about but functions to both make you feel anchored in the space and forces your gaze upward at the view from the windows. Plus, it’s a really nice and effective way to station air vents; they are effective in flowing cool (or warm) air toward passengers but not visually disruptive.
And…The Pièce de Résistance: The GV70 is a Sports SUV, Too
Probably the biggest difference between the GV70 and GV80 is that the GV80 is a luxury family SUV and the GV70 is designed for really driving. They have the same engine; either in the larger GV80 delivers ample power no matter how many people you’re carrying. But take that engine — either the 300 or 375 horsepower versions — and put in in the smaller GV70, and wow. Now you have reason to try out the paddle shifters and to challenge the curves of the road. Put it in sport mode, and it’s even more performance-focused. It delivered an even more satisfying experience.
Buyers have a lot of choices in the GV70. The base model delivers all the safety and driver assist features that a luxury car should, including all wheel drive, premium navigation and fingerprint recognition, as well as the elegant design and unique features that define this luxury SUV. Buyers can add as many details as they like, from the panoramic sun roof to wireless phone charging, remote park assist (Smart Park), massaging seats, Nappa leather seats and more.
Thoughtful Design… A Nice Complement to Design Thinking
Just because you can improve something, should you? Not always, and that can be at the heart of thoughtful design, which also describes the GV70 nicely, too. It’s not all innovation all the time; it’s also a beautiful SUV that incorporates the details we know and expect in a luxury SUV. And it allows ownership without compromise, from a well-appointed base model to all the upgrades and details you might want, setting the stage for a truly satisfying experience.
Disclosure: I was Genesis’ guest for this test drive experience; travel and accommodations were provided but observations and opinions are my own.