The Hyundai Equus is a large luxury car built on the same platform as the midsize Genesis sedan. Equus takes features and interior materials to the next level, with refined, sophisticated driving characteristics designed to appeal to prestige buyers looking for a roomy freeway cruiser. Like many other luxury cars, Equus is rear-wheel drive.
Power for the Hyundai Equus comes from a 5.0-liter V8 engine that makes 429 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque. Aided by an 8-speed automatic transmission, Equus achieves a EPA fuel economy rating of 18 miles per gallon Combined city and highway.
When the Equus launched two years ago, many scoffed at the notion that the Korean carmaker could produce a luxury sedan on par with the likes of BMW, Mercedes, Lexus and Infiniti. But time has proven that Hyundai's gamble is paying off. According to Hyundai, not only have Equus sales been on the rise, but residual values for 2011-12 models are higher than for many large German competitors. Considering the stratospheric panache permeating the luxury-car industry, that is a praiseworthy achievement.
At the very least, we'd say the Equus is a fantastic vehicle to move into from a lower segment. Although Hyundai likes to say that it competes directly with the much higher-priced Mercedes S-Class, BMW 7 Series and Audi A8, we don't necessarily see potential Mercedes or BMW buyers considering the Hyundai brand. But with a base price of less than $60,000, the Equus offers all the performance, refinement and amenities this class of car offers at considerably less money than the entrenched opposition. More realistically, we see the Hyundai Equus as a good alternative to the Lexus LS and Infiniti M.
Don't be fooled by the badge. The Hyundai Equus is the result of intensive engineering, tasteful design and intelligent use of supplier's technology. While it might be tempting for some to discount this car as a luxury wannabe with derivative styling and a copycat format, our experience inside the car tells us that Hyundai has closed in on the concept of fine car-making in a way that confirms there is no going back.
Hyundai Equus Signature ($59,250); Ultimate ($66,250)
At first glance, the Equus flashes styling cues at you from various other brands. There's a little Mercedes in the grille, some Lexus at the rear lights, perhaps a bit of Acura RL from directly behind the car. But the Equus goes on to establish its own look after you see it enough times. Hyundai calls its design language Fluidic Sculpture.
At the front, the grille design we know well from the Hyundai Genesis has been skillfully integrated with the headlight shapes, and carefully beveled front corners allow the light forms to carry around as vivid slashes into the quarter panels. The effect visually shortens the front overhang appreciably, to good effect. It is functional, too, allowing the auto-cornering HID headlights to swivel more effectively as the car turns.
The side of the car is distinguished by a contour crease that runs across the top of the front fender and then arcs through the doors before kicking up over the rear door handle to meet the rear light, lending the rear fender a muscular outline as it does. Chrome window surrounds and a bright strip below the doors adds further detail, while large, bright 19-inch wheels cram the wheel housings to emphasize a solid stance.
A fast roofline reduces the impression of size, so it is a surprise when you discover just how much interior space the design allows. Lexus has yet to field a comparable long-wheelbase model. And the sleek Hyundai roof doesn't hurt rear-seat headroom much, either. The Equus is 1.9-inches shorter and 0.6-inch wider than the 2013 Lexus LS 460 L, yet the Hyundai offers 2.2 inches more rear seat leg room. The Lexus scores higher for rear seat head room and hip room, but by less than half an inch in each measurement.
As you'd expect from an ambitious luxury-class contender, the Equus features a tidy leather and wood trimmed interior. There's nothing adventurous or experimental about the design, it's straightforwardly classic, but with some interesting arcs and curves in the dashboard wood inlays and vent register shapes to add character. An microfiber-suede headliner lends a real sense of privilege, and the seats are generous in size and support.
Contemporary instrumentation technology makes for an attractive display, and the main gauges are large and legible. A driver's information display is incorporated into the IP, providing all trip and vehicle status alerts, with accompanying audible warnings when appropriate.
Considering how much equipment the car has, the control layout is relatively uncluttered, with easily found switches and a fairly intuitive iDrive-like function controller. As is typical of the class, the Equus mounts some of the more commonly used switches on the steering wheel, further simplifying the layout.
Tall drivers will like the Equus, since it flaunts a roomy interior with large door apertures for easy access. And sybarites will enjoy the many luxury and convenience devices. We found no difficulty operating the stereo system or navigation without recourse to the manual, although a quick review of the voice-control glossary will certainly help if you plan to handle those tasks verbally.
Both models come with an extremely high level of interior equipment, including a heated wood-and-leather steering wheel with power tilt-and-telescopic adjustment, heated and cooled front seats, suede headliner, driver's seat massage, dual automatic climate control with separate adjustment and rear-seat vent control, power-reclining rear seats, power rear sunshades, auto defogging system with rain-sensing wipers, and 12-way power-adjustable driver's seat.
The Ultimate model adds a forward-view parking and cornering camera, a power decklid, reclining rear seats with powered headrests, cooled rear seats, rear seat massage and leg support, rear seat refrigerator and a rear seat entertainment system. Harman's Lexicon stereo system is among the best available in-car sound systems we've ever heard, with full 7.1 Discrete Logic Surround Sound for brilliant separation and imaging.
Drivers will find much to enjoy behind the wood and leather steering wheel and the unusual winged emblem found at its center. The combination of a very stiff structure, elaborate sound-insulating disciplines and an air-spring suspension produces an experience that is at once quiet, smooth and responsive.
The 5.0-liter V8 (which was new for 2012) provides ample power for merging and passing maneuvers, although it falls short of its German competitors when it comes to low-end thrust. As a total package, however, powertrain performance is equal to, if not better than, many of the Equus's rivals. The 8-speed transmission (also new last year) allows the car to spin at low revs for fuel economy's sake, but without seeming gutless. On the rare occasions where engine speed is too low for the driver's needs, it's reasonably quick to find a lower gear.
Of course, the shifts are made in keeping with the Equus's quest for refinement, and the avoidance of shift-shock is a big priority. If you need more response, the selector slips over into the manual slot and puts command back at the driver's right hand. It still takes a full-throttle, high-rev run for the redline to showcase the Tau's real strength, when the fairly hefty car displays an impressive surge of acceleration.
With multi-link suspension all around, the big Hyundai's chassis handles accurately, abetted by the Continental air-struts and the Sachs electronically controlled damping system. There's a driver-selectable Sport position, which subdues ride motions quite well without introducing much abruptness into the ride, but this is not really the kind of car one wants to fling around. It does very nicely with deliberate inputs at a brisk pace.
Hyundai's decision to adopt a hybrid electro-hydraulic steering mechanism was a good one. Utilizing an electric motor to drive a power-steering pump, it benefits from the energy savings enjoyed when cruising straight ahead with the motor at rest, and from the more natural feel of hydraulic assist once the electric motor has been summoned into action. Compared against even some fairly high-end nameplates with fully electric assist systems, the Equus has a far more organic sense to its steering.
With its attractive styling, smooth-as-silk handling and excellent warranty, the Hyundai Equus is a solid choice in the luxury sedan segment. Although those seeking the prestige of name recognition might turn to more established brands, the Hyundai Equus provides admirable performance and features at a fair price.
Laura Burstein and Barry Winfield contributed to this NewCarTestDrive.com report.