Hyundai's Korean-market Equus flagship first landed at the New York auto show in 2009, allowing the automaker to "test reaction" to a premium sedan above the Genesis. It seems reaction was plenty positive, as Hyundai is gunning for the likes of Lexus with the new U.S-spec 2011 Equus.
Hyundai has lined up the Lexus LS 460 in the crosshairs in addition to the Mercedes-Benz S550. On paper at least, the Equus is neck-and-neck with both of its main bogeys.
It's worth noting that the Equus is not a clean-sheet design. The car has existed in Korea for more than a decade, so Hyundai has had plenty of time to get it right before launching it in America this fall. If the spec sheet is to be believed, they've succeeded in producing a vehicle that can hang with the top dogs in the segment. The Equus in most cases offers as much or more interior space than either the Benz or the Lexus, comparable power, high-tech suspension and all the requisite luxury features.
Its 4.6-liter Tau V-8, for example, is slightly more powerful than the LS and the S550 with 385 horsepower at your command, though it falls significantly short on torque, with just 333 pound-feet available. With a ZF six-speed automatic sending power to the rear wheels, Hyundai stakes a claim of less than 6.4 seconds to 60 mph, but that puts the big horse a full second behind its Japanese and German competition, despite the fact that all three cars report curb weights within 300 pounds of each other depending on trim. At least Hyundai can say it's kept up on the mileage, matching the LS 460's 16 mpg city and 19 mpg highway and besting the S550.
As if often the case with luxury cars, though, the real measure comes in the handling department. These cars are expected to have dual personalities, excelling in both sporty and chauffeuring conditions. To that end, Hyundai has fitted the Equus with an Electronically-Controlled Air Suspension that's height-adjustable and backed up by electronically-adjusted dampers. Select "Sport" mode and the suspension firms up in anticipation of vigorous cornering. Switch back to "Normal" and the five-link front and rear suspension relaxes to absorb any pavement imperfections you may encounter. Near-perfect 52/48 weight distribution promises neutral and predictable handling, though we won't know for sure until we've had a chance to drive one.
Ride quality is just the beginning, though. A luxury car must feel luxurious from the moment you open the door. To achieve this, the Equus is decked out in leather with fine hides wrapping the seats and dash. Fine wood trim offers classy accents and an alcantara headliner finishes the soft, coddling package.
Luxury cars also need features, and the Equus is again up to the task. A Lexicon sound system is standard and boasts 608 watts from a 13-channel amplifier, which it delivers to your ears via 17 speakers and a 7.1 surround-sound system. Through those speakers comes HD Radio, XM Satellite radio, music from your iPod or other USB-enabled source and voices from your Bluetooth enabled phone. All of this will be enjoyed from the comfort of your power-adjustable, heated and cooled seats with optional massager for the driver. The Equus will come in four- and five-seat configurations depending on preference, and you'll have plenty of room to stretch out either way. The Equus offers slightly more interior space in nearly every dimension than either the S550 or the LS 460.
Once you're comfortable, you'll find that the Equus also offers an array of features specifically for the driver. The electronic parking brake, for example, works as hill-holder any time the vehicle is at a stop regardless of incline, holding the car in place until you touch the gas. Electric power steering works in tandem with a standard rear camera and optional front camera to make parking a breeze, while active cruise control makes long trips effortless. Should those extended trips prove a bit too sedate, a lane departure warning system will illuminate a warning light and sound a chime after one second of lane departure and will further attempt to get your attention with the seat belt after three seconds.
It isn't just about comfort, either. The Equus is loaded to the gills with safety features as well, including nine airbags and active head rests. Electric helpers include stability control, Brake Assist and Electronic Brake-Force Distribution, all of which help keep the 13.6-inch front brakes and their four-piston calipers and the 12.4-inch rear brakes and their one-piston calipers in check as they bite down behind the 19-inch chromed alloy wheels.
Of course, for any of that to win your dollar, Hyundai has to get you behind the wheel first. Here lies the Equus' biggest advantage -- a mid-$50,000 starting price that undercuts the Lexus by $10,000 and the Benz by a whopping $35,000. To further pique your interest, dealers selected to carry the Equus will offer special "Product Champions" to work exclusively on the Genesis and Equus who can bring the car to you for a test drive rather than dragging you into a dealer. If you do set foot in the dealer, you won't find the Equus sitting next to a bargain-basement Accent. The Genesis and Equus will sit in a special store-within-a-store section of the dealer by themselves.
After you've signed the dotted line, Hyundai plans to keep you satisfied with a high-tech approach to service and maintenance. The dead-tree owner's manual is gone, replaced with a touchscreen tablet that's interactive and searchable. You can also schedule service right from the tablet, or online through a website linked to your local dealer where you can schedule times to have the car picked up and returned while you use a loaner delivered at pickup. Hyundai's also working on more apps for the tablet to improve customer service, convenience and even provide entertainment.
On paper, the Hyundai Equus is every bit the luxury car its rivals are. At a steep discount compared to the competition, it's easily the most compelling offer...on paper. The $55,000 question, though, is how it will perform when pitted against them in a real-world comparison. We'll get you an answer on that as soon as we can get a harness on one.