I knew that the Equus was a bargain compared with the Lexus LS, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and the like, but I was still taken aback when I looked at the window sticker and saw that it costs less than $60,000. This is a car that hits many of the “ahh, this is a nice car!” buttons for most Americans. If you’re accustomed to driving a BMW 7-Series, you’re probably not going to like this car. But if you’ve been driving a Lexus LS and are now looking for something like it for quite a bit less money, you might want to check out the Equus.
The interior is traditionally but opulently appointed with the requisite leather and wood. The center stack controls are easy to use. The seats are comfortable. The huge rear seats recline, making the Equus quite a nice limousine. Ride motions are creamy. The steering is a bit slow but isn’t bad. I had a hard time achieving smooth take-offs from intersections; even in 38-degree weather on dry roads, I was spinning the rear tires. Which reminds me, the one premium luxury-sedan feature that the Equus doesn’t yet have is optional all-wheel drive.
The other premium-luxury-sedan feature that the Equus does not possess is a premium nameplate. Time will tell if there are enough buyers willing to overlook the Hyundai badge and accept the Equus for what it is: a well-executed, full-size luxury sedan without the premium badge and price.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
I agree with Joe that this car presses many of the luxury car “buttons,” but to me it still falls short on the more subjective, emotional aspects of the luxury car experience. Most premium cars offer a cohesive styling message and a sense of occasion. The styling here is generic, which should not be confused with conservative. The interior similarly lacks any flair or artfulness, even if the materials are all very good and the telematics are superior to what you’ll find in most European cars.
Climb into a Jaguar XF, an Audi A6, a Mercedes-Benz E550, or an Infiniti M56 (all competitors to the Equus in terms of price, if not size) and you get all the doodads and an undeniable sense that you’re in something superior to the common car. Even the Lexus LS, Hyundai’s clear bogey and by no means an enthusiast’s car, is a different animal. That car has, over the past two decades, earned a reputation for perfection. Not high quality, not 90 percent of the content for 60 percent of the price. Perfection. I don’t yet get that sense from the Equus.
Is all this a cop-out? Perhaps. The Equus is clearly a very good car — comfortable, feature-packed, and good to drive in the same effortless way that the LS and the Mercedes S-class are good to drive. The person who’s able to overlook my right-brained concerns and buy an Equus will surely be very pleased with their purchase on a day-to-day basis. And yet, I suspect most customers in this price range want more than cool, quiet competence. After all, $60,000 may not be $90,000, but it’s still a lot of money — way more than one needs to spend to get a quiet, comfortable, luxurious automobile. That’s why Hyundai’s commendable strategy of offering more for less, which has worked flawlessly with the $15,000 Elantra, $20,000 Sonata, and $35,000 Genesis, doesn’t quite work here. At least not yet.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
The Equus is a very impressive effort from Hyundai, even if it’s not quite in the same league (yet) as the 7-series, S-class, A8, and LS. Then again, it’s not in the same league pricewise, either, undercutting the base stickers of the aforementioned cars by anywhere from $6000 (base Lexus LS460) to a whopping $35,000 (Mercedes S550).
The interior is very spacious and is covered in supple leather that is quite pleasing to the touch. All the luxury cues are in place, from a 17-speaker stereo system to a suede headliner to a heated and cooled massaging driver’s seat and a heated steering wheel. Not to mention lots of other driver’s-assistance features such as a rearview camera, active cruise control, and lane-departure warning. And that’s the “base” Equus. Spend an extra $6500, and you’ll get things like reclining rear seats with a leg rest and a massage function, a rear-seat entertainment system, and a forward-view cornering camera.
Driving the Equus is more reminiscent of the Lexus LS than the 7-series or the S-class. It’s not exciting but it’s very capable and has a refined, almost sedate manner that wafts the driver and passengers along in supreme comfort.
The only obstacle I see is that the perception of Hyundai in America is still that of a bargain brand. To use a bad analogy, it’s like Sears trying to compete with Neiman Marcus. People who know cars know that Hyundai builds some very compelling vehicles, such as the Sonata, the Elantra, and the Genesis. But I can’t help but think about a recent letter to the editor that we received, in which a reader complained that we’ve heaped too much praise on Hyundai’s cars. In his words, they are “mediocre cars that lose 95 percent of their retail value as soon as they leave the lot” and that they are “cheaply made.” It’ll take some time to change that perception.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
That we immediately mention the likes of the BMW 7-series, Mercedes-Benz S-class, and Lexus LS when discussing the Equus should indicate how impressive Hyundai’s flagship truly is. That said, the more-for-less approach that underpins Hyundai’s rapid ascension in the automotive industry may not prove as successful in a segment where cost is typically no object to buyers.
It will, however, force other automakers — particularly those headquartered in America — to take a second look at their premium luxury offerings. If, as David opines, the LS is utter perfection, the Equus is close behind, and at roughly the same price as a Cadillac DTS Premium.
The difference between a $55,000 Hyundai and a $54,000 Cadillac is far more than a cool $1000. The Equus is a suave, sophisticated offering, and feels both modern and substantial. The 4.6-liter V-8 is an impressively strong engine (I’d argue there’s no need for anything larger, like the new direct-injection 5.0-liter V-8 now offered in the Genesis R-Spec), and the eight-speed automatic is surprisingly refined. Ride quality is not wallowy, but the Equus errs on the side of supple. It is, however, devoid of the inevitable understeer found in the front-wheel-drive DTS, and feels slightly crisper than Chrysler’s revised rear-wheel-drive 300.
The Equus could, however, be mistaken for something much more expensive, especially in the cabin. Ignore the unusual logo on the steering wheel and the cheesy splash screen displayed upon starting the vehicle, and it’s easy to mistake the car for a Lexus LS. Fit and finish are quite impressive, and materials do feel a few steps above those used in the Genesis. Rear seat passengers are treated not only to a substantial amount of head, leg, and shoulder room, but several amenities — including heated outboard positions, audio/visual controls, and manipulation of the front passenger’s seat — that treat them like royalty.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
2011 Hyundai Equus Signature
Base price (with destination): $58,900
Price as tested: $58,900
4.6-liter DOHC V-8 engine
6-speed automatic transmission
Electronic air suspension with continuous damping control
19-inch chrome wheels
Smart cruise control
Proximity key with push-button start
Power tilt/slide glass sunroof
HID Xenon headlights with auto-cornering
Front and rear park assist
Leather and wood-trimmed steering wheel
Leather seating surfaces
Driver’s seat massaging system
Heated and cooled front seats
Lexicon 7.1 surround sound system with 17 speakers
Dual automatic climate control
Power rear sunshade
Tire pressure monitoring system
Options on this vehicle:
Key option not available:
Ultimate trim package — $6500
Lane departure warning
Forward view cornering camera
Leg support and massaging system
Rear seat entertainment system with 8-inch monitor
16 / 24 / 19 mpg
Size: 4.6L V-8
Horsepower: 385 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 333 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm
Curb weight: 4449 lb
Wheels/tires: 19-inch chrome alloy wheels
245/45R19 front, 275/40R19 rear Continental ContiTouringContact
Competitors: Lexus LS460, Cadillac DTS, Mercedes-Benz S550