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2011 Hyundai Equus Test Drive: Can Impressive Luxury Sedan Topple Competition?

2010-03-04 Read: 5 170x

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Recently Hyundai announced that in 2010 it will begin to sell the high-end Equus luxury sedan stateside. This announcement follows what has already been a busy two-year period at the company that has ushered in a pair of world-class cars. In 2008, the Hyundai Genesis debuted, a luxury sedan that costs thousands less than its competitors. That car was so good, it was named the 2009 North American Car of the Year. Next, the company rolled out the Genesis Coupe, a wildly entertaining, sporty car that offers either turbocharged or V6 power, rear-wheel drive and capability nearly equal to more expensive Japanese rivals. Next comes the Equus, which will slot above the Genesis in price, size and performance. Details are slim at this point, but based on its past strategy, we expect Hyundai to offer features and accommodations similar to the Lexus LS460, but at a price well below that car's $64,000 sticker. Recently we took a very brief drive in a Korean-spec car. Let's see how it stacks up. —Larry Webster

The Specs

The Equus has been Hyundai's flagship in Korea since 1999. But last year, the car was redesigned around the new Genesis architecture. The new car was shown at this year's New York Auto Show and was then taken to select dealers to gauge the public's reaction to a CEO-class Hyundai.

Apparently, the reception was favorable enough that the company decided to adapt the car to the U.S. Undoubtedly, the car's design had a major impact in the positive reviews. Styling is always subjective, but many of the lines on the Equus mimic the handsome Azera sedan. Its size and prominent, flowing, body side crease lend the car a presence that looks good in the metal.

The rear-drive Genesis chassis was stretched 4.3 inches to enlarge the rear -seat legroom. Overall length is up by 7.2 inches to 203.1 inches. Width and height are up less than an inch. Like the Genesis, control arms connect the body to the front wheels, a multilink system does the job in the rear. The Equus, however, has adjustable air springs and shocks at all four corners.

Behind the sloping, toothy grill resides the 4.6-liter V8 from the Genesis. In the Genesis, the double-overhead cam engine makes 375 hp and 333 lb-ft of torque when run on premium fuel. It's likely that the Equus will have a bit more power, and we've also heard that a 5.0-liter version of this engine will be available with somewhere near 420 hp. Backed by a six-speed automatic transmission, the over-two-ton Equus should run to 60 mph in under 6 seconds.

Like the Genesis, a full compliment of luxury features and new tech will be part of the deal. Expect heated and cooled seats front and rear, auto door closers, a high-end stereo, navigation, Blueooth connectivity. Electronic driver aids include adaptive headlights, lane-departure assist (when the car drifts out of the lane, the seat belt tugs the driver), stability control, radar-based cruise control, and likely a parking-assist system too. In other words, the full monte. We also wouldn't be surprised if the car offers massaging front seats like those in the BMW 7 Series or Mercedes S-Class.

The Drive

From the driver's seat, the Equus feels a lot like the Genesis, which is no real surprise since they share an architecture. The suspension and steering tuning is quite a bit different, however. In the Equus, the steering effort stays relatively light no matter how fast the car is going, while the feedback from Genesis wheel gets heavier with speed. With either setup, the feel is quite good, but considering the comfortable cruising mission of the Equus, we actually prefer its steering feel.

Bumps, pothole patches, frost heaves, and anything that might upset lesser cars—the Equus takes them all in stride. Impacts are barely audible and the structure feels rock solid. It was raining when we drove the car, so it was impossible to make a good judgment on the interior noise level, but it felt quite serene inside.

The 4.6-liter V8 has plenty of power. It's smooth, and nearly transparent in most of its operations. However we noticed an abrupt throttle tip-in that made leaving stoplights smoothly a bit tricky.

That was the only flaw we could uncover. We spend some time in the car's huge rear seat. That rear-seat bottom cushion is higher than those in the front seats, so it's almost like theater seating. There's legroom to spare, even for this six-footer, and the rear passengers have plenty of buttons to press. The rear bench is split 60/40 and each portion has its own adjustment for seatback angle and fore and aft position. As we mentioned, the seats are heated and cooled, but there's also a handy foldable tray nestled in the seatback of the front passenger seat.

Hyundai pointed out that the car we drove did not have the final U.S. chassis tuning or a complete roster of interior features. But from our short drive, the potential is clearly impressive.

The Bottom Line

It's too early to say if the Equus will top the Lexus LS460 or Mercedes Benz S Class. But we think it's in the hunt—and that's a major achievement for Hyundai. The only thing it's missing is, of course, the premium image. High-dollar sedan buyers invariably are making a statement with their purchase, and the question is, does this new Hyundai have enough cachet to get these well-heeled buyers into dealers? We'll have to wait to find out.

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