2011 Hyundai Equus Expert Review:Autoblog
My roommate – bless her heart – is about as much of a car enthusiast as the BMW X6 is a coupe. She puts forth an honest effort to hold conversations with me about autos, but 90 percent of the time, it just doesn't work. You have to understand, in her eyes, a Cadillac Escalade is the pinnacle of luxury, the fastest car in the world has to be a Ferrari and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution is fitted with "those squeezy seats." She's still amazed by the power of Bluetooth and always gets wide-eyed whenever I plunk a car into Reverse and a rear-view camera comes on.
That in mind, it will come as no surprise to learn that when the 2011 Hyundai Equus Ultimate arrived at my door, she beckoned from the other room, "Hey, I think your Lexus just showed up."
It's like she had already drank the proverbial Kool-Aid. Hyundai wants everyone to believe that its new luxury flagship is capable of doing everything that a Lexus LS does, but at a much lower price. And while there are a few swing-and-miss things to note about the Equus experience, what Hyundai has done here is create a truly bona-fide luxury car capable of standing toe-to-toe with its Japanese competition and coming pretty darn close to the likes of its lofty German rivals.
But will we simply boast that the Equus – Hyundai's most expensive car to date – is a good value, or does it possess enough content and engineering prowess to truly stand out amongst its highly regarded classmates? Follow the jump to find out.
Continue reading Review: 2011 Hyundai Equus Ultimate...
Photos copyright ©2011 Drew Phillips / AOL
"That's a big Hyundai."
The Equus uses a stretched version of Hyundai's rear-wheel-drive BH platform – the same one that underpins the smaller Genesis sedan. At 203.1 inches long, the Equus adds 7.2 inches to the length of a Genesis, riding on a wheelbase that's been stretched by 4.3 inches. Width hasn't changed in creating the longer-wheelbase flagship, but the Equus is 0.4 inches taller than its little sister and rides on 19-inch chrome rollers as standard stock.
From the side profile, the Equus is a relatively modest-looking, yet attractive sedan. There's a strong horizontal character line that stems from the front wheel well and fades just before the C-pillar, where an arched line draws your eye up over the rear wheel, accenting the upward slant of the greenhouse.
We must say, though – there's a whole lot going on from the dead front view. The hood and grille shape references that of the smaller Genesis, but the bug-eyed HID headlamps, large LED turn signal strips and added chrome trim are a bit off-putting at first. After a while, you get used to the flashy face. It's an interesting contrast to the car's rear, which is sedate yet handsome, with LED taillamps, chrome strips to match the ones up front and large exhaust ports that are nicely integrated into the lower valence.
Interior refinement on the Equus is exactly what you'd expect for a proper luxury flagship, though there are a few small omissions. We aren't talking about big stuff here – little amenities like power lumbar adjustment for the front passenger seat, side bolster adjustments for the front chairs or a one-touch close feature for the sunroof, for example. Still, our Ultimate-spec tester's cabin arrived positively lousy with bells and whistles – niceties like a heated steering wheel, heated and cooled seats all around, a refrigerator in the rear console, power sunshades and a rear entertainment system.
What separates the Ultimate from the base Equus is its rear seating configuration, ditching the three-passenger bench seat in favor of two chairs with a fixed center console. The rear passenger-side chair – the one we've named the "executive throne" – even has massage and recline functions. If you ever have the chance to sit in a four-passenger Equus, we highly recommend spending no less than five minutes exploring the features of the royalty seat. Be warned, though – even with the Equus' longer wheelbase over the Genesis, those rear seats don't offer as much legroom as you might think.
Check it out in our Autoblog Short Cut video below:
The thing we like best about the Equus' interior is that it isn't as overwhelming as some of its competitors. There's no second-guessing of buttons, there's no scanning for control knobs and there aren't so many different levels of functionality that the whole setup needs to come with an instruction manual. Take the infotainment system, for example – it is controlled by a single knob on the center console, sort of like BMW's iDrive or COMAND from Mercedes-Benz, but because of the added layer of buttons around the large dial, it's easy to operate. Still, the graphics look a little outdated to us, especially when you consider the beautifully colored displays from Audi or BMW.
Fit and finish is superb, though the Equus often feels more like a big Genesis than a wholly different level of exclusivity. Sure, the Genesis' interior is plenty good, but the cabin – especially in front – still has the feeling that it was designed for Korean tastes and not American sensibilities. The switchgear is exactly what you'd expect to see in every other Hyundai, and other minor details like the relatively flat-bottomed seats and thin steering wheel are more proof that the automaker targeted cushier bogeys like the Lexus LS and not sportier offerings like the 7-Series.
The only available engine for 2011 is Hyundai's 4.6-liter Tau V8, pumping out 385 horsepower and 333 pound-feet of torque in this application. It doesn't quite put its power to the ground with the same level of grace or involvement as the European-engineered cars, but unsurprisingly, driving the Equus is similar to the experience you get in a Lexus LS. It's buttery smooth, refined and is more concerned with being comfortable than engaging.
Things will likely change once the Equus receives Hyundai's new 429-hp, direct-injected 5.0-liter V8, but even with the current 4.6-liter powerplant, we never once wished for more grunt. The Equus is indeed at a disadvantage against its German rivals, only because the majority of them now use turbocharged eight-cylinder setups that are super-torquey down low.
Unfortunately, there's a whole lot of numbness when it comes to steering and braking. When moving the tiller from side to side, we wish there were a lot more on-center feeling that doesn't correlate to the random bouts of heaviness felt as you really pull into a turn. It's very non-linear in this regard, and if Hyundai wants to truly compete with all of the globe's luxury sedans someday, it had better work on improving this behind-the-wheel experience.
For the majority of non-enthusiastic drivers, the Equus motoring experience will be pleasant. It's eerily quiet while moving down the road, the six-speed automatic transmission does a fine job of firing off shifts with a sense of urgency and the suspension damping is soft yet appropriate in this sort of barge. The adjustable air-assisted suspension is one of the best parts about the Equus experience – not only because it does things like automatically tweak the suspension damping based on road condition or lowers the car when cruising over 70 mph, but that you don't have to push any buttons for the adjustments to happen.
There's a Sport mode, activated by a button just to the right of the gear lever, but its adjustments to the transmission's shift schedule aren't great for around-town cruising. Even on the highway, when left to its normal devices, the six-speed tranny has no problem kicking down for high-speed passing.
"So, what is it, like, 80 grand?"
Far, far less. Even in the fully decked-out Ultimate trim, the Equus' price tag will go no higher than $65,400, including destination and delivery charges. You want a Lexus LS 460? Add over $5,000 to that tag. And if you insist on shelling out for German engineering, be prepared to spend anywhere from $10,000 to $40,000 more for comparably equipped cars.
What's more, we can't overlook the benefits of Hyundai's exclusive dealership (or lack thereof) experience for Equus owners. When routine maintenance is needed, reach for the included Apple iPad in your glove box, queue up the service app and wait for technicians to collect your Equus from your home or office, leaving you a different Equus or Genesis sedan as a loaner car. When the work is done, the dealership will swap the cars back again. None of the competitors – German or Japanese – offer that.
If Hyundai continues on its current pace, it will only be a matter of time before it is widely regarded as highly as other major automakers in every segment in which it competes. Will my roommate ever tell me that my Hyundai has arrived when a Lexus LS shows up at my door? Probably not. But as long as non-enthusiasts can be convinced that the Equus is up to snuff to take on the Japanese big guns, Hyundai's path to righteousness will continue to be paved.
Photos copyright ©2011 Drew Phillips / AOL
New Car Test Drive
All-new luxury car is surprisingly sophisticated.
The Equus is Hyundai's first foray into the large luxury car market segment and it is effectively an all-new model in a very competitive environment. Equus aspires to compete with the Lexus LS 460, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, and BMW 7 Series.
As well as being an insouciant gesture to the world's premium car manufacturers that it intends to play in every important segment, this model signals Hyundai's unshakable confidence in its own ability to engineer and build world class vehicles. And it might have been easy to discount the threat this company poses to established players were it not for the impressive recent introductions of the Sonata midsize sedan and Genesis near-luxury sedan and coupe.
Now, after driving the new Hyundai Equus, we can confirm that it is comparable in many ways to the key players in the upscale market. Still, after just an introductory drive in Northern California we are not about to proclaim it the best car in class. Considering the stratospheric panache permeating the luxury-car industry, that would have been an unbelievable achievement.
And yet, with its stylish, European-flavored exterior design, a roomy, comfortable interior clad in tasteful textures, mechanical attributes at the leading edge of automotive technology, and tactile and esthetic qualities good enough for the most discerning customers, the new Hyundai clearly has the goods to play in this league.
At the very least, we'd say the Equus is a fantastic vehicle to move into from a lower segment. We don't see potential Mercedes or BMW buyers considering the Hyundai brand, particularly when their aspirations are linked to social status. 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.
That on its own is worth consideration. Add intensive engineering, tasteful design and intelligent use of supplier's technology, and you have a car worth owning in its own right. 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.
The 2011 Hyundai Equus comes in two versions: Equus Signature ($58,000) and Equus Ultimate ($64,500). (All New Car Test Drive prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)
Equus Signature comes with premium leather seating surfaces, Alcantara suede headliner, dual automatic temperature control with air quality system, 608-watt, 17-speaker Lexicon stereo system, heated and cooled front seats, heated steering wheel trimmed in wood and leather, illuminated scuff plates, illuminated door handles and door armrest, and all the bells and whistles you find in similar luxury sedans.
Equus Ultimate features two separate seats in the rear equipped with elaborate massaging technology, power headrests, and footrests. There are also rear in-car entertainment controls and a refrigerated beverage compartment. The Ultimate model also features a forward-view camera to provide better observation when easing out of tight alleyways, and a powered trunk lid.
Safety features that come standard in all models include advanced advanced dual front airbags, front and rear seat-mounted side-impact airbags, driver knee airbag, and roof-mounted side-curtain airbags; electronic active front head restraints with power controls; electronic seatbelt pretensioners, anti-lock brakes (ABS), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), electronic stability control, Vehicle Stability Management with pre-collision warning, active cruise control with pre-collision intervention, Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS), Smart Cruise Control, tire pressure monitoring system.
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 that's true of many new cars these days. And the Equus goes on to establish its own look after you see it enough times.
In the process, it looks better and better to us, revealing some of the subtlety in former Hyundai design chief Joel Piaskowski's design. (He's now gone off to join Mercedes-Benz, in an ironic turn of events.) Hyundai calls its new 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. Mercedes and Lexus have to field long-wheelbase models to be comparable. And the sleek Hyundai roof doesn't hurt rear-seat headroom much, either. The Equus is 0.8-inch shorter and 0.6-inch wider than a Lexus LS 460 L yet the Hyundai has 7.3 cubic feet more interior space than the Lexus does.
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 Alcantara 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, Alcantara suede headliner, driver's seat massage, dual automatic climate control with separate adjustment and rear-seat vent control, 60/40 power-reclining rear seats, power rear and side 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. Harden'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.
Hyundai's 4.6-liter Tau V8 wrings out its 333 pound-feet torque peak at a fairly low 3500 rpm, but sustains much of that throughout its operating range by dint of variable valve timing and variable intake volume, so it's seldom found wanting. And on the rare occasions where engine speed is too low for the driver's needs, the 6-speed ZF transmission is 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 with a Lexus LS 460L which happened to be on hand for reference, the Equus has a far more organic sense to its steering than the Lexus can muster with its fully electric system.
That comparison revealed that the Lexus still has the upper hand, if only fractionally, in terms of noise and vibration damping, and perhaps also in regard to ride quality. But the Equus isn't far off, and it's certainly in the game as far as luxury attributes are concerned. It proved quieter than a Mercedes-Benz S550 that was also on hand, and its standards of fit and finish left very little to be desired. Altogether, it's an impressive interloper in rich company.
Conventional wisdom suggests that you can't move an everyday car brand upscale without a name change and a new dealer outlet. Hyundai is about to contest that assertion, using a store-within-a-store point of sale system and an at-home vehicle demonstration system called your time, your place. The company says it will offer a modern premium experience, where the owner's manual comes in the form of an iPad and a valet service program will pick up the vehicle for services, providing a loan vehicle until its return. It's a new way of doing business, and a bold new luxury model to accompany it.
Barry Winfield filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Equus near Palo Alto, California.
Hyundai Equus Signature ($58,000); Ultimate ($64,500).
Options As Tested
Hyundai Equus Signature ($58,000).
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