Hyundai has no secrets in its intentions. Since 2009, this company has managed to make itself look leagues better than almost everyone. When one company screws up in the news, Hyundai has a positive headline on the same page of the local newspaper. Somehow, they can make the entry-level Accent and Elantra and sell them in the same dealers as the high-end Genesis sedan, as well as the subject of this review, the flagship Equus. No other car company can sell a range as diverse as this under the same franchise roof. Hyundai bills the big Equus as a car to fight the S-Class for a much lower price. On paper, that’s quite a clear truth, but I had to drive it to see if that advertising line lives up to its billing.
The Equus is a strange car to judge on styling. I’m having a hard time finding negative things about it. It’s certainly not ugly, and everything looks pretty normal. That’s not a mortal sin, but it’s not what I want to see. Crucially, I’ve been having a hard time finding positives about the way it looks, especially after noticing more on the road after driving this one. It’s not groundbreaking on looks, it’s not beautiful, but it’s also not ugly. It looks just like a flagship sedan is supposed to look on the outside, but when it’s up against the Jagaur XJ and Lexus LS series, as well as the Mercedes S-Class, it fades a bit. You won’t mistake it for the other flagships, but at the same time, it lacks flair.
The interior suffers from the same problems. I can’t call it ugly, it’s just a bit normal. While everything I want in a flagship is here, It doesn’t have enough visual draw. While I get that Hyundai is going more for features than for style, I’d still like to see something attractive. The steering wheel looks outdated, the interior styling is a bit too normal, and though everything I want is in the right place, nothing catches my eye like I expect. Then again, everything looks like it belongs in here.
By the Numbers:
The Equus’s numbers look a bit ordinary at first. It’s packing a 5.0L “Tau” V8 putting out 429hp coupled to a segment-matching 8-speed automatic transmission. Only RWD is currently available on the Equus. It sits on a 119.9-inch wheelbase and stretches out to just over 17 feet end-to-end, so it’s on par with other full-size flagships on the outside. Interior room is quite excellent for my size, with a total interior volume of 109.3 cubic feet, and 16.7 cubic feet of trunk space. Only this longer wheelbase is available, a tactic also used on these shores by Mercedes-Benz.
Build quality and comfort are high points for the Equus. The paint quality is excellent and the interior is put together very well. Panel gaps are well-hidden. For $70,000, the interior quality is great. I wasn’t expecting Mercedes-levels of material feeling or features, but what you get is better than the price suggests. Interior room is more than sufficient, and the interior feels nice and airy. The seats are very comfortable–but the rear seats are something Hyundai must be very proud of. They recline almost fully (and the front passenger seat slides away automatically to provide a footrest),a massage system is here, and the addition of the Ultimate’s rear-seat entertainment system turns the rear seat into a mobile living room. As far as I’m concerned, all I’d need is some HBO back there and I’d be quite happy.
At the Helm:
Unfortunately, the Equus is rather emotionless behind the wheel. First off, I’d like to talk about the straight-line performance. While the 429hp V8 pulls away very cleanly, the transmission is a bit sloppy. It hunts between gears and a hard stomp on the throttle results in the transmission losing its mind before it finds the proper gear, a frustrating development in a flagship cruiser. The V8 is muted nicely–I wasn’t expecting an animal but it sounds nice and classy. The real star here is the lack of intrusive road noise–tire noise and wind buffering are damped impressively well. Dare I say it, the Hyundai is quieter than the BMW 7-Series I drove this past year.
Handling is at best, average. There’s some body roll in corners and the car’s tires feel rather soft. The ride is smooth and well-damped but the car still wallows over road irregularities. It’s not a deal-breaker (for 70 grand it doesn’t make the car feel cheap), but it’s still noticeable. The brakes feel nice and strong, with little fade and average nosedive. Visibility is excellent, while the car does not shake at all over harsh cracks. But, like the styling, nothing really jumps out at me and makes me genuinely smile.
The Bottom Line:
Two trims are available (no options of any kind are available on either model), the Signature (for $61K) and the Ultimate ($68K) which adds a full camera system, a 12.3″ LCD screen, heads-up display, soft-closing doors, an electric trunk closer, and a whole host of rear-seat niceties (entertainment system, cooled rear seats, powered head restraint adjustment, power rear sunshades, and illuminated rear vanity mirrors).
Hyundai’s selling point on the Equus is a similar one to their other products: value for money. On that metric, the Equus is a home run. For under $70K, you get a fully loaded car for the cost of a used Mercedes S550. You also get Hyundai’s 10 year, 100,000-mile warranty on the powertrain, something that must be taken into account. Features per dollar is what this car sells on, and that’s a great thing in this segment.
Those issues of slightly bland looks and average performance turn the Equus into an interesting proposition. It eschews some of the whiz-bang features of the Mercedes S-Class (the LCD instrument panel, single-knob driver interface system, etc) for more meaningful equipment, or for equipment that will get people interested at this price point.
People who buy a car like the Equus are similar folks who probably went after the Lexus LS400 back in 1990. To me, these are the people in America who want a solid, classy luxury automobile with the kitchen sink’s worth of options inside for a surprisingly reasonable price. For that reason and that reason alone, I think it deserves a better score. In addition, I cannot think of many cars in this price range that have the same type of features. The Cadillac XTS V-Sport is close, but not quite there, and everything from Europe is at least 10 grand more, without the gizmos.
So what do I think? I’m conflicted. I’m willing to give the Equus a pass for a lot of reasons. I was not expecting perfection here–this is Hyundai’s first shot into the big flagship market in this country, and with value being the main selling point, I knew there were going to be things that I would not like when the road got interesting. I also was quite aware that the best parts of this car are the features and toys, which are, to be profound, very impressive.
I still enjoy the Equus, and I think for some buyers, it’s a great car. For those of you who want a very nice luxury car and don’t care what badge sits on the grille or how fast it can go around corners, this is a genuinely great car to look at. For those of you who are luxury buyers on a budget who want features, it’s great. It’s not going to keep up on backroads with the European competition, but perhaps Hyundai is busy working all of that out for the next Equus.
Final Score: 2.0+4.0+2.0+4.0 = 12.0/16 = 3 out of 4
-Albert S. Davis