Hyundai’s Equus takes bold aim at lux­ury

Los Angeles Times - - Business - Su­san Car­pen­ter

There’s some­thing wrong about a pair of 7-year-olds loung­ing like sul­tans in the back of a $60,000 lux­ury ve­hi­cle, down­ing Go-Gurt from an arm­rest mini fridge, watch­ing Godzilla on a pri­vate screen en­hanced with 17-speaker sur­round sound, and bicker-bat­tling over a re­mote con­trol that com­mands a rear-seat mas­sage fea­ture.

When I was a kid, cars were cars. They weren’t mo­bile liv­ing rooms.

But times change. And few things ex­em­plify our chang­ing world more than Hyundai’s new Equus, a pre­mium sedan that poses a chal­lenge to the pop­u­lar con­cep­tion of Hyundai as a poor man’s Honda.

Up­ping the ante on the lux­ury Ge­n­e­sis line the South Korean man­u­fac­turer in­tro­duced two years ago, the Equus is out­fit­ted with a shock­ing and sur­pris­ingly re­fined ar­ray of com­fort, technology and safety fea­tures for its price point, which hasn’t been of­fi­cially an­nounced. A Hyundai spokesman es­ti­mates it will cost $56,000 to $60,000 for the base model and $63,000 to $67,000 fully loaded when it comes on the mar­ket in Novem­ber.

Be­fore pass­ing my body over the driver’s-side scuff plate that had the name “Equus” glow­ing with high-in­ten­sity light, I thought the terms “Hyundai” and “lux­ury” weren’t merely an oxy­moron but an au­da­cious at­tempt by a bud­get man­u­fac­turer to re-imag­ine it­self as a Korean Mercedes.

Af­ter a week of driv­ing the Equus, it’s still an oxy­moron. It’s also an ex-

tremely well-ren­dered knock­off of its com­pe­ti­tion, even if there are a few slight glitches.

A re­verse-en­gi­neered hy­brid of the Mercedes S550 and Lexus LS 460, the Equus doesn’t pi­o­neer new tech­nolo­gies. Its most pi­o­neer­ing as­pect, in fact, is its brazen spirit for demon­strat­ing Hyundai’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties — one that shows the Kore­ans are even more adept at copy­cat­ting than the Chi­nese.

To see ex­actly how adept, I drove the Equus to the deal­er­ships of its com­peti­tors and cross-tested the mod­els it’s pur­su­ing.

Like the Mercedes S550, the Equus Ul­ti­mate I’d been loaned was decked out with mas­sag­ing, heated and ven­ti­lated leather seats and power sun­shades for the win­dows. There are also cam­eras, front and rear; an 8-inch dis­play screen; ac­tive head re­straints; pre-ten­sion­ing seat belts; door-panel seat con­trols con­fig­ured to mimic the seat’s shape; an ana­log clock in the cen­ter stack; and a knock­off rear end com­plete with trape­zoidal dual ex­haust.

Un­like the Mercedes, the Equus lacked pneu­mat­ics to fully seal doors that haven’t been closed all the way, a panoramic moon roof or a 5.5-liter V-8 with a sev­en­speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion. It also lacked the solid-as-a-tank ride feel, Mercedes sta­tus and $112,000 price tag.

Like the Lexus, the Equus was equipped with a heated, wood-and-leather­wrapped steer­ing wheel; leather seats; a push-but­ton start; an elec­tronic park­ing brake; me­mory seats; voice­ac­ti­vated steer­ing-wheel con­trols; rear seats with il­lu­mi­nated over­head van­ity mir­rors; a looka­like dark metal­lic cen­ter stack; and a sim­i­lar sleek and sculp­tured front end.

Un­like the Lexus, the Equus was two speak­ers shy of the LS 460’s 19-speaker au­dio and two speeds shy of its eight-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion. It also lacked a name­plate syn­ony­mous with both lux­ury and value and an $84,000 price tag.

The Equus, how­ever, holds the po­ten­tial to change Hyundai’s name­plate pre­sump­tions, if Amer­i­cans buy in. While sixty grand is steep for any car, let alone a Hyundai, the Equus, like all the mod­els in the man­u­fac­turer’s 2011 lineup, in­cludes a 10-year, 100,000-mile war­ranty.

Boast­ing an­nual sales of 50,000 units glob­ally, the Equus has been avail­able since 1999, mostly in Asia and the Mid­dle East. Just 2,000 will be brought to the U.S. for the 2011 model year.

The U.S. Equus is sec­ond gen­er­a­tion, out­fit­ted with the same 4.6-liter six-speed au­to­matic power-train as Hyundai’s Ge­n­e­sis.

I found that the Equus en­gine, with its 333 pound­feet of torque, eas­ily joined the 80-mph flow of traf­fic on free-mov­ing high­ways. The trans­mis­sion was also un­ob­tru­sive and smooth.

The ride qual­ity was ex­cep­tional. Its elec­tron­i­cally con­trolled air sus­pen­sion with con­tin­u­ous damp­ing con­trol was cloud­like in its cushi­ness. And, aided by acous­tic-lam­i­nated glass on the wind­shield and door win­dows, as well as vi­bra­tion damp­ing in the roof and un­der­body, the cock­pit was so quiet it was as if I’d donned noise-can­cel­ing head­phones.

At least it was un­til my son and his pal in­sisted I load a movie into the DVD player, at which point I could hear, in all its ex­plo­sive and crisp 608-watt glory, ex­actly what sort of dam­age said movie was do­ing to their young minds.

Un­for­tu­nately, it only took one glance at the dash to also reg­is­ter what sort of dam­age I was do­ing to the en­vi­ron­ment and to their fu­tures. The Equus av­er­aged 14.7 mpg in the 200 miles I drove it.

At least they were safe. The Equus is out­fit­ted with ABS, elec­tronic brake-force dis­tri­bu­tion, corner­ing brake con­trol, brake as­sist, trac­tion con­trol and nine airbags, in­clud­ing bags for the driver’s knees and pas­sen­gers in the rear seat.

There’s also a front-end cam­era, an ab­surd safety fea­ture that was an­noy­ingly over­pro­tec­tive. De­signed (os­ten­si­bly) to give driv­ers a bet­ter view of what’s in front of them, it beeps when­ever it thinks the driver is in dan­ger of trun­cat­ing the legs of an ap­proach­ing pedes­trian, even when there is none in sight.

Since I have two work­ing eyes, like, pre­sum­ably, most li­censed driv­ers, I found the front cam­era more ir­ri­tat­ing than help­ful, be­cause it made ob­jects ap­pear far­ther away than they ac­tu­ally were and dis­torted them with its fish-eye lens.

Other than the front cam­era and the fuel econ­omy, I loved al­most ev­ery­thing else about the Equus — ev­ery­thing but the fact that it costs so much and is still a Hyundai.

RE­FINE­MENT:

Anne Cu­sack

The Equus is an ex­tremely well-ren­dered knock­off of its higher-priced com­pe­ti­tion, the Mercedes S550 and the Lexus LS 460.

AH­H­HHH: The tested ver­sion of the 2011 Hyundai Equus fea­tured mas­sag­ing, heated and ven­ti­lated leather seats and power sun­shades for the win­dows.

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