EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 15, 2013

Hyundai Equus gives top-line luxury a twist

Motor Mouth
Jeffrey Zygmont

---- — As hard as I try – and I’ve been trying hard for a few years at least – I can’t figure out Hyundai.

Last week the company sent me its big and stately, 2014 Equus sedan to evaluate. At more than $60,000, with a large and powerful V8 engine, with a plush and airy cabin surrounded by an elegant, smooth, yet muscularly shaped body, and with an overflow of advanced electronic features that seem to do just about everything, the Hyundai Equus is as pampering and appealing as any luxury car I’ve driven.

I rate its design, construction, content and comfort equal to those qualities in large, showy models from the bona fide luxury-car brands like Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus.

But the Equus is from Hyundai, which isn’t a luxury-car brand. That’s the part that’s so hard to figure.

Hyundai has grown to become a respected and popular car maker. It sells a number a standout models. Some of them have made noteworthy contributions to the car community as a whole, all within the last few years.

For example, the Hyundai Sonata excited the mid-size sedan market and shook bigger-name competitors out of a design drought. The Santa Fe brought distinctive style to family-sized crossover wagons, with a crisply wedged, athletically poised body that seats seven people in an elongated version, or five in its normal trim. The Elantra and Veloster gave dash and sassy attitude to smaller, personally sized autos.

Hyundai is a solid and respected brand. It continues to grow in presence and influence. But for all of its assets, Hyundai is not a luxury-car label. Therefore to see the Hyundai name attached to an unabashed, top-flight luxury sedan like the Equus is very unusual.

But that’s Hyundai.

“Hyundai has never been a conventional company,” said David Silvia, sales manager at Salem Ford Hyundai in Salem, N.H.

That echoes the explanation I’ve heard from corporate executives of the U.S. parent company, Hyundai Motor America of Costa Mesa, Calif., near Los Angeles. When I ask them why they mix luxury models with cars for the mainstream market, the execs tell me something like, “Hyundai does things its own way.”

The most prestigious luxury cars typically come from companies that make only luxury models – that exclusivity is a large part of what makes them so prestigious. Think BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Think Porsche in luxury sports cars. Think Land Rover in sport-utilities

The major car makers also offer luxury models. But to make them more prestigious and exclusive-seeming, they separate them from their mainstream brands. The meat of General Motors is Chevrolet, which makes cars for mass consumers. GM doesn’t package any of its Chevys as luxury cars. Instead GM splits off its upper-crust autos and puts the Cadillac label on them. Ford does the same with its Lincoln brand. The Japan-based big three of Toyota, Honda and Nissan all have respected, well established luxury lines. But they don’t call their high-priced, high-feature autos Toyotas, Hondas and Nissans. They sell them more exclusively as the Lexus, Acura and Infiniti lines, respectively. Volkswagen makes Audi cars.

Sure, you can buy loaded, high-priced and luxury-leaning versions of vehicles from any of the mainstream brands, including Ford, Toyota and all the others. But the Hyundai Equus is unquestionably an outright luxury car.

That was reinforced by my seven-day test drive last week. The Equus possessed the solid construction and gleaming finish essential in luxury autos. It delivered the smooth power and road command you find in the class. It incorporated all the sumptuous, high-grade materials, and displayed the distinctive, stylish design and decoration that distinguishes luxury cars. The components, equipment and features in the Equus, especially its driver-assistance systems, were as advanced as any you’ll find.

“When people look at the car, and drive it, it’s almost a no-brainer, because you get so much and still save a ton of money,” said Silvia, the Salem Ford Hyundai sales manager.

My evaluation model was a top-line, Equus Ultimate version, with a sticker price of $68,920. That includes everything – you don’t add options to the Equus; Hyundai includes all equipment in its base price. That pricing strategy points to a principal advantage that the Equus offers. It’s a value, a good buy, when you consider how much more you must pay for a comparable vehicle from a bona fide luxury brand.

The car’s equipment is a cornucopia. My model had a back-seat entertainment system with two, nine-inch monitors embedded in the back of the front-seat headrests. The back seats power-reclined and featured heating and cooling. Shades on the back window and the rear side windows were power operated. A windshield projection kept helpful driving information fully in view, including speed, lane position, and upcoming turns when I used the car’s navigation system.

Importantly, the advanced features were easy to operate. They were inviting, too. Take the active cruise control, which automatically slows you down or speeds you up on the highway, depending on traffic ahead of you. I’ve driven some systems that are jarring. The Hyundai active cruise seemed to know just what to do. In cases when I zipped into the freeway passing lane to get around a slow-mover, the system seemed to know when a new car ahead of me was passing the slow-mover too. So instead of backing me away, the cruise system accelerated to match the pull-away pace of the other car.

While its sells the Equus with the Hyundai label attached, Hyundai provides the elevated shopping experience that luxury buyers expect. For example, instead of selling Equus right beside its mainstream models, Hyundai requires a dealer to have a separate showroom for the car and to support it with specially trained personnel.

For that reason, Salem Ford Hyundai doesn’t yet sell the model, explained Silvia. But that’s scheduled to change, he said. The dealer is preparing to renovate and expand. Its upgraded facility will make room for Salem Hyundai to bring in the Equus.

“The drawings have already been made,” he said.

When it happens, you’re likely to start seeing more of the stately big sedans on our local roads. But you won’t see too many, because rarity and exclusivity are aspects of luxury cars.

Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction and non-fiction books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.

2014 Hyundai Equus Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, rear-wheel-drive, full-size luxury sedan Price range: $61,920 to 68,920 Warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles basic warranty; 10 years/100,000 miles powertrain warranty; 7 years/unlimited miles corrosion warranty; 5 years/unlimited miles roadside assistance Engine: 5.0-liter V8 Power: 429 horsepower at 6,400 rpm; 376 lb.-ft. torque at 5,000 rpm Transmission: 8-speed automatic Fuel economy: 15 mpg city; 23 mpg highway Wheelbase: 120 inches Length: 203 inches Width: 74 inches Height: 59 inches Weight: 4,486 pounds Fuel capacity: 20.3 gallons Turning circle: 39.6 feet