When you add together all the things that the Hyundai Equus has (and it has a lot), but then take away the one big thing it lacks, it’s tough to make a sensible equation from the car.
The Equus is an unabashed luxury cruiser in the old style: big, rear-wheel drive, powerful, comfortable, lined with sumptuous materials, shaped for distinction, and packed with conveniences.
And there’s nothing old style about those conveniences. The large, spacious sedan carries an eye-popping load of electronic gear and sophisticated power accessories. There’s a massage system embedded in the driver’s seat, which is heated and cooled, like other seats in the car. Equus has power shades for the back and rear side windows. It comes with lane-drift warning, smart cruise control that keeps a safe distance, rain-sensing wipers with built-in deicer, humidity sensor for automatic windshield defogging, rear-view camera, xenon headlights that turn corners, heated outside mirrors with auto-dimming and integrated puddle lamps and turn signals, built-in hands-free phone system, 17-speaker audio system, navigation guidance on an eight-inch video screen with joystick controller that also operates other cabin systems. Whew. And those are just some of the highlights. Undeniably, this sedan is loaded, even for a luxury car.
What is it lacking?
For one thing, it lacks the hefty price that normally attaches to a full-size car in the luxury class that is packed with so much gear. Hyundai – a Korea-based auto company that makes Equus in its home country, but makes other cars here – sells two versions of its flagship model. Both versions are as fully equipped as described above, with the Equus Signature model priced at $59,650.
The step up to the Equus Ultimate, at $66,650, adds such features as forward parking camera, power trunk lid, lighted make-up mirrors in the back, and a rear-seat video screen for cabin controls like climate. The back of the Equus seems as large as a private bio-dome anyway. The rear of the Ultimate is set up for two riders only, making it a four- rather than five-passenger sedan. Both Ultimate back seats are heated and cooled. Both have power recliners and power-adjustable head rests. The right side is called a “first class seat,” due to its retractile footrest and built-in back massager. Oh, and a fridge is recessed into the console between the two seats.
Both the Signature and Ultimate employ the same under-hood hardware, starting with a serenely capable V8 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission. Together they give the Equus unharried command of the road. The car accelerates with such smooth serenity that you can cruise unaware of the power beneath you.
Pushing toward Boston on I-93 in an Equus Signature last week, I didn’t realize I was surging close to 85 mph until I noticed the speedometer tipping toward that number. During the same trip I murmured out loud, “this car is so smooth,” a reaction to its stable suspension, aided by the sedan’s mass and its long dimensions.
For luxury-car shoppers the Equus is a bargain. Hyundai seems justified to advertise that the sedan gives you all the qualities and amenities you find in a high-flying BMW 7 Series or Mercedes-Benz S-Class, but for thousands of dollars le
ss. The fact that the Equus lacks the crippling price of other large high-end sedans is hardly a demerit.
when you compare the Hyundai Equus to the top-line Mercedes and BMW models, you see immediately that it lacks the polished, prestigious brand image that its rivals possess. People with dough pay handsomely for a Mercedes or BMW not just to get a luxurious car, but also to attach that car’s image to themselves.
Hyundai’s image and reputation are rising rapidly to the levels enjoyed by Honda and Toyota (although those Japanese brands still sell far more cars in the U.S. than Hyundai). But, like Honda and Toyota, it remains a middle-class brand. Hyundai can’t possibly deliver the image people acquire with the likes of Mercedes and BMW.
Yet now the company offers two luxury models alongside its mainstream vehicles – in addition to Equus, Hyundai sells the Genesis, a step below the Equus but still a premium-class automobile. What’s going on?
Hyundai says it makes its luxury models for sensible people who want all the advantages of a premium auto, without paying the extra mark-up for image alone.
But there seems to be more going on. Hyundai is particular about who sells its Equus. It distributes the model only to dealers who sell Hyundai cars in an exclusive facility. Here in the Merrimack V
alley, Salem Ford Hyundai in Salem, N.H., does not get the Equus from Hyundai, because it splits its building with another brand.
That will change next year, when the dealership finishes a major expansion. About a year from now, look for Salem Ford Hyundai to open a new facility that separates Hyundai in an exclusive new home in Salem. After that the Equus should arrive.
It looks like Hyundai wants to make itself stand apart in the auto market, to gain greater distinction. My guess is that the company wants to push itself up-market, to create a more exclusive image that will draw more luxury drivers. If that’s the case, look for more models with qualities like Equus to join its lineup.
But that’s just a hunch. It’s just as likely that Hyundai itself isn’t exactly sure where it’s going with its mixture of middle-class and luxury models. Hyundai is an innovative, entrepreneurial company that appears willing to do things differently, take some risks, and see where they lead it.
As it travels, it sure is interesting to watch. The cars it makes available in the meantime is a nice bonus, too.
Jeffrey Zygmont has written about automobiles since 1982. Based in Salem, N.H., he writes books and articles about innovation, technology and culture. He can be contacted through the website jeffreyzygmont.com
2012 Hyundai Equus Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, rear-wheel-drive full-size luxury sedan Price range: $59,650 to $66,650 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; 5 years/60,000 miles free scheduled maintenance 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 ft.