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Review: 2011 Hyundai Equus Ultimate

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This last week we spent time enjoying the ultimate in Korean luxury that is the Hyundai Equus. We weren’t too impressed with early photos but upon first sight, in person, those impressions were immediately discharged. The Equus looks boss, like Kkangpae boss, with a stance on the road so sexy that watchers-on know someone important is in the back.

This is the first attempt from a Korean automaker to bring a car to the US of such class. Much like when Toyota brought Lexus to the states in 1989, and yes, there is an almost taboo stigma still with Asian luxury. This last week we put that all to rest.

Luxury at its Seoul

Remember when a Mercedes drove like a Mercedes? When the ride was as smooth and balanced as a Schwaben Bräu. Well, that’s how the Equus is. No, it’s not a sports-luxury-sedan, it’s just a full-size luxury saloon with purpose. Yes, there is a sport mode and it does work, but that’s not the point. This car is made for those who don’t care about a name to be considered stately. Instead, they rather would enjoy all the comforts that a Mercedes or a Lexus offer and keep an extra $20k in the pocket.

We took the Equus to Flint, Michigan to see what retired General Motors workers would think of a new Korean on the block. Because the Equus doesn’t say Hyundai anywhere on it, except for the rear deck, we found it right to not mention what it was if they couldn’t tell.

Meet Arnold, a retired skilled trades worker of 30 years that spent most of his time building American trucks for Americans—the kind of guy whose bumper sticker reads “Out of a job yet? Keep buying foreign.” We made the call and he agreed to be chauffeured to the golf course where he and his other GM buddies meet every week for their 9 o’clock tee time.

With a fancy suit and all I drove to Arnold’s home to pick him up. He came out with a puzzled look on his face, “You said this wasn’t on the market yet, I’ve seen these all over.” With a push of a few buttons, I lower the Equus and open the truck, throw in his clubs and present him with the VIP seat. Fully reclined, with the massage and heated seat active we make our way to the golf course.

Arnold is taken back on earlier statements of seeing the Equus before, right about when he says, “I’ve never seen anything like this before.” I spoke the destination to the car and GPS guided us, again, something he thought was very useful. Arnold really enjoyed the Fight Club DVD that was playing while saying, “A guy could get used to this.” When I told him to grab a water from the cool box—he was speechless.

Upon arrival, one of his buddies grabbed a glimpse of the Hyundai badge and in disbelief that it was a Hyundai, yelled, “That’s a Hyundai.” At that point Arnold had enough of the Hyundai, saying that it was nice but he would never buy one. I thanked him for his time.

Variety is the rice of life

While many of the options in the Ultimate Equus can seem superfluous, it was in use during every trip involving more than one person. All that passengers wanted to do was sit in the back and take advantage of the entertainment—but I think they want to see what it feels like being a celebrity. Though, I did indulge them a few times with clever drive-bys that had pedestrians pointing and wondering.

Driving the Equus is easier than riding a bike. Set the adaptive cruise control, enable the Lane Departure Warning System and the Equus pretty much drives itself. One late night I was driving slightly tired, when I veered off the lane the LDWS chimed and pulled my seatbelt refocusing my attention to the road—so it does work, whether or not you like nanny systems.

I have to say that the torque from the 4.6-liter V8 could be a bit greater, which it will when Hyundai brings the Tau 5.0-liter to the US. Gas mileage wasn’t bad at 17 combined mpg, but the range was horrible with only 260 miles per tank. The steering has a very smooth windup that requires only a pinky to turn, but that translated to a rubber-band-like feedback on cloverleaf’s. So no the steering is not of German standards and the on-center feel can be slightly numb, but take a corner at a decent speed with sport mode on and the Equus will take it, and there wont’ be much, if any, gasps for relief from the 19-inch tires. The brakes are solid, with pedal feel that leaves you feeling confident and in control.

Electrogasm

As we talked about earlier in the week, the Hyundai Equus is loaded with techno-gadgetry. It surely would make the cast as a Bond car in Die Another Day, where the Korean would have easily fit in. But, it’s not about just having everything and the kitchen sink that makes a car luxury. The tech must be tied together with such symphonic precision as to not upset the very peacefulness that the car is purchased for.

To calm those who are normally uncomfortable parking large beasts in cities, the Equus offers two cameras—one in front and one in rear—to help you save face during parallel park jobs. The cameras came in handy so well, in fact, that when backing in I got so close to another car that the man started to scream “STOP!” I let him know there is a backup camera and that it was okay. But not only is there a camera to help move aft, the screen also displays trajectory lines that match the steering direction—very handy indeed. And if that weren’t enough, there are still rear and forward parking sensors that speak tones.

The infotainment in the front is what you’d expect from a luxury sedan, but what you wouldn’t expect is for it to work so nicely. Clearly, the system’s software and hardware are well-matched since the lag on menu selections is very low. It remains very functional with a multitude of settings while still being easy enough to never require an owner’s manual—infact, since we were the second to get the Equus the iPad wasn’t in it yet and there wasn’t an owner’s manual.

I did have my other iDevice and that worked seamlessly with the system. I wish there was Bluetooth audio in the car, but the Bluetooth phone setup worked great. There are mics in both the front and back, since the VIP will be doing all the talking. The VIP has most all control of infotainment in the back, minus GPS, and is done so fully overwriting control from the front. Not something you’ll like if you have kids in the back and they like to be annoying.

Conclusion says..

At no point during our time with the Equus did it feel unnecessary nor too big. Rather every angle of judgment has the Equus in a respectable position against its rivals. And, while it is a new car to the states it has been in production in South Korean since 1999 and in the current generation since 2009.

If people like Arnold can get over the simple fact that the Equus is from South Korea, Hyundai could have another winner on its hands. We predict customers looking for a super buttery ride and quiet and commodious interior will buy the Equus. Those who measure their worthiness from the names they can drop will likely not buy the Hyundai Equus. Price is estimated at 50-60,000 in USD.

http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=71649


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