Paul A. Eisenstein
From the Print Edition:
Jim Belushi, November/December 2010
Military intelligence. Put some words together and they form an instant contradiction. Yet, when others are paired, seeming opposites serve up a delicious surprise, like jumbo shrimp. So, what about Hyundai luxury car? Until a few years ago, that would have been an incongruous concept-before the introduction of the Hyundai Genesis, anyway. But the Genesis sedan has delivered another tasty treat, challenging the luxury segment's established order and winning the coveted North American Car of the Year award in the process.
If the Korean carmaker's first upscale offering was a risky bet, consider what comes next to the Hyundai lineup. Where Genesis was positioned somewhere between the Mercedes-Benz C- and E-Class models, the new Equus takes direct aim at the pinnacle of the premium car segment, offerings that include the Mercedes S-Class, Lexus LS and Audi A8. Those are some of the most lavish and well-executed products on the market.
Hyundai has delivered a handsome, if not entirely original, design that says, "I've arrived." The exterior styling is reminiscent of an S-Class, and the cabin is precisely what you'd expect of a premium luxury offering, lavished in wood and leather, with tasteful chrome accents. Equus shares its underpinnings with the nimble and satisfying Genesis sedan. The new entry is a full seven inches longer, however. Most of that is devoted to the rear of the cabin, the Hyundai Equus Ultimate edition making good use of the extra space with fold-out, Business-Class-style seats. Settle in, crank up the 608-watt Lexicon A/V system and you may not want to go home.
This is a big cruiser—roughly 4,500 pounds—so we took it out for a long coastal drive south of San Francisco. We wanted to see how it would hold up under some aggressive driving. It has more than enough to attack the steepest hills. The 4.6-liter Tau V8 readily delivers its full 385 horsepower, (and can still make 378 horsepower if you prefer using regular gas). The active air suspension system readily soaks up the bumps, while maintaining its poise through the treacherous curves and canyons of Skyline Drive. The ride is a wee bit harsher than with some of the better-established competitors, but the overall performance of the new Hyundai Equus is impressive for a first-time entrant into a challenging segment.
As with Genesis, Hyundai hopes to enhance its appeal by offering premium luxury at a midrange price. Though final figures have yet to be released, betting is on a fully-loaded figure many thousands less than the $90,000-plus starting price for the long-wheelbase Mercedes S-Class. But there's another piece to the pitch. Don't like going to the dealer? No problem, the select 250 retailers handling Equus will come to you, if you prefer. And when it's time for service, they'll pick the sedan up at your home or office, leaving a Genesis or Equus loaner while you wait. You'll be able to schedule that oil change using a special app on the iPad that comes with each Equus.
Hyundai has come a long way from the days when it earned a reputation for cheap-and-cheerful econoboxes. Genesis changed the equation and Equus is likely only to enhance this new image.
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