Test Drive: 2011 Hyundai Equus

Hyundai sets its sight on high-end sedans with new rear-drive flagship

by James M. Flammang



2011 Hyundai Equus comes in lavishly fitted Signature trim, or
as the even more abundantly equipped Ultimate sedan (shown)

When Hyundai decided its Genesis sedan wasn't sufficiently high-end, the South Korean automaker decided to go all-out. Result: a brand-new rear-wheel-drive flagship sedan, intended to compete against some of the top sedans on the market. That list includes the Lexus LS 460 from Japan, plus three German entrants: Audi A8, BMW 7-Series, and Mercedes-Benz S-Class.

If any car model's standard-equipment list qualifies as overwhelming, it has to be the Equus. Two versions are offered: Signature and Ultimate. Read through the list of what comes with the Signature edition, and you might never get far enough to see what's including with the Equus Ultimate.

Both models are powered by Hyundai's 4.6-liter Tau V-8 engine, developing 385 horsepower at 6500 rpm and driving a ZF six-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic manual control. Output drops to 378 horsepower if regular-grade gasoline is used. Torque output is 333 pound-feet with premium fuel, or 324 with regular-grade.

Chrome alloy wheels hold 19-inch tires. Nine airbags are standard, including rear-seat side-impact airbags and a driver's knee airbag. Both models have an electronically-controlled air suspension.

If high-power audio is your passion, Hyundai is ready with the standard Lexicon 608-watt, 17-speaker system. For comfort, consider the heated and cooled front seats with leather seating surfaces, driver's seat massaging, heated wood/leather steering wheel, 12-way power driver's seat, and 10-way power front passenger seat. The electronic parking brake includes an automatic-hold feature. Hyundai's navigation system is standard.

Safety features include a Lane Departure Warning, Vehicle Stability Management with pre-collision warning, front and rear parking assistance with a rearview camera. High-intensity-discharge headlights are standard, too, along with a windshield wiper de-icer.

Don't expect a conventional printed owner's manual. Hyundai provides an interactive manual, installed in an Apple iPad.

So, what's left for the Ultimate sedan to add? Try a forward-view parking and cornering camera, power decklid, reclining rear seats with powered headrests, cooled rear seats, rear-seat massaging and leg support, plus video entertainment and a refrigerator in the back. With its 50/50 split rear seats, the Ultimate holds only four occupants, versus five for the Signature edition.

Built on a 119.9-inch wheelbase, the Equus measured 203.1 inches long overall. These cars are relative heavyweights, tipping the scales at no less than 4,449 pounds. That's one reason for the less-than-thrifty fuel-economy estimate: 16 mpg in city driving and 24 mpg on the highway. Hyundai has been promoting the fuel-efficiency of its cars lately, but not the Equus.

Everything in an Equus Ultimate sedan is ultra-smooth throughout, approaching–maybe matching–the refinement and finesse of its Japanese and European rivals. On the other hand, the ride, while gentle most of the time, does get a tad lumpy over some bumps. Not harsh, by any means; but you definitely feel them. On other surfaces, you might hear tire slap when rolling over pavement separators, but feel nothing at all.

Acceleration comes close to stunning–far more than necessary, delivered in a civilized manner. Automatic-transmission shifts often are felt, though, to a degree greater than in some luxury cars.

As expected, the four-passenger Ultimate is utterly comfortable inside. Welcoming, too. Nicely-lit gauges are easy to read. Far less appealing are the controls, which warrant a one-star rating at best. Because the iPad manual was not supplied with our test Equus, we weren't able to figure out how to do much of anything, including something as supposedly simple as changing a radio station. Or, how to turn off the front camera that kept going on, annoyingly, every time we came to a stop. (We finally figured out how to eliminate the camera, by repeated experimentation.)

Quiet? Absolutely. Don't expect to hear more than a hint of road sounds, on smooth surfaces.

If the Equus Signature's $58,900 sticker price sounds hefty, Hyundai would like you to ponder those four rivals. An Audi A8 goes for $78,925; BMW's 750i for $84,375; and the Mercedes-Benz S550 runs $94,525. Hyundai's Equus beats three of those competitors in gas mileage, but Audi's A8 gets an EPA estimated of 17-mpg city/27-mpg highway.


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