The Ambitious Flagship That Steers Right Down the Middle
Ed Hellwig, Senior Editor
It was the same story over and over. No one who saw the 2011 Hyundai Equus knew what it was, but they all thought they did.
"That's the new S-Class, right?" said one very incorrect bystander at the car wash.
"I don't like where Lexus is going these days," said another 60-ish power walker who didn't seem to realize she wasn't looking at a new LS.
And the kicker of the week? The delivery truck driver who said, "Buick is really making some nice cars these days. I'm glad we bailed GM out."
So, plenty of opinions, not many facts. Then again, we didn't expect anybody to recognize the new Equus. This is its first appearance in the States and it has a rather faceless design that mixes together German proportions, Japanese understatement and enough chrome to be a Cadillac. Or, at least, an old Cadillac.
The result is a car that looks like it's trying to be everything to everybody. And from behind the wheel it feels much the same way. Never offensive or shockingly impressive either, the Equus safely straddles the middle of the luxury car road. And luckily for Hyundai, that's where most of the buyers are, too.
Sized for Subtlety
Standing next to the Equus, it doesn't come across as overly large. There is only one size available and its overall length and wheelbase put the 2011 Hyundai Equus between a Lexus LS 460 and a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Unlike some Japanese luxury sedans, the Equus doesn't skimp on width either, as it's within half an inch of the Audi A8 and BMW 7 Series in that dimension.
The large doors and their big handles make getting in easy enough. The doors aren't particularly heavy either, yet they close with a reassuring thump.
There's nothing immediately objectionable from the driver seat, which offers plenty of room in every direction. In fact, the long of leg will be interested to know that the Equus has nearly 4 more inches of front legroom than the BMW 7 Series. Head-, shoulder and hiproom are all competitive as well, and the driver seat features 12-way adjustability.
Despite the numerous features, there are not an overwhelming number of switches or dials. The steering wheel has a few basic controls and some nice wood trim, while the dashboard has a handful of buttons for basic climate control functions. An iDrive-like controller on the center console takes care of everything else through a sizable screen above the analog clock. The gauges are simple analog dials, with a digital information screen squeezed between them.
It's all very logically laid out, and the feel of the switchgear is about what you would expect in a sedan that's expected to cost around $60,000. There are extra splashes of chrome trim everywhere and no signs of refugee parts from the Sonata.
Is it as elegant as a Mercedes? Uh no, but to anyone moving up from a lesser price segment, the 2011 Hyundai Equus would most certainly look and feel like a step up.
The Sounds of Silence
Not much changes when you fire the standard 4.6-liter V8. Other than some movement from the gauges and a very quiet hum from the engine, there's little noise or vibration. Drop the traditional console shifter into Drive and the Equus eases away like it's running on electric motors.
Once under way, the 2011 Hyundai Equus feels more like a Lexus than a BMW. The standard air suspension is tuned to isolate every bump and crevice in the road and the electric steering leans toward light and easy-to-maneuver instead of direct and sporty. The gas pedal requires a solid shove before delivering big chunks of power, so the car encourages sedate driving.
Flatfoot the gas, though, and the German-built six-speed automatic will deliver a firm downshift or two after some brief hesitation. From a standstill, the standard 4.6-liter V8 can deliver enough of its 385 horsepower to whip the nearly 4,600-pound sedan from zero to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds (or 6.4 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip). It dispenses the quarter-mile in 14.8 seconds at 96.8 mph.
Neither quick nor particularly slow, the Equus never feels twitchy or unrefined. Even at full throttle, the sound of the V8 remains pleasantly subdued, while the transmission slides through the gears without upsetting the cabin in the least. A more powerful 5.0-liter V8 is already in the works along with an eight-speed automatic if you're particularly concerned about adequate power.
Some Sport With Your Plush?
As we noted in our First Drive from Korea, the ride quality of the 2011 Hyundai Equus sits somewhere between the feathery Lexus LS and the firm-footed BMW 7 Series. Instead of floating over the road like the Lexus, the Equus feels heavier on its feet, more like it's pummeling the bumps with its big 19-inch wheels and tires. On the flip side, the Equus has less body roll than the Lexus and feels more buttoned-down through big sweeping corners.
There is a "sport" setting for the air suspension, too. With that setting dialed in, our test driver managed a respectable 0.77g on the skid pad and a maximum speed of 63.1 mph through our slalom. More importantly he found the car stable and predictable as it was pushed harder and harder. "There's definitely a solid chassis under this car," he noted. The brake pedal was reassuringly firm, too, even though the Hyundai's shortest stop from 60 mph was a little long for its class at 131 feet.
So the Equus can handle itself respectably for a big sedan, but we would prefer a single suspension setting that splits the difference of its two personalities. Well, that, and some less aggressive tires. On some of L.A.'s concrete freeways, the Continental ContiProContact rubber on the Equus generated a noticeable howl. Even at lower speeds there's more tire noise than we would like although, like many luxury cars, some of that is due to the fact the rest of the cabin is so utterly silent. With so little engine or wind noise, the sound of the standard 19s is that much more obvious.
The Ultimate Hyundai
Aside from some of the minor ride issues, the Equus has few flaws when it comes to over-the-road comfort. The driver seat has more than enough adjustments for you to find a suitable position, not to mention a massage function to go along with the heating and cooling controls. The plush seats are complemented by excellent visibility and the overall spaciousness of the cabin. The straightforward controls are all within easy reach and there are plenty of useful cupholders and storage space. It's an easy place to get comfortable.
The basic five-seat package is dubbed the Equus Signature, while our tester was the four-passenger model dubbed the Equus Ultimate. For an as-yet-unspecified amount of extra cash, the Ultimate decks out the rear seats with living room-like accommodations. There is a video screen, a console refrigerator, a separate control panel for climate controls, and heated and cooled adjustable seats. The passenger side seat even has an extendable foot rest, although we found it useful only if you're less than 6 feet tall.
It's all very elegant-looking and certainly gives the 2011 Hyundai Equus the appearance of a more expensive sedan. It's still not quite as spacious as a long-wheelbase BMW in back, though, so there's some room for improvement there. Cargo space in the trunk is about average for the segment at 16.7 cubic feet. The Ultimate model adds a handy power-operated lid if you don't like touching things with your own hand.
The Value of the Middle
Much like Lexus in the '90s, Hyundai is offering up its Equus sedan as a value proposition in a segment that might seem oblivious to it. But as Lexus has proved, even the wealthy like a good deal.
Then again, they want their luxury, too. The Equus certainly delivers when it comes to features, accommodations and its overall build quality. Stick the average Lexus LS owner in this Hyundai and they probably wouldn't notice much of a difference.
Can't say the same for the owners of your typical German luxury car, though. They would likely find the vague exterior styling of the 2011 Hyundai Equus too boring and the interior too generic. Then again, the guy at the car wash thought we were driving the latest S-Class, so Hyundai may have less to worry about than we think.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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