Hyundai's flagship sedan busts barriers

AP News
Posted: Jun 29, 2011 12:32 PM
Hyundai's flagship sedan busts barriers

The only thing missing from the 2011 Hyundai Equus luxury sedan is a traditional luxury brand badge like a Mercedes star or a Jaguar leaping cat.

But with everything else that's packed into Hyundai's new, impressive flagship vehicle, maybe an old-style luxury brand badge is overrated.

The Equus comes standard with its own iPad. It's where the owner's manual resides.

Car owners and lessees don't take the Equus to a Hyundai dealership. They set an appointment, and someone from the dealership comes to get the car, while leaving them with a loaner. And the loaner will be another Equus or Hyundai's other sizable, rear-wheel drive car, the Genesis, not a Hyundai Accent.

Soft, supple leather covers the Equus seats. Premium leather is standard, not the $2,290 extra that it is in the 2011 Mercedes S550.

Without extra charge, the 17-foot-long, V-8-powered Equus includes rear-view camera, a park assist system and key-free door access and push-button start. These items are part of a $3,630 option package on the V-8-powered Mercedes S550.

A sunroof, 19-inch wheels, rear-window shades, navigation system, nine air bags, lane departure warning system, pre-collision system, heated steering wheel and 608-watt, premium audio system with 17 speakers are standard in the Equus, too.

Yet, the starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for the Equus, is $58,900, compared with the $93,875 starting MSRP, including destination charge, for a 2011 S550 from Mercedes and $73,575 for a 2011 Jaguar XJ.

And I swear you will find the exterior Equus styling reminds you of a Mercedes.

The Equus has the horsepower _ 385 _ to run with the others. The S550's V-8 produces 382 horsepower while the Jag's base V-8 generates 385 horses.

But the Equus' 4.6-liter, double overhead cam V-8 with continuously variable valve timing lags in torque, which tops out at 333 foot-pounds at a decent 3,500 rpm. In comparison, the Mercedes S550's larger, 5.5-liter V-8 delivers peak torque of 391 foot-pounds starting at 2,800 rpm. This pushes the heavy Mercedes to 60 miles an hour from standstill in a sprightly 5.4 seconds, compared with the 6.4 seconds that was clocked by car enthusiast magazines.

No matter. In everyday and highway driving, this new car is comfortable, feels well powered and is amazingly quiet inside. In fact, the test Equus rode so calmly, so quietly, that I settled right in to the comfortable, 12-way, adjustable, driver seat with massage and caressed the wood- and leather-trimmed steering wheel every day after work.

The car's ride was supple over bumps, with the air suspension system working well to absorb even sizable bumps and keep them away from passengers. The Equus wears big, 19-inch wheels, but there was no weighty feel at the car's corners as the tires rolled over manhole covers and cracked, pitched pavement.

There's some body roll in the corners, but the Equus isn't wallowy, even if it's not the crispest big car to drive, either.

The Equus is rated to run on either regular unleaded or premium. The S550 requires premium, according to manufacturer specs.

The Equus' federal government fuel economy rating of 16 miles per gallon in city driving and 24 mpg on the highway is a tad better than the 15/23-mpg rating of the S500.

This was a bit surprising, given that the Equus Ultimate top-of-the-line test model weighed in at a hefty 4,600 pounds and was fitted with a six-speed automatic transmission from Germany. The S550 comes standard with a seven-speed transmission, and having more gears improves fuel economy.

Still, no one buys these cars to scrimp on fuel, as evidenced by my mileage of 18.9 mpg in combined city-highway travel in the Equus. The good-sized, 20.3-gallon gas tank meant I could go some 380 miles before needing a fill-up. Note that the Jaguar XJ's tank is larger at 21.7 gallons.

The influence of Hyundai's South Korean homeland is most evident in the back seat of the Equus in Ultimate trim, which is designed for chauffeuring VIPs.

This was the test car, so the right rear seat was like a business class seat on an airline. The seat reclined via touch of a button, and a leather-covered leg extender unfolded forward as the front passenger seat moved toward the dashboard. It was an unexpectedly delightful lounge experience.

The center console in back _ there were only two seats back there _ included a coolbox for beverages, complete with lighting and that white plastic that's inside most household refrigerators.

Lighted vanity mirrors are back there, too, as is an entertainment center with 8-inch display screen that sat at the back of the front-seat center console.

Passengers entered and exited the test Equus _ any of the four seats _ with ease and grace, thanks to the large door openings.

I liked the attention to detail. A light, little anthem welcomed me inside the car as I started it up, and fit and finish was excellent. There's no Hyundai logo or name inside the Equus, though the Hyundai logo is on the trunk lid.

The trunk was nicely lined but had only 16.7 cubic feet of space, since so much room was devoted to the back seat.

Buttons and knobs inside the Equus were good-sized and well-positioned for easy recognition and use.

Best of all for those who fall in love with their Equus cars: Normally scheduled maintenance is free for the first five years or 60,000 miles, whichever comes first. This includes parts and labor. The engine is covered by a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty.