car-reviews

For many, the perception of Hyundai as anything more than a budget automaker has yet to materialize fully. Despite its humble beginnings, the Korean automaker is slowly growing into an exciting, legitimate, top-selling brand. So what better way to continue along this hard-fought path to prestige than to develope a car that very few thought Hyundai ever would – or could – create? Say hello to the 2012 Hyundai Equus, a three-dimensional statement to the automotive world that affordable luxury can exist outside of Europe and Japan (we’ll throw the American luxury brands in there, as well). But can Hyundai create a car that’s actually worth $60,000, or more? The answer might surprise you.

A Hyundai? Seriously?

If Hyundai’s traditional vehicle lineup is (wrongly) perceived as the automotive equivalent of a fast-food dollar value menu, the 2012 Equus is more of a grass-fed Kobe beef hamburger with a side of truffle-oil laced fries. Our first reaction upon opening the vehicle door was more disbelief than sheer awe. We began to second-guess whether we were in a Hyundai at all. And the fact that there is little to identify the vehicle as such (the Equus features its own distinct winged icon and badging) is very telling; Hyundai clearly does not want customers associating the Equus with Elantras and Accents.

While generally straightforward and conservative (almost to a fault), the Equus’ cabin is spacious, comfort-riddled, and yes, luxurious. By keeping things simple, Hyundai is undeniably playing it safe. But in a segment that values refinement over flash, we don’t blame it. The goal here is to convince buyers of the company’s premium credentials. The Equus does that, but it’s a shame the material quality comes up short in some areas. While the requisite luxury materials like wood and brushed aluminum accents are present and accounted for, they never truly feel as top shelf as others in the segment.

Despite some question marks regarding quality, the Equus does provide an impressive amount of space for driver and passengers alike. Up front, seating is comfortable with pleasantly bolstered and cushioned leather seats. Finding a comfortable position shouldn’t be difficult either, with 12-way driver and 10-way passenger power seats, dual climate control, heated and cooled front seats, and a heated steering wheel.

Of course, if the standard Signature trim doesn’t satisfy your need to be pampered , the range-topping Ultimate trim ($66,000) does away with the three-seat rear configuration in favor of two reclining bucket seats, complete with passenger-side power foot rest, a refrigerator located in the rear center console, massage functions, and a rear-facing DVD system. With the Ultimate trim, the Equus is really geared more toward being driven than driving the vehicle yourself.

Sound trumps tech

Typically, automakers showcase their full arsenal of tech features in a flagship vehicle. The 2012 Hyundai Equus is no different. Here, you’ll find a remarkable amount of technology packed into its spacious cabin.

Surprisingly, the most impressive piece of tech inside the 2012 Hyundai Equus is its 17-speaker Lexicon audio system, formerly found inside renowned ultra-luxury automaker Rolls-Royce. Everything about the Lexicon system is a treat to the ears, delivering a fluid, balanced, and dynamic sound rarely experience outside ultra-premium vehicles. Bottom line: It’s the best sound system we’ve come across, period.

Making use of the excellent sound system, drivers are treated to a number of audio sources. In addition to HD Radio, Satellite Radio, and a six-disc CD changer, drivers can cable their iPods directly to the vehicle via USB or stream music via Bluetooth. So those wanting to make use of Internet radio apps such as Spotify and Pandora can do so with relative ease. And while we envision the typical Equus to attract an older demographic, that doesn’t mean they won’t appreciate the wealth of new-fangled audio options at their disposal.

Naturally, our Equus Signature trim came equipped with navigation. We found the nav system to be fairly hit or miss. From a design perspective, the 8-inch LCD display is large and easy to view in both daytime and nighttime lighting. However, compare the image quality to other luxury vehicles in its class, and it simply doesn’t stack up to what’s on offer in the Lexus ES, BMW 7-Series, and Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Although, to be fair, at $60,000 for the Signature trim and $66,000 for the Ultimate, the Equus still represents undeniable value beside its more prestigious competition. Furthermore, the lack of 3D maps prevents the Equus system from battling the segment’s big-boys and is light years from matching Audi’s navigation system, which incorporates Google Earth imagery.

Thankfully, controlling the Equus interface was more pleasant than the navigation system. There is Bluetooth support for hands-free calling, and pairing your smartphone is easy, allowing drivers to download their contact lists and dial by simply speaking a contact’s name out loud. Rather than a touchscreen, the Equus navigation and media interface is controlled almost exclusively via a centrally-mounted control knob, which is surrounded by corresponding buttons for Map/Guide, Navi/Menu, Info/Phone, and various audio sources. Most will take to the controller, like we did, while others will long for a touch-based system. Most luxury automakers have been forgoing touchscreens in favor of physical controllers for some time now, and Hyundai echoes that trend in its flagship sedan.

Creature comfort aside, the 2012 Hyundai Equus also sports a handful of safety tech that should help keep you and your passengers safe. On top of a lane departure warning system that monitors whether or not you’re drifting out of your designated lane and seeks to alert you via an audible warning, a rearview camera provides superimposed graphic guidance when backing up, and works in conjunction with front and rear parking sensors, which emit an audible beep when you get too close to an object. You don’t want to ding that $60,000 Hyundai, do you? There is also a front-facing camera on the Ultimate trim that helps display cross traffic, which is ideal when exiting a parking garage or coming out of driveway. Unfortunately, the Equus doesn’t feature active blind-spot detection, which is disappointing considering the how common this feature has become both in and outside the luxury segment.

Automotive amnesia

Whether it’s in motion or at a standstill, identifying the Equus as a Hyundai isn’t difficult, but it isn’t easy either. As mentioned, the Equus carries its own badge. Why Hyundai would bestow a winged, bird-like figure as the Equus logo is curious given that Equus roughly translates to horse in classical Latin. Nevertheless, Hyundai’s choice of name is almost as curious as its choice of design.

The biggest fault we find in Hyundai’s flagship luxury sedan is just how derivative it is of the European brands it aspires to supplant. The Equus borrows a lot of themes and styling cues from its competition, and that’s truly putting it nicely. Mercedes-Benz and Lexus are mimicked the most. While the 2012 Hyundai Equus is handsome enough, with its aggressively chromed-out front grille, sharp LED-laden headlamps, and sculpted front-fascia, we didn’t feel any excitement towards its overly conservative and bland styling.

We understand Hyundai’s challenge. The Equus must develop Hyundai’s brand cache, separate itself from the stable’s more value-driven vehicles, and take on the luxury segment’s elites. This is no easy task. But Hyundai could have done a lot more. The Equus doesn’t formulate any character or identity of its own, and its muted design proves too weak to compare to the sharp designs from Audi, BMW, Lexus, etc.

Thirsty, for a Hyundai

Sending power to the Equus’ rear wheels is a 5.0-liter GDI Tau V8 that produces 429 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, which is new for the 2012 model year. In this bracket, fuel economy is not likely to be high on a potential buyer’s list of priorities; nevertheless, the EPA estimates it gets about 15 mpg in the city, 23 mpg on the highway, and 18 mpg combined. While most cars are busy becoming more efficient year in and year out, the 2012 Equus has lost fuel economy due to the switch from its original 4.6-liter V8 to the upgraded 5.0-liter.

The sound of (road) silence

Hyundai hopes to make a loud statement in the luxury field with the Equus, but on the road its flagship sedan creates nary a whisper. Comfort being the key component when comparing luxury vehicles, we’re impressed with how isolated the cabin is from noise. The Equus incorporates an air suspension to help keep the ride as cloud-like as possible, but Hyundai has also managed to keep things relatively tight so that the suspension never becomes too pillowy. Drivers also have the option of adjusting ride height for different driving conditions, as well as an optional sport mode that seeks to firm up the ride.

On the highway, the Equus is a competent cruiser. Even on less forgiving roads, the combination of soft chassis and air suspension mitigated an overwhelming amount of terrain imperfections. Handling and steering is also impressive, with the Equus utilizing an electrohydraulic system as opposed to the all-electric variety. Generally, we found the steering provided a great degree of feedback and allowed for more precise, tight control at lesser speeds, while maintaining a consistent feel throughout. Given the size of the Equus, the steering is quite admirable. However, compare the vehicle to some of its rivals, and the Equus’s lack of pedigree begins to surface; it never feels as athletic as a Lexus LS or as agile as a BMW 7 Series.

Finish line

The 2012 Equus is an interesting car, and it certainly begs some interesting questions: Can Hyundai deliver a luxury-soaked sedan that can compete with some of its more prestigious rivals? Can you truly wrap your mind around a $60,000 Hyundai? And, perhaps more importantly, is a $60,000 Hyundai even worth it? The answer to the first question is a resounding yes. The Equus is not without its faults: contrived design, questionable material quality, thirsty V8, and average tech. But it does offer remarkable value and comfort for a lot less than its competitors. The Equus doesn’t stand out, apart from its excellent sound system, but it does provide a real and viable alternative to the industries mainstays.

That said, some of you won’t feel Hyundai has established the brand cache to demand such a large sum for a vehicle quite yet, and if that’s truly the case, just hang around for a few more generations before you jump aboard. For everyone else, if you’re searching for a convincing luxury experience on a “budget,” we highly recommend the Equus. But if prestige, perfection, and performance are of more concern than value and price, we suggest you look elsewhere.

For more pictures check out our 2012 Hyundai Equus photo gallery.

Highs

  • Amazing value for the dollar
  • Excellent sound system
  • Comfortable and quite road manners

Lows

  • It’s a $60,000 Hyundai
  • Tech options are robust, but less sleek than competition’s
  • Unconvincing and derivative design