2014 Hyundai Equus Ultimate review: Equus includes cool HUD, excellent stereo

A button sitting in front of the shifter toggled the Equus through different drive modes, affecting suspension, steering, throttle, and transmission at one fell swoop of my finger. The Equus has three modes: snow, normal, and sport. Hyundai left out an eco mode, merely telling me when I was driving in an economical fashion with a little green icon on the instrument cluster.

With the instrument cluster showing a bluish cast, indicating I was in normal drive mode, the Equus felt like a luxury cruiser. The air suspension made the ride floaty and the steering wheel turned easy from all the power-steering boost. Hyundai fits the Equus with a partial electric power-steering system, using an electric motor to keep the hydraulic system up to pressure. Ostensibly, this system retains a natural feel while sapping less power from the engine, but new fully electric power-steering systems can feel every bit as natural as hydraulic boost.

The Equus' V-8 uses a direct fuel-injection system for added efficiency, but fuel economy remains middling.
The Equus' V-8 uses a direct fuel-injection system for added efficiency, but fuel economy remains middling. Josh Miller/CNET

Despite its big displacement and direct-injection fuel system, the Equus' V-8 only produces 429 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque. Still, that output is enough to move the car with authority, offering a good amount of power overhead. When I stomped the accelerator for a freeway merge, the car showed little hesitation before putting power to the rear wheels and surging forward.

The eight-speed automatic transmission shifted quietly, and always seemed to be in the right gear for what I wanted.

Adaptive cruise control was perfectly suited to the luxury character of the car, and worked so well that I found myself turning it on whenever I was on a highway. Tapping a button on the steering wheel set the speed, and the Equus' forward-looking radar matched speeds with slower traffic ahead. With another button, I could choose from four following distances.

As Hyundai advertised the system as having full stop capability, I tested the adaptive cruise control in traffic, my foot hovering over the brake pedal as the car ahead stopped at a red light. The Equus brought itself to a gentle stop, then started moving forward again when the car ahead began moving. Likewise, when a car cut into my lane in traffic, I let the cruise control do its thing. The Equus quickly recognized the car that had cut in, slowing abruptly, then picking up speed as the other car cleared the lane. The system felt smoother than most I have used, and didn't cause a rubber-band effect when following other cars, as some do.

Putting the Equus in snow mode greatly reduced the throttle response, but it being August, there was no actual snow to be had.

Red-mist mode
Sport mode cast a red mist over the instrument cluster, made the throttle more sensitive, added heft to the steering wheel, and stiffened up the air suspension. The sport settings were not so extreme as to make the Equus feel like a different car, but the tighter suspension setting kept the car from wallowing in corners. For such a big vehicle, there was surprisingly little understeer. I used the transmission's manual mode to hold the car in third gear on a twisty highway, giving me more satisfying and ready power.

2014 Hyundai Equus
The Equus' sport mode tunes throttle, transmission, steering, and suspension. Josh Miller/CNET

While taking turns at speed, I noticed an odd tugging on the steering wheel. It took me a while to figure out that it was probably coming from the car's vehicle stability program. Hyundai tends to be heavy-handed with its traction control and vehicle stability programming, something I had previously noticed when driving a Hyundai Genesis Coupe on a track.

With the Equus, I believe the vehicle stability system was selectively applying minor braking to the wheels, helping to keep the car from leaning over but ruining my perfect line. On a few hard turns, the traction control stepped in by sapping power from the rear wheels, resulting in a less than thrilling jog around the corner.

The Equus felt most at home being a soft and easy driver, a comfortable cruiser coddling its passengers rather than a fire-spitting canyon carver.

At only 15 mpg city and 23 mpg highway, fuel economy is not the Equus' strong suit, and my average came in at 18.2 mpg. Direct injection, electric power steering, and the eight-speed automatic transmission should all help to boost fuel economy, but the car still weighs 4,616 pounds.

At almost 17 feet long, the rear seat offers plenty of legroom. And in the Ultimate trim, it also comes standard with seat-back LCDs and a center control unit, matching the infotainment controls on the front console. That meant that, even from the rear seat, I could select what music I wanted to hear over that excellent Lexicon audio system.

In Ultimate trim, the Equus comes standard with these seat-back monitors.
In Ultimate trim, the Equus comes standard with these seat-back monitors. Josh Miller/CNET

However, it was a long reach to the single USB port nestled in a compartment at the base of the dashboard. That port could take an iOS device cable or a USB drive, for each source showing a full music library interface on the control screen. Likewise for any music loaded to the car's onboard hard drive. For a Bluetooth streaming source, the car only showed track information and simple Pause, Play, and Skip controls, all that the protocol currently supports.

Satellite radio was present, as was HD Radio, and I liked the tuning interface for each. With a graphic quality similar to that of the virtual gauges, the screen showed an old-style analog tuner, complete with a needle running down the frequencies. Taking advantage of digital broadcasting, however, the screen also showed the names of song and artist.

Soft, high-tech luxury
Conventional wisdom says that Asian luxury cars tend to a soft, relaxed driving feel, with muted response to driver input, while European luxury cars offer more direct response. The 2014 Hyundai Equus does nothing to upset that paradigm. It drives like a comfortable coach, demanding little of the driver. Even in sport mode, it doesn't feel capable of any astounding performance feats. The engine gives it an easy power and the efforts of the automatic transmission remain hidden, like a discreet servant.

It doesn't stint on the tech features, though, showing new strides for Hyundai. The HUD was particularly good, as was the adaptive cruise control. A blind-spot monitor, lane departure warning, and surround-view cameras completed the driver assistance features. However, I would have liked an automatic parallel-parking system, given the Equus' length.

Cabin tech electronics were also quite extensive, although Hyundai has not gone in for app integration yet. The navigation system looked good and had excellent route guidance. There is, of course, a Bluetooth phone system that includes contact list integration. But the audio system was the high point for me. I could just drive and drive, listening to how it enhances my favorite albums.

Tech specs
Model 2014 Hyundai Equus
Trim Ultimate
Power train Direct-injection 5-liter V-8, 8-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 15 mpg city/23 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 18.2 mpg
Navigation Standard hard-drive-based system with traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Digital audio sources Bluetooth streaming, onboard hard drive, iOS integration, USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD Radio
Audio system Lexicon 598-watt, 17-speaker system
Driver aids Adaptive cruise control, head-up display, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitor, front-corner camera, rearview camera
Base price $61,000
Price as tested $68,920

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