No car shows Hyundai's effort to transform itself, and elevate its brand, more than the Equus. This big sedan offers bargain-price luxury, with appointments and performance approaching those of the Lexus LS 460.
Although a button labeled Sport sits on the console, the 2011 Hyundai Equus should not be mistaken for a big sport-luxury sedan of the type made by Audi and BMW. The Equus, like the Lexus LS 460, leans heavily toward the luxury side of things.
Providing a good value in luxury, Hyundai doesn't break any boundaries with cabin tech in the Equus. But it checks off most of the right boxes, and delivers a refreshingly modern and clean interface. You won't have to sit up late at night reading a manual as thick as "War and Peace" to learn how to use the car.
Hyundai's fluidic sculpture design language shows prominently in cars such as the new Sonata, but the Equus escapes that treatment. It is a much more conservatively styled car, most likely designed to appeal to older, well-heeled buyers.
The Equus' unique badge adorns hood, wheels, shifter, and steering wheel.
A chrome surround and widely spaced bars in the grille lend to a stately presence, and LED parking lights suggest modern luxury. The rear fenders stick out a little too much from the body, an element that makes the car recognizable but not in a flattering manner. From a practical standpoint, the large windows around the cabin are a welcome antidote to the gun-slit windows on other modern cars.
Hyundai also gives the Equus its very own badge, a winged pedestal that appears on the front of the car, the wheels, the shifter, and steering wheel. With a name like Equus, an image of a Pegasus might be more appropriate, but the flying pedestal has an air of mystery.
Rear seat luxury
In the Ultimate trim that we tested out, the Equus begs for a chauffeur. The power-adjustable rear seats are just too comfortable to leave for kids or mere family members. A console between the rear seats not only holds controls for the DVD entertainment system, but conceals a refrigerator.
The rear LCD folds up from behind the center console, an excellent position to avoid blocking the rearview mirror. If you do want to block the driver's view, there is a rear powered sunshade, although it automatically lowers when the Equus goes into reverse. For privacy and general comfort, there are also powered sunshades for the rear side windows.
A rear seat entertainment system comes as part of the Ultimate package.
Opting to actually drive the car, you will be treated to a big, comfy seat upholstered in thick leather, with cooling and heating functions. Mercedes-Benz-style, the seat controls, mounted on the door, are easily accessible. Solid wood trim covers some surfaces, and a headliner that feels like suede runs up the A pillars and over the sunroof cover.
A metal-rimmed control knob sits on the console, surrounded by buttons labeled Map, Navi, Phone, and for the various audio sources. This hardware and the associated onscreen menus are refreshingly simple. Buttons on the steering wheel spokes also provide some degree of control, and a voice command system handles the basics, such as making phone calls and entering destinations.
But this simplicity goes a little too far. The navigation system's maps, stored on a hard drive, are colorful and easy to read, but strictly 2D. The maps show traffic information, and the navigation system uses this data to dynamically adjust route guidance. The destination options are typical, with manual address entry and a database of points of interest. Any connected features won't come until Hyundai gets its new Blue Link telematics system into the Equus.
The Bluetooth phone system is state-of-the-art. It copies a paired phone's contact list to the car, letting you place calls by speaking a contact's name. But it doesn't offer advanced features for smartphones, such as text or e-mail reading.
17 Lexicon speakers are mounted around the car.
In terms of cabin tech, where the Equus shines the brightest is the stereo system. Lexicon audio puts 17 speakers in the car, powered by 608 watts of amplification. Lexicon is a Harman International brand that was formerly used by Rolls-Royce.
It is a pleasure listening to the Lexicon system in the Equus. It treats music very well, producing a well-balanced sound with a dynamic feel at all frequencies. There's a quiet detail in the audio quality that encourages you to get lost in music, potentially missing freeway exit ramps. It is also a flexible system that can be tuned for bombastic bass or the leftmost keys on a piano.
Hyundai provides a basic list of audio sources, including good iPod integration and a six-disc CD changer. HD Radio is also included, along with satellite radio, but there is no internal hard-drive storage for music and no Bluetooth audio streaming.
Riding on air
Contributing to the pleasure of listening to the Lexicon audio system, the Equus keeps external noise to a minimum. An air suspension helps keep the ride comfortable, smoothing over potholes and bumps. Hyundai doesn't make the mistake of tuning the air suspension too soft, so the car never goes into heavy up-and-down oscillation.
The Equus uses an air suspension, letting the driver choose between Comfort and Sport modes.
The aforementioned Sport button sets the suspension for a more rigid ride, helping keep the Equus stable in the turns. But this suspension doesn't incorporate active antisway technology. The car handles as well as any big, rear-wheel-drive sedan, but doesn't invite high-speed high jinks.
Under the hood sits a 4.6-liter V-8 producing 385 horsepower and 333 pound-feet of torque. Those figures may not sound like much, as other automakers exploit forced induction and direct injection to wring more power out of less displacement. Hyundai only uses variable valve timing to boost this engine's efficiency, although the company has begun to use more advanced technologies in its Sonata.
And unlike in the competing Lexus LS 460, the Equus' automatic transmission only has six gears. EPA fuel economy is rated at 15 mpg city and 23 mpg highway, a range we find realistic as CNET's car turned in an average of 18.5 mpg over varied driving conditions.
The power train may not be the best for efficiency or sport driving, but it moves the Equus comfortably. Hit the gas and the car steps up, ready for passing maneuvers, freeway merges, or whatever else is required of it. Playing with the transmission's manual shift mode shows that it is mostly suited to descent control. Gear changes show too much torque-converter sluggishness for power maneuvers.
Hyundai fits the Equus with a combination electric-hydraulic power steering unit that manages to give a good amount of boost, making it easy to turn the wheels when stopped, without sacrificing road feel. The steering provides a good sense of engagement with the road, even if the car overall feels like a luxury roller.
The Equus' adaptive cruise control system can bring the car to a complete stop when traffic stops ahead, without driver intervention. This system provides the usual three choices for following distance. The forward-facing radar for this system is also used to initiate precrash prep, with the seatbelts tightening up if the car thinks a collision might be imminent. However, this system was fooled by a mere rise in the road.
A lane-departure warning system chirps when the Equus crosses a lane line, as long as the turn signal isn't on. However, the chirping isn't particularly loud, so it might not wake up a sleeping driver. The car lacks blind-spot detection, which would have been a nice feature in a big sedan like this.
This forward-view camera uses a fish-eye lens, letting the driver see cross-traffic.
For parking assistance, the Equus includes a rearview camera, complete with trajectory lines. But an unexpected feature is a front-view camera. Its view is wide enough to see cross traffic when exiting a blind alley or garage. This camera turns on automatically, even when not needed, but can be deactivated with a button on the console.
The 2011 Hyundai Equus compares very favorably with its target, the Lexus LS 460, especially in terms of price, but it misses a cue here and there. The air suspension is an excellent feature, but a few more gears in the transmission would increase fuel economy from the big V-8 a little. The Equus would be a good candidate for either a hybrid system or a smaller engine with forced induction to maintain power.
The Lexicon audio system is the stand-out cabin tech feature. The driver assistance features are good; so are other electronics, but there isn't anything that hasn't been seen before. What the Equus really lacks are connected features, an area that is rapidly growing in the automotive sector.
The car looks good, and makes a statement with its unique Equus icon. Large windows offer added practicality to the big sedan. The cabin tech interface is clean and practical, but Hyundai will have a difficult time adding new functions, as the hard-button paradigm limits flexibility.
|Model||2011 Hyundai Equus|
|Power train||4.6-liter V-8, 6-speed automatic transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||15 mpg city/23 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||18.5 mpg|
|Navigation||Hard-drive-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||6-CD/DVD changer|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD Radio|
|Audio system||Lexicon 17-speaker 608-watt 7.1-channel surround-sound system|
|Driver aids||Adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, front-view camera, rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$64,500|