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Enfolded in the 2014 Hyundai Equus' luxurious cabin, enjoying the soft air suspension ride and rolling down the freeway with the help of adaptive cruise control, I had a moment, a joyous upwelling I could feel in my chest brought on by the music pouring out of the car's stereo. It was the song "Lua," off the "Dark Was the Night" compilation, deep tones from an acoustic guitar opening the way for Gillian Welch's rich vocals.
I like this album for its variety, and play it a lot. But rarely do the tracks give me the kind of sensation I experienced in the Equus. Chalk that up to the car's Lexicon audio system, 17 speakers powered by 598 watts of peak amplification. The guitar was so clear, and the vocals so present, that I had the kind of feeling I would get from being close to the stage at a small venue. A few tracks later, I was equally blown away by Antony singing the Bob Dylan track, "I Was Young When I Left Home."
I fed the stereo music, using sources ranging from Bluetooth streaming to a USB drive to an iPhone cabled to the car, and received unrelenting enjoyment from its audio output. Midranges were particularly impressive for their richness and clarity, while treble came though clearly without sounding shrill. Bass notes were palpable but soft around the edges, as the system seemed to temper its output so as not to give anything approaching discomfort to the listener.
This audio system, standard in the Equus, counts as just one of the tech highlights in Hyundai's flagship luxury sedan.
Economy to luxury
After reading "Hyundai" and "luxury sedan" in the same sentence, you may be experiencing cognitive dissonance. How could the company that produces the $16,000 Accent also make a $70,000 luxury sedan?
In the last decade, Hyundai has been full of surprises, revamping its model lineup with stylish, modern cars competing very well in their segments. The company brought the Equus to the U.S. market in 2011, and, once again, undercut the competition even in this elevated segment.
The 2014 model, in Ultimate trim, brings in many upgrades over the previous generation without looking radically different. A direct-injection 5-liter V-8 still sits under the hood, but the automatic transmission gains two extra gears. Hyundai simplified and extended drive mode selection and added an LCD instrument cluster. A new head-up display serves as the piece de resistance.
What I really like about Hyundai is that, even though it doesn't tend to push the envelope, all of its tech features work sensibly and well. Where some automakers roll out cutting-edge cabin tech features that prove glitchy, Hyundai's electronics generally work quickly, and give drivers real value.
And the Equus takes Hyundai's tech further than ever before, introducing a thing or two I had not seen in other cars.
The head-up display showed color graphics projected low on the windshield in front of me. I was not surprised to see it showing me the vehicle's speed and turn-by-turn directions, but it also brought up alerts for the blind-spot monitoring system. When another car was off the left or right rear quarter of the Equus, not only would it light up an icon in the corresponding side-view mirror, it would also light up an icon on the appropriate side of the head-up display. Without having to turn my head at all, I could see when it was safe to make a lane change. The system was sensitive enough to detect a motorcycle, and smart enough to not light up its warning when I passed other cars.
Turn-by-turn directions on the HUD nicely complemented the very rich graphics on the Equus' 9.2-inch center LCD, which showed colorful representations of freeway junctions and gave useful lane guidance. As an added feature I hadn't seen before, though, the car also warned me of sharp turns when route guidance was on. Coming down a road full of 20 mph turns, the HUD and the LCD instrument cluster carried an orange sharp-turn-ahead icon.
An onboard hard drive stores the navigation system's maps, which are clear and easy to read but only offer plan views, with no perspective, or 3D, view. The infotainment system relies on a console-mounted jog dial as its controller, and I found it a bit tedious using this interface when making alphanumeric entries. Buttons near the dial were also a bit confusing, as it took me a while to figure out the difference between what the Home and Menu buttons did.
However, voice command made it particularly easy to enter addresses, as it would take number, street, and city in one spoken string. Voice command extended to placing phone calls by contact name, but only had limited control over the stereo, and wouldn't, for example, let me select music by saying the name of an artist or album.
Hyundai also integrates its BlueLink telematics system into the Equus, which lets you find addresses on your computer, then send them to the car. There is a call button in the car with an automated pick-up to help you find business listings, but when I tried it, it seemed the voice recognition could not understand me.
Analog or virtual?
That the instrument cluster can show the turn warning in the middle of the speedometer is just one demonstration of the possibilities of using an LCD in place of formerly analog gauges. The other is how the entire instrument cluster took on some subtle shading when I switched drive modes. The graphics for the gauges were so good that I didn't even realize they weren't analog until about 20 miles of driving.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Model||2014 Hyundai Equus|
|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|
|Price as tested||$68,920|