Pros: Refined ride, strong acceleration, all the expected luxuries, exceptional value.
Cons: All-wheel drive isn't offered, interior quality reflects the affordable price.
The 2012 Hyundai Equus introduces a welcome concept to the world of full-size luxury sedans: value. While the "99 percent" may assume that shoppers in this segment don't care about the bottom line, the reality is that executive-types sweat dollars and cents on a daily basis. Why, Hyundai wondered, should it be any different when they buy a car? Enter the Equus-a V8-powered, rear-wheel-drive, luxury-lined sedan that undercuts most rivals by tens of thousands. It's the executive sedan for executives who can't pass up a good deal.
Of course, good businesspeople will also confirm that you generally get what you pay for, and the Equus is no exception. Take a close look at the leather upholstery, the dashboard materials, even the infotainment system, and you'll understand how Hyundai's able to sell this thing at such a discount. There's also the fact that, well, the Equus is a Hyundai. Unlike Toyota, which created the Lexus brand in order to go head-to-head with German luxury marques, Hyundai has kept the Equus in-house, where it shares showroom space with economy hatchbacks and sensible family sedans.
But that shouldn't bother you too much-well, unless you need validation from a fancy hood ornament every morning. If bang-for-the-buck is more important to you than the badge, this Hyundai is an exquisite way to save a chunk of change.
Comfort & Utility
The 2012 Hyundai Equus is offered in two trim levels: Signature and Ultimate. The Signature starts with 19-inch wheels, adaptive xenon headlamps, LED accent lights, fog lights, front and rear parking sensors, a sunroof, leather upholstery, 10-way power front seats with driver lumbar, wood interior trim, dual-zone automatic climate control with separate rear controls, a three-passenger rear bench, a power rear sunshade, an 8-inch LCD display with a DVD-based navigation system and a rearview camera and a 17-speaker, 608-watt Lexicon audio system with iPod/USB and Bluetooth connectivity.
The top-of-the-line Ultimate is distinguished by its two-passenger rear compartment with a "first-class" passenger-side rear seat that includes adjustable leg support and a massage function. The Ultimate also adds an 8-inch rear LCD screen with a DVD player and separate controls, a rear-console refrigerator, power trunk lid, cooled rear seats and a forward-view "cornering camera" for the driver.
Although the Equus' front seats borrow Mercedes' seat-shaped power-adjustment levers, they lack the seemingly infinite adjustability of Benz or BMW chairs. It's clear that the car's engineers gave more thought to the rear passengers than to those in front. Indeed, the Equus' one-size-fits-all wheelbase skews toward limousine-like proportions. Just check out those elongated rear doors, which are typically only seen on competitors' long-wheelbase models. The Equus Ultimate capitalizes on all that space with a special massaging lounge-style seat for passenger-side rear passengers, but even the standard Equus offers palatial rear accommodations.
If you plan to drive your Equus yourself, you'll be pleased to learn that the driving position is appropriately stately, with plenty of visibility all around. The Lexus-style electroluminescent gauges are nothing fancy, but they're certainly crisp and clear. We're also fans of the infotainment system's iDrive-style control knob (see "Technology," below), which lets you stay in your normal driving posture while changing settings.
Materials quality would be great if the Equus weren't up against luminaries like the S-Class and 7 Series, which are so nice inside that they make the Equus seem humble by comparison. The silver trim on the Equus' dashboard looks a bit gauche, for example, and the leather on its seats doesn't have a particularly rich or durable feel. Don't get us wrong, though-the Equus' interior is a very pleasant place to spend time.
As for trunk space, it measures an impressive 16.7 cubic feet.
As you'd expect, the Equus doesn't skimp on high-tech features, and we like that everything except the rear entertainment system comes standard-no nickel-and-diming here. However, it's a bit disappointing that the navigation system is DVD-based, which means slower processing times and no digital music storage. The 8-inch LCD display screen is likewise not quite cutting-edge; we prefer the fancy widescreen display in the 7 Series, for example. But we do appreciate the Equus' iDrive-like control knob on the center console, which lets you make adjustments remotely rather than having to lean forward as with a touchscreen.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The rear-wheel-drive Equus features a 5.0-liter V8 rated at 429 horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is an eight-speed automatic. We've noticed that the eight-speed isn't especially responsive, but then again, neither is the transmission in the Mercedes-Benz S550. What's most important here is refinement, and the Equus' eight-speed has that in spades. The engine, too, is highly civilized, and it pulls respectably hard when you give it the spurs. Hyundai's target for performance was the Lexus LS460's V8, and we'd say they got about 9/10ths of the way there.
Fuel economy is 15 mpg city/23 mpg highway.
The 2012 Hyundai Equus comes with standard stability control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, active front headrests and nine airbags (front, front-side, driver knee, rear-side, full-length side-curtain).
Neither the government nor the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has crash-tested the Equus.
One of the biggest surprises about the Equus is that it's not a complete land yacht. There's actually a little athleticism in its bones when you push it. But let's be honest, who's really going to push an Equus? This car exists to whisk VIPs down the road with quiet confidence, and that's exactly what it does best. Road noise is barely perceptible. The ride, silky smooth. We think the Equus gives up little if anything to the 7 Series in terms of cruising comfort.
Other Cars to Consider
BMW 740i - We specify the six-cylinder 740i because it's only (only!) $12,000 more expensive than the Equus to start. Some might feel that's a small price to pay for the 7 Series' superior sportiness and brand cachet.
Lexus LS 460 - Checking in at just over $67,000 for 2012, the LS is frankly a tough sell if you compare it objectively to the Equus. Hyundai's figured out most of Lexus' tricks, and the aging LS is overdue for a redesign.
Mercedes-Benz S-Class - Still the measuring stick for this class, the venerable S-Class has a magical solidity at speed, and its engine offerings are second to none. Of course, it's massively more expensive than the Hyundai when all's said and done.
The Ultimate model's rear-compartment upgrades are tempting, but they jack the price up to $66,000, which is uncomfortably close to 7 Series territory. We'd stick with the base Equus at $59,000.