I recently had the chance to drive a 2002 Hyundai Equus. When I told this to my friends, people who are very interested in cars, they repeatedly corrected me. "There was no Hyundai Equus in 2002," they’d say. "The Hyundai Equus came out in 2011." And they’re right, aren’t they? The first model year of the Equus was 2011 — and when it came out, everyone was shocked to learn that Hyundai had these high-end luxury ambitions. It was the first time they ever entered that market.
However, I did indeed drive a 2002 Hyundai Equus. So how do you resolve these two competing pieces of information?
Here’s how: The Hyundai Equus came out globally in the early 2010s. But even the most serious car enthusiasts often don’t know that there was an earlier Equus, a first-generation model, that went on sale in South Korea back in 1999. I visited South Korea in 2015, and the first-generation Equus was pretty common; prior to that, I had never heard of it in my life. And then, as I was walking into Tomini Classics in Dubai to film the series of vintage Italian exotic cars I brought you over the last few months, there was another one — just sitting there, parked in the employee parking area.
At the time, I had a lot on my mind — I was planning to film four vintage cars in two days, in an unfamiliar part of the world, with people I didn’t know well — and I just wrote it off as one of the many weird things I was expecting to see in Dubai over the next few days. But as I became familiar with the employees at Tomini Classics, I learned the car belonged to one of their salespeople — a man named Miguel, who had a penchant for the older exotic cars Tomini primarily sells. Miguel, who had endless knowledge of Italian car production numbers, yearly changes and button locations, drove around every day in this ultra-comfortable, ultra-unknown luxury Hyundai. He told me he believes it’s one of the only ones in the United Arab Emirates, if not the only one.
And I believe him. The original Equus was sold from 1999 to 2009, and it was sort of Hyundai’s "practice attempt" at the real thing, before taking on full-size luxury sedans like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Lexus LS and Audi A8 (which the next-generation model intended to do). I’ve never seen one outside of South Korea, or even heard of anyone attempting to import one anywhere. It’s truly unknown. Oddly, there was a Mitsubishi version, called either the Proudia or the Dignity, depending on which wheelbase you got.
Yes, there were different wheelbases. Hyundai offered a regular wheelbase and a long-wheelbase "limousine" version — and there was even an available 4.5-liter V8, though the Equus I drove had a far-more-common V6. On paper, the entire thing looked like it should be very interesting. And so I got behind the wheel.
The 2002 Equus is, as you might expect given my description, supremely comfortable. Just wonderfully plush and relaxing, and luxurious, and quiet, and serene. The steering is light, the ride is floaty, and it’s clearly tuned for comfort rather than anything else. Make no mistake: The Equus is not a sports car. It’s not even like modern luxury sedans, where they’re a luxury sedan first and a sports car second. With the Equus, there was no "second." There was just plush, pampering luxury, and light wood trim, and a huge back seat with a television and a recliner. Yes, a recliner: You can fold away the inside of the front passenger seat backrest, then stick your feet through the hole so you can relax if you’re seated in back. I am not kidding.
I’m also not kidding about the Equus’s comfort level. It’s been a long time since I was in a late-1990s Lexus LS 400, but I have trouble believing that car was any more comfortable or more serene than the Equus; the Equus was just so soft and floaty, and it did such a wonderful job of drowning out any sounds coming from the outside world. The engine was shockingly tranquil, the transmission was almost annoyingly smooth, to the point where it clearly dulled the car’s acceleration, and the seats were wonderfully plush — an improvement over some luxury car seats from this era, which used hard, uncomfortable leather.
Indeed, the 2002 Equus is an impressive luxury car — at least, for its day — and I think it clearly rivals the nicest plush luxury vehicles coming out of Lexus and Cadillac at the time. With that said, this car was almost a test bed; an attempt to see just how well Hyundai could make luxury vehicles before releasing their full-size luxury models on the rest of the world. And after getting behind the wheel of this 2002 Equus, it’s clear that their first effort was a good one. Find a Hyundai Equus for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.