"Who pays $70,000 for a Hyundai?" This was the question that was on my mind the entire week I had a 2014 Hyundai Equus in my garage. The Equus presents a real conundrum. It's either a complete joke or the luxury sedan bargain of the century.
(Full disclosure: Hyundai needed me to drive an Equus so badly that they dropped one off at my place with a full tank of gas and told me to go gorillas. I didn't play with the iPad because they don't come with those anymore. Matt has had also two different Equusi (Equuses?) but hasn't reviewed either of them, so it fell to me to do it.)
See, the Hyundai Genesis sedan I get. The Genesis is meant to show the world that the Koreans can make a car that runs with the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes E-Class,with power, rear-wheel drive and loads of features all for a fraction of the price. Luxury and performance, starting at $38,000 (more if you want a V8). It makes sense. It is also way better than you think it is.
But maybe the Equus — Hyundai's competitor to the 7-Series and S-Class — is pushing that formula further than it can go. Does the car have any credibility as long as it shares a badge with the lowly Accent and Veloster? Would it be more believable if Hyundai had its own dedicated luxury brand and the Equus fit under their umbrella? Is Hyundai asking too much here?
There's no question that when you buy the fancy German cars, or a Lexus LS 460, that the badge changes the way people see you. It creates an aura of wealth and success and good choices; this is why a lot of people buy them in the first place, and why the CLA250 is selling so well, even though despite its badge it's hardly the most premium-feeling car on the market.
The Hyundai Equus, I have decided, is for people who don't care about perception, and just want features instead. Toys. Things. Stuff. They want stuff.
Stuff like four cameras for parking, video screens mounted on the front headrests, rear heated and cooled seats, a center console in the back so the passengers can control the navigation, music and DVD player, and a reclining option that turns the passenger's side back seat into an amazing place to take a nap. Stuff.
The Equus is, basically, a limousine, an S-Class for South Korean oligarchs who wanted an S-Class but preferred something from the home market instead.
But is it any good? Well, it's quite impressive in some areas and falls short in others. I'm not ready to declare Equus the next Lexus, but it's one hell of an effort.
Exterior - 6/10
The Equus definitely doesn't look bad. It just doesn't really look like anything, except maybe other cars. If the previous generation S-Class went slumming one weekend and hooked up with a Honda Accord, this would be their illegitimate child.
It's nice, but deeply anonymous. That might make it a good car to rob banks in. No one's ever going to say "Officer, I saw the whole thing! They sped away in a Hyundai Equus!" Not unless they're a Hyundai employee or maybe an auto writer, and even I have trouble marking this thing from a distance.
Interior - 8/10
It's a much better story inside the Equus. The leather is soft and supple, the wood is real, the cabin is quiet, the display screens are big, and the backseat has a hilarious amount of room. As I mentioned earlier, you get a dedicated hidden center console back there for controlling the navigation, climate controls, rear seat gizmos and display screens mounted on the front seats.
But is it all up to par with Lexus and the Germans? Not quite. The wood is real but it looks tacky, and the plastic buttons feel pretty cut-rate. Still, while it's not the best out there, it's convincingly premium.
Acceleration - 6/10
The only engine the Equus gets in the U.S. is a direct-injection 5.0-liter V8 with 429 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque. Those are decent numbers for sure, but the Equus is a big car, weighing in at 4,616 pounds.
It's not what I'd call fast, but it's not slow either. It's just kind of lazy. The V8 provides more than adequate juice around town or on the highway, but don't expect to win many drag races. The Equus is built to cruise, not race, and that's likely what its buyers want. Tests I've seen put the zero to 60 mph time in the mid-5 second range; that seems a tad optimistic to me.
The car's acceleration is also hampered a bit by its transmission. I'll get to that in a bit.
Braking - 6/10
The brakes seemed fine to me. Apparently the Equus isn't as sharp as some of its competitors in this department, but it seemed perfectly competent at braking to me. If you don't really notice your brakes on a car that's not designed for the track, aren't they doing their job?
Ride - 8/10
The ride's as good as you'd expect it to be. Even on D.C.'s crappy pothole-ridden roads the Equus was smooth to the groove like sandwich bread. It may not be a performance car, but there's something to be said for getting in this car after a long day at work and just sort of gliding all the way home. It's an even better feeling if you're a passenger.
Handling - 5/10
The Equus is a better car to ride in than to drive, and nowhere is this more apparent than its handling. Its partial-electric steering rack lacks any feel whatsoever, and it is so light and so boosted that it barely feels connected to the car at all. Body roll is in bountiful supply as well. In this area, the Equus just comes up short against the Germans, or even Lexus.
Gearbox - 4/10
Here's what you do: switch the Equus into "sport mode," which ostensibly sharpens the throttle response and stiffens the steering. Then stand on the accelerator pedal when you're on cruising on the highway. The next step is to wait for the 8-speed automatic transmission to kick down to the appropriate gear, and once it takes its sweet time getting there, it gives you the acceleration you want. Then it hangs at redline for a while before upshifting. In the normal driving setting, it isn't much better.
The gearbox on this car is, to put it politely, not great. Paddles would be nice too, but you can't get them on the Equus.
Toys - 9/10
I feel like the sheer amount of gadgets and features you can have on this car should warrant a near-perfect score. It's hard to imagine wanting more than it offers. Heated and cooled everything, lane departure warnings, a HUD, four cameras for parking, a proximity key, DVD player, 12-way seats, concierge service for repairs... you name it, the Equus probably has it.
The infotainment system is run through a knob controller rather than a touch screen. I tend to prefer systems that do both, even if that means redundancies, but this one is quite good. Menus are intuitive and easy to figure out. The buttons around it do feel splayed everywhere at random, leading you to hunt for what you want sometimes.
The navigation system is among the better ones I've used, with clear and intuitive directions displayed on all screens, including the HUD on the windshield. It's a high-tech car, but it feels designed for old people. That's kind of a good thing because it's all easy to figure out.
The best part of the Equus remains the back seat. A feature I rather liked was "relax mode" that pushes the front right seat all the way up and reclines the back one for maximum relaxation. I wouldn't recommend trying to drive when you're sitting back there, though. I did that once and things got a little dicey on the highway.
All it's missing is some Mercedes-like self-driving tech and self-adjusting bolsters.
Audio - 5/10
The V8 has a nice rumble to it when you really get on top of it, but otherwise the car is extremely quiet. Not as airtight-feeling in its silence as some Lexuses I've driven, but it cuts road noise pretty well.
The 17-speaker Lexicon sound system was a disappointment though. Even with the bass cranked all the way up, it always seemed flat and unappealing to me. It sounds better when you play DVDs on it, but overall, it was a swing and a miss. Bluetooth audio, my preferred way of playing iPods on newer cars, was often static-y; it's apparently not the only Hyundai with this problem. It's unacceptable on a car this expensive.
Value - 7/10
I priced out a 2014 S-Class on Mercedes' website, trying to get the options to match the ones on this car as closely as I could. It came out to nearly $130,000. This Equus? $68,920. That's a big, big difference, and even loaded it still undercuts the Lexus LS 460 by several thousand dollars.
No, it doesn't have the "wow" factor of those cars, nor is it as polished overall. It falls short in terms of its engine, gearbox, handling and some interior materials, and most people will probably still balk at the idea of a Hyundai badged car that's this expensive.
Even then, it's hard to deny the value you get with this car. It's not a driver's car, it's not a performance car, and it's not on the same level as its more expensive competitors, but it has moments where it comes close.
Total - 64/100
2014 Hyundai Equus Ultimate
Engine: 5.0-liter naturally aspirated V8
Power: 429 HP at 6,400 RPM/ 376 LB-FT at 5,000 RPM
Transmission: Eight-Speed automatic
0-60 Time: 5.5 seconds (estimated)
Top Speed: Not listed
Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 4,616 pounds
Seating: 5 people
MPG: 15 City/23 Highway/18 Combined (Hyundai Estimate)
MSRP: $61,000 base, $68,290 as tested