In a reverse take on the graying of America (where ‘60’ is the new ‘50’), we have Hyundai’s upgraded-for-2014 Equus Ultimate. That, which one might assume would start around $50K (its sibling – Hyundai’s Genesis sedan – starts in the mid-$30s and tops out in the high $40s) instead starts at almost $62K with destination, and comes in just under $69,000 with the Ultimate menu of adds. It’s the marketing equivalent of marching north over Korea’s DMZ, something neither we (the U.S.) nor they (South Korea) have attempted.
If the above seems skeptical, know that I’m a big fan of the Hyundai lineup, with respect for the midsized Sonata and a very real affection for Hyundai’s Genesis coupe, Genesis sedan and Santa Fe Sport. While fully understanding the global ambition of Hyundai, when the Equus was initially announced I was a skeptic. A week absorbing the Hyundai’s top-of-the-line speaks to its content and (relative) value, but does little to alleviate the almost profound pause when considering the window sticker. The term ‘sticker shock’ didn’t originate with the Equus launch, but it perfectly describes the Equus reception; or, at least, the one this writer accorded it.
To Hyundai’s credit, the walk-up appeal of this sizable sedan is nice. Our test vehicle’s White Satin Pearl isn’t the most dramatic of the five available offerings, but neither does it fade into relative obscurity as some whites/pearls occasionally do. The sheetmetal remains a ‘little bit this/little bit that’ in terms of design DNA, but despite its Merc-like fascia and Bentley-esque hips there’s more originality here than we saw on the Genesis sedan (blatantly Mercedes) or Genesis Coupe (blatantly Infiniti). And the Equus does impress as substantial, without seeming either fat nor flaccid.
The front fascia is a nice blend of upright and penetrating (consult Freud for interpretation…), the 19-inch rubber credibly fills the wheelwells, and the Equus’ greenhouse provides a nice blend of outward visibility and careful integration. But in the end, regardless of the number of walkarounds, it all ends up feeling more derivative than original, begging the question: If Hyundai pens can create a statement with their mid-level Sonata, why can’t they repeat the process with their halo sedan? Maybe next time.
Dimensionally, the Equus is no substitute for that warmly remembered Electra 225, but it still provides a large footprint. An overall length of 203 inches sits atop a wheelbase of just under ten feet. With a width of 74 inches the Ultimate tips the scales at over 4,600 pounds. So, if you miss the road-hugging weight of your Land Cruiser or Escalade, the Equus delivers roughly 80% of what you’ve enjoyed previously.
Inside, the leather seats (in our test car the ivory was to dye for) are nicely complemented by ash wood. An all-new – and cleanly executed – gauge package sits to the left of a (larger for 2014) 9.2-inch, high resolution display. And with a Bluetooth subscription, we’re told you can search for the cheapest gas prices (probably a very real need for one driving a ‘faux’ Benz) or highest-rated restaurants (sure…). Once we had ascertained that navigating the screen was done by the console-mounted knob we were good to go – and go.
In back, the Ultimate passenger is coddled by a rear-seat entertainment system with dual 9.2-inch displays, cooled rear seats (they’re heated on both the ‘base’ Signature and Ultimate – did we mention they recline?) and enough legroom to satisfy most high school volleyball teams. To be sure, this isn’t the stretched proportion offered by M-B, Lexus or BMW, but is three inches greater than supplied by the standard Lexus LS, and just three inches shorter than in the Mercedes S550. In short, the Ultimate’s legroom should satisfy most families and/or entrepreneurs.
Under the hood, where BMW built its reputation and Lexus invented theirs, Hyundai delivers 429 horsepower of relative refinement from 5.0 liters of DOHC V8. And while forgetting how it is that Hyundai adds ‘Tau’ to the V8’s descriptive, it’s there, as is an 8-speed automatic transmission, electro-hydraulic power steering and an electronically controlled air suspension. If you understand that no company in this segment offers a track or autocross car, you’ll be very happy with the control, comfort and comportment (the ride is very quiet, adequately isolated) of the Equus. Of course we’d like an Equus or 7-Series or S-Klasse to be more tossable, but then, we’d say the same thing about today’s new 3-Series. Those contemplating a long highway drive – or Rodeo Drive – should be absolutely delighted.
Going down the road you’ll also enjoy a reasonable level of efficiency. With an EPA estimate of 15 City/23 Highway/18 Combined, we achieved just over 19 miles per gallon in a mix of stop-and-go mall hopping and freeway commuting.
In sum, the Equus – either in Signature or Ultimate guise – has a lot to offer within its $60K to $70K price range. And it certainly provides more than a modicum of value in what Hyundai sees as its competitive segment. A V8-equipped 7-Series is some $20,000 more expensive than the Ultimate, while the Lexus LS is roughly $20,000 less affordable than the lower-tier Signature. Were it our credit rating, however, we’d opt for Hyundai’s Genesis V8, due for a redesign in 2015. At around $50K it seems to hit a sweet spot in the Affordable Luxe paradigm, leaving us roughly $20K – when compared to the price of the Ultimate Equus – for gas, high-end restaurants and, uh, Freud.