At $66,900 the 2012 Hyundai Equus is the most expensive Korean car I’ve ever driven.
Having driven a 2007 Hyundai Santa Fe during my college years (and subsequent Hyundai products as part of my professional duties), I’ve seen first hand the progression of their products from plausible alternative to Japanese and American products to a purchase that one can be proud of. Considering that a decade ago my parents had a Kia Sedona – a lumbering hippopotamus of a car with an interior that Geely would find embarrassing – the progression of Korean cars is even more impressive.
We all know the “story” (to use a dreadful marketing term) of the Equus: It represents Hyundai’s attempt at a truly premium car outside of Korea and it comes with a free iPad. Comparisons to European luxury cars have been made by other outlets, but to paraphrase Katt Williams, “yeah, it do look like a Bentley…until a Bentley pull up.” Nevertheless, if God blessed you with a Hyundai Equus, you’re doing just fine.
For 2012, the Equus gets Hyundai’s Tau V8, displacing 5.0L and putting out 429 horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque. Does it feel appreciably different than the 2011 model’s 4.6L Tau V8 that made 385 horsepower and 333 lb-ft? Not at all. I got the chance to drive the Genesis sedan with both the Tau 5.0 and the Lambda V6 that made 333 horsepower and 291 lb-ft of torque back-to-back in June of 2011 and I couldn’t even tell the difference there.
Equus owners will feel the same way about 0-60 times as hedge fund king Steven A. Cohen feels about paying $100,000 for a dead shark carcass – both figures are “inconsequential”. The Equus lets one simply waft down the road in near silence. Stepping on the accelerator to unleash all 429 horsepower would simply be vulgar and unseemly in our Equus Ultimate Edition, which came in a four-seat configuration clearly developed with the sole purpose of ferrying South Korean chaebol executives around Seoul while completely isolating them from the outside world. Like the Town Car Signature L, the front passenger seat can be moved forward and titled forward 45 degrees via controls on the passenger seat and on the rear center console itself. A power collapsible footrest for the rear seats can also be summoned, allowing for a Business Class-like experience for the rear seat passenger.
Fortune’s cruel machinations meant that I didn’t have a driving partner for the one car where I would rather be driven in, in the style of Freiherr Schmitt. Instead, I drove a freeway loop as well as along the Las Vegas strip in near silence, as the Equus filtered out everything else occurring in the outside world. The car soaks up the bumps, has plenty of power and the typical numb Korean steering and slightly spongy brakes are also present. Some have criticized the navigation and stereo system menus for being overly complex, but I had no problem operating either function, including while driving.
Where the Equus falls short is feeling like a truly “premium” car. Everything inside, from the knobs to the dash materials to the gauges, felt like an improved version of the switch gear, plastics and leather in my Santa Fe. That’s fine for a $40,000 Genesis, but on a nearly $70,000 ultra-luxury car, it’s not going to hold up. Sure, it’s not necessarily a “bad” interior, but a 2012 Audi A8 carries a $11,850 price premium and has a cabin that utterly shames the Equus in terms of visual and tactile appeal, not to mention all-wheel drive and massive snob appeal.
The peerless ride quality, middling interior quality and most of all, the understated aesthetics brings to mind the now departed Town Car. It wasn’t the flashiest, best built or most advanced luxury car on the market, but if you ever saw a black Town Car outside a fancy department store, expensive restaurant or government office, you knew that somebody important was nearby. Ford and Cadillac have put forth some poor replacements for the Town Car in an attempt to capture its livery car customers, but I think the Equus would not only excel in this field, but also offer a viable luxury option for the quietly affluent – the sort who would have eschewed the opulent European offerings for a Town Car in the first place.