Capsule Review: 2012 Hyundai Equus Ultimate

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler
capsule review 2012 hyundai equus ultimate

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.

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  • Azmtbkr81 Azmtbkr81 on Feb 16, 2012

    This car is akin to the Six Dollar Burger at Carl's Jr.

    • FJ60LandCruiser FJ60LandCruiser on Feb 17, 2012

      That's good. It's more expensive than their other burgers, but tastes the same.

  • Davekaybsc Davekaybsc on Feb 17, 2012

    The Equus reminds me a lot of the Infiniti Q45. Not the original grill-less car mind you, the confused second generation "Q41". The second gen Q ship had similar anonymous styling, VERY similar levels of "outdated when it was new" switchgear and materials, and was also the value player in the class for when you wanted something bigger than the RL with a V8 and RWD, but could care less about the badge since in the '90s the Infiniti badge was pretty much completely worthless. The Q was cheap, but it felt cheap, and so does this car. Depreciation on Qs was always epic, and I suspect the same holds true here. Anybody who thinks they are getting a bargain because they bought one at $60K vs. an LS or A8 for $15 or even $20K more might not feel so smug when they start eating a lot of that difference at the other end. It's not a terrible first effort in much the same way that the Genesis wasn't a terrible first effort, but that's all they are. Neither is particularly compelling, though they are both better than the Acura RL by about a mile. Honda has been trying to do this since '96, and they still haven't got a clue. Based on the level of improvement in Hyundais other cars lately, I suspect that the next gen Genesis and Equus will be much more interesting, if not quite the equal of the GS, M, or LS, while the next RL will be another V6 powered dud with two thirds of its weight over the front axle.

    • Ruger11mcrdpi Ruger11mcrdpi on Feb 17, 2012

      I totally agree. If anything this car is a warning shot... the next one will be great. Right now, it's a solid CPO option for cheap in two years. The Genesis is awesome for it's price, and Hyundai is working its way up the ladder just like Lexus did, etc.

  • Make_light I drive a 2015 A4 and had one of these as a loaner once. It was a huge disappointment (and I would have considered purchasing one as my next car--I'm something of a small crossover apologist). The engine sounded insanely coarse and unrefined (to the point that I wasn't sure if it was poor insulation or there was something wrong with my loaner). The seats, interior materials, and NVH were a huge downgrade compared to my dated A4. I get that they are a completely different class of car, but the contrast struck me. The Q3 just didn't feel like a luxury vehicle at all. Friends of mine drive a Tiguan and I can't think of one way in which the Q3 feels worth the extra cost. My mom's CX-5 is better than either in every conceivable way.
  • Arthur Dailey Personally I prefer a 1970s velour interior to the leather interior. And also prefer the instrument panel and steering wheel introduced later in the Mark series to the ones in the photograph. I have never seen a Mark III or IV with a 'centre console'. Was that even an option for the Mark IV? Rather than bucket seats they had the exceptional and sorely missed 60/40 front seating. The most comfortable seats of all for a man of a 'certain size'. In retrospect this may mark the point when Cadillac lost it mojo. Through the early to mid/late 70's Lincoln surpassed Cadillac in 'prestige/pride of place'. Then the 'imports' took over in the 1980s with the rise of the 'yuppies'.
  • Arthur Dailey Really enjoying this series and the author's writing style. My love of PLC's is well known. And my dream stated many times would be to 'resto mod' a Pucci edition Mark IV. I did have a '78 T-Bird, acquired brand new. Preferred the looks of the T-Bird of this generation to the Cougar. Hideaway headlights, the T-Birds roof treatment and grille. Mine had the 400 cid engine. Please what is with the engine displacements listed in the article? I am Canada and still prefer using cubic inches when referencing any domestic vehicles manufactured in the 20th century. As for my T-Bird the engine and transmission were reliable. Not so much some of the other mechanical components. Alternator, starter, carburetor. The vehicle refused to start multiple times, usually during the coldest nights/days or in the most out of the way spots. My friends were sure that it was trying to kill me. Otherwise a really nice, quiet, 'floaty' ride, with easy 'one finger' steering and excellent 60/40 split front seat. One of these with modern mechanicals/components would be a most excellent highway cruiser.
  • FreedMike Maybe they should buy Twitter now.
  • FreedMike A lot of what people are calling "turbo lag" may actually be the transmission. In this case, Audi used a standard automatic in this application versus the DSG, and that makes a big difference. The pre-2022 VW Arteon had the same issue - plenty of HP, but the transmission held it back. If Audi had used the DSG, this would be a substantially quicker, more engaging car. In any case, I don't get these "entry lux" compact CUVs (think: Cadillac XT4, Lexus NX, BMW X1, etc). If you must have a compact CUV, I can think of far better options for a lot less money. And, no, the Tiguan isn't one of them - it has the Miller-cycle 2.0T, so it's a dog. But a Mazda CX-30 with the 2.5T would fit the bill.