South Korea's Hyundai is on a mission to conquer nearly every segment in the marketplace, and the Equus is its entry in the prestigious full-size luxury sedan arena. While the big four-door lacks the cachet and truly impressive refinement of its established rivals, it does serve up an extensive amount of standard equipment and a palatial, library-quiet cabin for a relatively low price.
After recently upgrading the Equus with a potent, silky smooth 5.0-liter V8/eight-speed automatic powertrain combo, Hyundai has improved its flagship model again for the latest model year.
Revisions include restyled exterior elements, a retuned suspension and a thoroughly overhauled interior with larger display screens and more premium materials.
It might not wear a top-shelf badge on its hood, but the Equus has all the other requisite building blocks of a respectable executive express - rear-wheel-drive architecture, elegant yet understated styling and a technology-packed interior with enough space for a quintet of six-footers to sit in comfort.
Outside, the replacement of chrome bumper trim with 21st century bling - LED lighting for the foglamps - gives the updated Equus a more modern appearance, and new taillight graphics and a lower-key front fascia represent other new model year additions. Sophisticated-looking 19-inch turbine blade-style alloy wheels round out the stylistic changes.
As important as a fine-looking exterior is, Hyundai recognized that the interior is the central element of a full-size luxury sedan for many buyers, and accordingly gave the space a comprehensive makeover. Rich-looking materials like genuine wood trim, supple leather, French-stitched accents and a microfiber suede headliner continue to cover nearly ever surface, but the center stack has been completely redesigned and is now wider, better-arranged and more imposing than before.
The central infotainment screen has been upsized to 9.2-inches - making it easier to see navigation and entertainment information - and the all-digital LCD instrument cluster has also grown to seven inches in the entry-level Signature trim and a massive 12.3 inches for the decked-out Ultimate model. A haptic control dial on the steering wheel lets the driver easily toggle through a wide range of vehicle info in the center of the instrument cluster, while a choice of a BMW iDrive-style knob or redundant buttons on the dashboard can be used to control navigation, climate and stereo settings.
The Equus is fitted with Hyundai's Blue Link telematics service, which can be spec'd to provide voice text messaging, point-of-interest web search and download and automatic collision notification in addition to traffic, weather, restaurant and nearby gas station information.
The standard equipment list is extensive, with niceties like heated and ventilated front seats, adaptive cruise control and a kicking 17-speaker Lexicon surround sound stereo representing just a few highlights.
Limited consumer interest means that last year's optional reclining right rear ottoman seat and cooling beverage box have been discontinued, but the Equus continues to offer plenty of premium extras - dual 9.2-inch rear entertainment screens, ventilated rear seats and an aerial-view 360-degree camera system for parking maneuvers.
The Strong, Silent Type
The Equus is powered by a 5.0-liter "Tau" V8 that produces a healthy 429 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 376 lb-ft. of torque at 5,000 rpm. Efficiency-aiding measures like direct injection, a relatively high 11.5:1 compression ratio and an in-house developed eight-speed automatic transmission help the engine to return 15 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway.
An electronically controlled air suspension with adaptive damping provides a cushy ride but not the precise handling dynamics of more expensive rivals, although revised tuning and new front bushings for the latest model help matter slightly. The chassis features a choice of Normal and Sport modes - the former enhances ride control, while the seeks to mitigate body roll.
A newly-added Snow mode optimizes the Equus for wintry conditions. For customers in northern climates, it's a welcome feature, especially as the sedan continues to do without the all-wheel-drive option offered by many of its peers.
Noise-reducing measures like an acoustic laminated window glass and extensive sound insulation ensure that passengers are well isolated from road, engine and wind din.
Trim Level Breakdown
The Equus is available in Signature and Ultimate trim levels.
The Equus Signature comes standard with a bevy of luxury items, including the aforementioned Lexicon audio system, a navigation system, tri-zone automatic climate control, a sunroof adaptive cruise control, HID headlamps, LED foglights, front and rear parking assistance systems with a rearview camera, premium leather seating, Microfiber suede headliner, driver seat massage, heated and cooled front seats, a heated wood and leather steering wheel, blind spot detection with cross-traffic alert, a power rear sunshade and 19-inch alloy wheels.
The Equus Ultimate adds the 360-degree camera system in addition to a forward-view cornering camera, cooled rear seats, power-closing doors, a power-closing trunk, a rear seat entertainment system with dual 9.2-inch screens, a 12.3-inch LCD instrument cluster, power rear side window sunshades, rear seat power head restraints, rear seat illuminated vanity mirrors, power rear seat lumbar and a head-up display.
All Equus models come with dual front, front and rear side, and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to a driver's knee airbag and traction and stability control systems.
A blind spot monitoring system with cross-traffic alert - which warns the driver of approaching cars when backing up - is also standard, as is a lane departure warning system that provides a notification via haptic seatbelt feedback (or audio/visual alerts) when the Equus drifts into an adjacent lane.
The most direct rival to Equus is the Lexus LS460, which features a similar emphasis on total comfort and relaxed operation. It start at roughly ten grand more than the Hyundai, and for slightly more money there's also entry-level versions of the Audi A8 and Jaguar XJ and BMW 7-Series, all of which offer a noticeably more upscale experience both in terms of interior opulence and handling sophistication.