Well on its way to becoming a full-line vehicle manufacturer, Hyundai has stepped up to the plate for 2014 to upgrade its flagship: The Hyundai Equus.
A chariot more appropriate for "captains of industry," the Equus is often sought by executives in its home market for its posh accommodations - especially those in the back seat.
But rare is the company that tries to be successful in every aspect of the marketplace, which prompted us to look over the latest Equus with the finest tooth comb we could find.
What is it?
The Equus is a five-passenger, rear-wheel-drive sedan that pushes the South Korean brand upward to the über comfort sizing of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and BMW 7-Series.
Only one engine, a 5.0-liter direct-injection V8 engine that produces 429/421 horsepower and 376/365 lb-ft of torque, depending on whether you are an oligarch on a budget since it can run on either regular grade unleaded or premium fuel. This dual overhead camshaft (DOHC) mill has enhanced noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) countermeasures for 2014, and it is fitted to Hyundai's eight-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift mode. Unlike the Germans, the Equus is offered only with rear-wheel-drive.
The suspension has been revised from the previous version to offer, in Hyundai's words, a more sporting demeanor. As before, it is made up of multilink kits, front and rear, with automatic air dampers and continuous damping control. New front suspension bushings offer enhanced ride control; gentler in "normal" and crisper in "sport." A new "snow" setting to the drive mode controls should appeal to buyers in wintry climates.
For 2014, the Equus goes from an extremely well-equipped Signature model to an over-the-top Ultimate ($7,000) trim package that adds cooled rear seats, dual 9.2-inch rear seat monitors, a 12.3-inch TFT LCD gauge cluster and a forward facing camera.
Both models now feature what Hyundai calls "smart cruise control," which can bring the Equus to a complete stop in traffic. Other features of the Ultimate include a nearly full-featured head-up display and an above-view camera for a bird's eye view of obstacles located immediately around the car.
One thing to note is that the Equus provides the underpinnings for the Kia K900, an upwardly-mobile offering from Hyundai's sister brand.
What's it up against?
Hyundai hopes buyers will see beyond its badge and cross-shop the Equus against the BMW 7-Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class, Audi A8, Lexus LS 460 and Cadillac XTS.
How does it look?
For all the changes to the rest of the Equus, anything done to its exterior is subtle at best.
Gone are the darkish looks that occupied the headlight surrounds. In their place are the more contemporary LED daylight running light systems that step the car up to a more with-it appearance. Revised wheels also do their part to keep the brand evolving and, well, revolving.
For all the subtlety of the latest round of refreshment to the car, the Equus is still gifted with a commanding appearance that feels a lot more conservative than that offered up by any rival.
And on the inside?
With French stitching and other high quality touches helping to define the interior of the Equus as something special, this is clearly no run-of-the-mill Hyundai.
From the multi-adjustable and ventilated driver and front passenger seats, to the higher grade of leather and wood trim, the 2014 model represents a big leap above its predecessor inside. Despite all the on-paper niceties, it nonetheless lacks a certain panache seen in competitors. Still, this is no slapped together luxury ride.
The interior volume is cavernous, especially for the rear seat passengers. While we can't back up Hyundai's claim that its interior offers more head, shoulder and legroom than the Lexus LS, we do know that it is quite a step up from anything else offered in the line. Though the Ultimate package doesn't add any additional legroom back there, the Barcalounger-like reclining right rear seat has been replaced by a standard bench more in line with the tastes of American consumers. If buyers are going to be driven around, it probably isn't going to be in an Equus, Hyundai has apparently decided.
On the upside of the equation, this Equus can boast of its Lexicon 7.1 audio system and its high-tech LCD screen in the instrument cluster. Configurable and mostly intuitive, it could stand as a model for certain other rides costing two or three times as much.
But does it go?
Silent in its operation, the Equus' 5.0-liter V8 delivered smooth, rapid acceleration with just a mere hint of aggression once the throttle pedal was matched. As Lexus becomes more emotional and evocative, the Equus is attempting to become the most refined vehicle on the road. And it comes darn close to succeeding.
We liked the ability to switch between distinct driving modes, but we quickly passed on the Eco mode's sluggish demeanor, which encouraged a more conservative driving style in favor of the higher power found in sport mode. We did, however, manage to better the EPA's combined mileage rating of 18 mpg; still, its 15/23 mpg city and highway numbers are hardly anything to be proud of.
Sport mode remapped the goings on underhood, with faster starts and, in corners, more noticeable torque vectoring that transfers power around to subtly help drivers enter and exit corners faster. The overall effect makes the Equus handle like a smaller car, although its 4,500 lbs. curb weight, 119 inch wheelbase and 203 inch overall length inevitably makes themselves known.
Delicate but delivering up a surprising amount of road feel for an electro-hydraulic system, the Equus' steering is noticeably better than last year. Overall, the big sedan manages to feel less floaty in sport mode but definitely inclined toward traditional luxury values in normal.
The Equus' new cruise control proved effective. Using radar in the front of the car, it "sees" a vehicle in front and then slows accordingly in an effort to maintain a safe following distance. Switch lanes and the previous speed is quickly resumed. The lane departure and blind spot warning systems, on the other hand, seemed hyper-sensitive. Between that and their annoying warning chirps, we found ourselves turning them off entirely.
Leftlane's bottom line
Hyundai's Equus continues to show the brand is listening to customers and critics alike by offering continual improvements.
Though the Equus does not offer the ride and comfort found in its European rivals, it is clear that Hyundai is content to build a car for those who emphasize rational, value-driven decisions.
One thing is certain: Offering a well-equipped Signature model and a further-equipped Ultimate model, sure makes the overall buying decision easier.
2014 Hyundai Equus Ultimate base price, $61,000. As tested, $68,920
Ultimate Package, $7,000; Destination, $920.
Photos by Mark Elias.