Wednesday, June 27, 2012

James Nelson
Austin Cars Examiner

Hyundai’s flagship Equus premium luxury sedan is mounting a credible challenge to others in the segment with their very well priced and well equipped Signature base model ($58,750) and premium Ultimate ($65,750).
We have just driven a 2012 Hyundai Equus Ultimate for a week around Central Texas and have found this car to be a seriously well done challenger to an already crowded luxury sedan segment that has well established vehicles and loyal customer followings.
Some of those competitors include the Mercedes Benz S-Class S550 ($94,500) and E-Class E350 ($60,000), BMW 740 LI ($83,295), Infinity M56 ($63,995) and Lexus LS 460 ($67,630).
The Hyundai Equus borrows a lot from the competition in terms of styling and exterior features as the market shows these established combinations in a premium luxury sedan to sell well.
Where Hyundai looks to excel is in the execution of the design and engineering plus the addition of a bit more value at every level while pricing Equus very competitively.
Hyundai brought a Hyundai Equus Ultimate to the Texas Auto Writers Association Auto Roundup at Texas Motor Speedway in late spring for auto journalists to drive. There, I sat down with Hyundai representatives and we talked frankly about Equus and its viability in the premium luxury segment.
They shared a couple of thoughts with me on the Hyundai strategy for the Equus. They recognize that they are challenging some very fine vehicles with strong customer bases. But they are quick to point out that many of those manufacturers themselves entered the segment for the first time only a few years ago.
Hyundai’s intent is to build and continuously improve the very best premium luxury sedan in the segment, price it right and grow their customer base and loyalty slowly as the others have done. Hyundai already has a strong track record in building customer base and loyalty by developing and delivering market competitive and performing vehicles in the compact, sedan and crossover segments. They point to Veloster, Sonata and Santa Fe as examples.
Hyundai introduced the Equus in late 2010 selling only 196 vehicles that year. In 2011, they sold 3,193 (266/month) while gathering feedback on how to improve the Equus for 2012. Making some power plants changes for 2012, Hyundai has sold 326 a month this year for a total of 1,630 through May.
In fact, Equus is actually outperforming the Hyundai sales expectation at this point in its market life.
On the highway or around town, we found the Equus performed very strongly in acceleration and responsiveness in all conditions. For 2012, Equus features Hyundai’s most powerful engine ever, the direct-injected Tau V8 engine 5.0-liter engine producing 429 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 376 lb-ft. of torque at 5,000 rpm. The Tau V8 engine family was named to the prestigious Ward’s Ten Best Engines list in 2011.
The Tau 5.0-liter V8 engine is coupled with a Hyundai-developed eight-speed transmission with Shiftronic™ manual shift capability. The transmission adds two additional ratios to enhance acceleration, shifting smoothness, and transmission efficiency by more than six percent compared to the previous six-speed.
The Tau V8 power plant runs well on either regular or premium fuel. The fuel economy ratings are 15 mpg city, 23 mpg highway and 18 mpg combined. These numbers are within the range of the competition, not exceptional, but a value since you can use less expensive regular fuel.
Being in the premium luxury segment, we expected Equus to ride like a luxury car and we were not disappointed. Equus is a rear wheel drive and weighs in at around 4,500 pounds. The driving dynamics for Equus are very good. Equus’ electronically-controlled air suspension tackles the road surfaces in Central Texas very well in the normal ride setting that delivers a softer luxury ride.
For drivers who enjoy a firm ride and more stability when cornering, there is a sport setting with additional body control. That is my personal choice for the Equus.
On some of our winding Hill Country roads, precise wheel control was delivered by its five-link front and rear suspension geometry which is maximized through Continuous Damping Control (CDC), that continually monitors road and driving dynamics and adjusts damping force accordingly.
The standard 19-inch chrome alloy wheel and tire package with staggered width tires (P245/45R19 front P275/40R19 rear) offers excellent gripping power and added to the precise control.
In suburban areas, the Equus is easy to maneuver and park, thanks to excellent steering and its electronic rear backup parking assist feature. Visibility from the driver seat was excellent and while the Equus is large, it doesn't feel over-sized or clumsy due to its relatively trim 39.6 foot turning circle and variable-effort steering system.
There is an optional forward-view cornering camera integrated into the grille assist in parking and navigating blind corners and tight spots. Our test Ultimate was so equipped and we found this also to be a very good safety and situation awareness feature as well.
Whether you are an executive or a couple heading out on the town, you will feel sumptuously comfortable in the Equus due to abundant luxury touches and passenger comfort features. Quality materials like the leather upholstery, Microfiber suede headliner, natural wood trim and leather-wrapped French-stitched instrument panel showcase the richness of the Equus interior.
The seats are fully adjustable with plenty of width and support. Thermoelectric devices located in the seat backs and bottom cushions provide control for heating, cooling and humidity. There is ample leg and head room for drivers more than six-feet tall and a massaging driver seat.
There are all of the expected technology features in the Equus including some that improve safety along with the driver experience. The Equus was named a 2012 “Top Safety Pick" by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) as it includes features such as Electronic Stability Control (ESC), nine airbags, electronic active front head restraints, lane departure warning system and smart cruise control. Equus even has a Vehicle Stability Management (VSM) system that optimally manages ESC, the electronic parking brake and smart cruise control (the forward camera monitors traffic for the cruise control system).
Equus is offered in two configurations, Equus Signature and Equus Ultimate. The Equus Ultimate we tested has features sometimes found only in low-volume special-order luxury sedans with six-figure price tags, including the forward-view parking and cornering camera, power trunk lid, reclining rear seats with powered headrests, cooled rear seats, passenger side rear seat massage and leg support, rear seat refrigerator and a rear seat entertainment system.
Equus offers a Lexicon-branded state-of-the-art audio system featuring LOGIC 7™ technology. The Lexicon surround sound audio system includes a 13-channel digital amplifier and 17 speakers producing 608 watts of power in 7.1 discrete surround sound audio. Equus also offers the clarity of digital HD Radio technology, XM Satellite Radio and iPod®/USB integration. This was not quite a music hall experience, but it was pretty close.
All during our test, we found ourselves wanting to ride in the luxurious ambiance of the rear seating as often as possible (you can imagine the “discussions” we had). Take a tip; ride in the rear power-adjustable right-side seat. It has 84 degrees of leg support, with the capability to move the front passenger seat forward and out of the way for full leg extension.
The Equus Ultimate replaces the 60/40 rear seat of the Equus Signature with a 50/50 power reclining seating configuration. The passenger-side rear seatback of this 50/50 seat massages and vibrates with heat - the perfect relaxation therapy for extended cruising. It is operated by its own remote control unit. Ample, first-class-style headrests also contain wings that can be adjusted for perfect comfort and support, ideal for napping or relaxation.
The rear seat experience in the Equus Ultimate is further upgraded by an eight-inch LCD screen. This individual entertainment system will play DVDs for rear-seat passengers, as well as demonstrate audio features and report on HVAC status. The rear multimedia monitor can be controlled from the rear console, which also houses the remote control seat massage function. These controls activate the heated and cooled rear seats and the rear console refrigerator.
Other Equus Ultimate rear seat features include power up/down head restraints with manual tilt and two rear-seat illuminated vanity mirrors.
Not including the “personal” refrigerator in the rear console, this was as close to a First Class seat in a 747 as you are ever likely to find in any car under $100,000.
We really did not want to give it back. We think Hyundai and the Equus are likely to carve out their niche in the “establishment” luxury premium sedan segment.
Equus offers four exterior color choices and three interior theme choices. For 2013, a new color combination, White Satin Pearl with Saddle interior, has been added. In addition, a new Gran Premio Gray exterior color will replace Granite Gray beginning with September production. Exterior colors are White Satin Pearl, Black Noir Pearl, Granite Gray/Gran Premio Gray and Platinum Metallic. Interior themes are Cashmere with genuine Birch Burl wood, Jet Black with genuine Walnut wood and Saddle with genuine Walnut wood.
In addition to the flagship luxury level Equus, Hyundai has a very complete and competitive line of vehicles from compacts like the exciting new Veloster and Elantra, the very popular Sonata (including a very fuel efficient hybrid) and Azera sedans, crossovers well accepted in the market like the Tucson and Santa Fe and the Genesis which has been getting attention in the performance sedan category.
Visit your local Hyundai dealer and take a look at all of the Hyundai offerings including Equus. You will certainly find a vehicle that meets your needs and budget from this manufacturer.
All Hyundai vehicles sold by the more than 800 dealerships in the U.S. are covered by the Hyundai Assurance program, which includes the 5-year/60,000-mile fully transferable new vehicle warranty, Hyundai’s 10-year/100,000-mile power train warranty, and five years of complimentary Roadside Assistance.
Jim Nelson is a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association

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