Hyundai last year moved into the high-end luxury class with the Equus full-size sedan, but unlike some other Asian automakers, this South Korean company chose not to create a separate luxury brand.This $61,000-plus vehicle seems every bit as good -- if not even better -- than some of its key competitors from Japan (think Lexus and Acura) and Germany (think Mercedes-Benz and Audi), which is quite surprising coming from an automaker that built its reputation on low-price, high-value vehicles.My prediction is that Hyundai will do much better than Volkswagen did with its foray a few ears ago into high-end luxury, with its Phaeton sedan, a big flop in the U.S market.For 2014, the Equus comes in two models, the Signature ($61,000 plus $920 freight), and the Ultimate ($68,000),which we tested for this report. There are no options offered on either model, although the window sticker on our vehicle actually shows the Ultimate Package as a $7,000 addition to the base car. With the Ultimate, you’ll get everything that’s available on the Equus, including the dual rear captain’s chairs that recline and give the back-seat occupants a limousine-like experience. I allowed myself to be chauffeured home from the hospital by my spouse after a recent medical procedure -- mostly just so I could experience it for myself.With the Phaeton, which VW sold in the U.S. for just three years (2004-06), the big question was whether people paying that much money for a car would want to stand in line with Jetta and Passat owners for service at their local Volkswagen dealers. After all, you get royal treatment at most luxury-car dealerships, and you don’t have to mingle with people who paid a quarter of what you did for their cars.Hyundai has avoided that problem with the Equus, which has a special arrangement for service. The dealer comes to your home or office and picks it up, leaving you a comparable loaner car to drive if necessary while your vehicle is being serviced.Volkswagen came up with a similar plan, and required its dealers to have a couple of extra Phaetons on hand for service customers. But many VW dealers balked at that idea, and chose not to sell the Phaeton at their stores.With today’s new-vehicle prices, paying $60,000-$70,000 for a non-luxury-brand vehicle is not unusual. Big pickups and SUVs bring that routinely at Chevy, GMC and Ford dealers. For Hyundai, the Equus represents the evolution of its vehicle line from cheap subcompacts to a car that competes with key luxury brands, although without an upscale brand name. Under the hood of both models is a 5.0-liter V-8 engine rated at 429 horsepower when using premium fuel, or 421 horsepower with regular gasoline. The torque rating is 376 foot-pounds with premium, or 365 with regular. The engine is connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift capability.EPA ratings are 15 mpg city/23 highway/18 combined.Standard on both models are such features as a 17-speaker, 608-watt Lexicon audio system; electronically controlled air suspension with continuous damping; electronic stability control with a pre-collision warning system; adaptive cruise control; high-intensity-discharge headlights; front and rear parking assistance and a rearview camera; premium leather upholstery; a microfiber suede headliner; heated and cooled front seats with massage on the driver’s side; and a heated wood/leather steering wheel.With the Ultimate, the additional $7,000 brings such extras as a forward-view parking and cornering camera, power trunk lid, heated/cooled/reclining rear seats with powered headrests, a rear seat refrigerator and a rear entertainment system with dual color screens in the backs of the front headrests. They also would display the navigation system map, so I could see where we were going.The Equus is quite beautiful. Our tester, with its White Satin Pearl exterior color, had the kind of curb appeal you might expect from a Mercedes S-class or BMW 7-series, and to help keep consumers from thinking about Hyundai’s past as a bargain brand, you won’t see the Hyundai name or “H” emblem on the exterior of the Equus.The interior is every bit as luxurious as that of a European blue-blood or a Lexus, maybe even more so. Our tester had the Saddle leather interior.As for the aforementioned rear seat, it’s divided into two quite comfortable leather chairs that do their best to mimic expensive living-room recliners, and there was a footrest and massager on the right side. There were even vanity mirrors that folded down from the ceiling for both rear passengers. There was plenty of room to stretch out, and the ride was soft and cushy.The tester had lots of interior wood trim, along with 19-inch, chrome-alloy, nine-spoke wheels. Power sunshades were included on the rear side windows. The little refrigerator is in the middle console between the rear passengers, and there were separate controls for the air conditioning/heating system for the rear.The Ultimate’s power trunk lid, not something you generally find on cars, is a great feature, especially if you’re approaching the vehicle with your hands full. The trunk is fairly roomy, at 16.7 cubic feet.Overall length of the Equus is 203.1 inches – about three inches shorter than the Mercedes S-class and three inches longer than the BMW 7-series sedans, but less than an inch shorter than the Lexus LS 460 L (long wheelbase) model. The Equus is the third vehicle in the Hyundai lineup to come with rear-wheel drive; the rest have front drive. Both the Hyundai Genesis sedan and coupe have rear drive. The Genesis sedan is also premium priced, with a range of about $37,000-$49,000, while the coupe ranges from about $27,000-$37,000.At highway speeds, the Equus is very quiet. Hyundai attributes the smooth and quiet ride and the fairly crisp and responsive handling of the Equus to its stiff and lightweight unibody construction, which makes extensive use of high-strength steel.There is a driver-selectable “sport” setting for the suspension to make it firmer for better cornering stability. But for the best ride comfort, Hyundai recommends the softer “normal” setting.The Equus has a decent 39.6-foot turning radius, and it’s designed to maneuver easily in city traffic and parking lots.LED turn signals are a cool feature, something we’re seeing on a lot of new vehicles.The Ultimate’s forward-view camera gives the driver a good look ahead and to each side when pulling into tight spots. The image shows on the in-dash navigation screen, and comes from a camera mounted in the grille.Both front bucket seats are quite comfortable, even for a long drive, and they can accommodate tall people, too. Only the driver’s seat on our tester had the massage feature, though, which was a disappointment to my spouse, riding shotgun. She appreciates massaging seats a lot more than I do.Standard is a driver-information system in the center of the dash, whose color touch screen is also used by the navigation and audio systems. Included are XM and HD radio and a Bluetooth hands-free phone setup.Among safety features are nine air bags, active electronic front head rests, and a lane-departure warning system. There is an electronic parking brake, as well.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.