G. Chambers Williams

Hyundai takes high-end luxury route with V-8 powered Equus sedan

Hyundai has moved into the high-end luxury class with the Equus full-size sedan, but unlike some of its Asian competitors such as Toyota and Nissan, Hyundai chose not to create a separate luxury brand.

But if you can do without a prestigious name like Lexus or Infiniti, you might find that you’re spending your money wisely in forking out $61,000-plus for what actually is a quite nice luxury sport sedan in the 2015 Equus.

It’s very much on par, at least in my limited week of testing, with some of the stalwarts of the premium segment, such as Lexus, Infiniti and Acura from Japan, and Mercedes-Benz and Audi from Germany. This is quite surprising coming from an automaker that has built its reputation on low-price, high-value vehicles.

To Hyundai, the Equus represents the evolution of its vehicle line from cheap subcompacts to a car that competes with key luxury brands, although without the accompanying exclusive brand name.

For 2015, Hyundai offers the Equus in two models, the Signature ($61,500 plus $950 freight), and the Ultimate ($68,750), our test vehicle. No options are offered on either model, although the Ultimate Package technically is just a $7,250 addition to the base car.

The Ultimate has 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. While it’s hard to imagine someone in the U.S. buying a Hyundai for their chauffeur to drive them around in, I’ve been told that’s common in Asia.

With the similarly priced Volkswagen Phaeton luxury sedan, 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.

But Hyundai avoids that problem with the Equus. There is no driving to the dealership and waiting in line -- the dealer comes to your home or office and picks up the car for service, leaving you a comparable loaner car to drive while your vehicle is being serviced.

When the Phaeton came out, $60,000-plus was a lot of money for a non-luxury brand name vehicle. But with today's new-vehicle prices, paying $60,000-$70,000 for a non-luxury brand isn’t unusual. Big pickups and SUVs bring that routinely at Chevy, GMC, Toyota, Nissan, Acura and Ford dealers.

Under the hood of both Equus 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 money 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 seats. They also display the navigation system map, so I could see where we were going when I took a ride in the rear seat.

The Equus is quite beautiful. Our tester, with a White Satin Pearl exterior, looked quite elegant, much like 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 premium car – and maybe even more so. Ours came with the quite pleasant Saddle leather interior. The rear seat is divided into two quite comfortable leather chairs that 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. I had plenty of room to stretch out, and the ride was soft and cushy.

Our tester had elegant 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.

Ultimate's power trunk lid is not something generally found on even premium cars, and it’s a great feature, especially if you’re approaching the vehicle with your hands full. The trunk is fairly roomy, at 16.7 cubic feet.

The Equus is 203.1 inches long – 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.

This 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 $38,000-$51,500, while the coupe ranges from about $29,000-$37,000.

Inside, the Equus is very quiet at highway speeds. Hyundai attributes the smooth and quiet ride and the crisp and responsive handling of the Equus to its stiff and lightweight unibody construction, which makes extensive use of high-strength steel.

A driver-selectable "sport" setting for the suspension makes it firmer for better cornering. 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.

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.

The front bucket seats are quite comfortable, even for a long drive, and they can easily accommodate tall people. The driver’s seat on our tester had the massage feature; it was not included on the passenger side.

Also 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.

Safety features include 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 chambers@star-telegram.com.

2015 Hyundai Equus

The package: Large, four-door, four-passenger, rear-wheel-drive, V-8 powered luxury sport sedan.

Highlights: The most-expensive Hyundai yet, this car clearly is on par with some of the best luxury sedans from Europe and Japan, just without the high-end brand name. It’s elegant but not ostentatious, and has a comfortable interior, powerful engine, and smooth and quiet ride.

Negatives: Could have better fuel economy.

Engines: 5.0-liter V-8.

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift feature.

Power/torque: 429 HP./376 foot-pounds (with premium gasoline); 421 HP/365 foot-pounds (with regular gas).

Length: 203.1 inches.

Curb weight: 4,486-4,643 pounds.

Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.

Electronic stability control: Standard.

Side air bags: Front and rear seat-mounted; side curtain for both rows.

Trunk capacity: 16.7 cubic feet.

EPA fuel economy: 15 mpg city/23 highway/18 combined.

Fuel capacity/type: 20.3 gallons/unleaded premium recommended but not required.

Major competitors: Lexus LS 460, BMW 5-series, Mercedes-Benz E-class, Audi A8.

Base price range: $61,500-$68,750, plus $950 freight.

Price as tested: $69,700, including freight (Ultimate model, no options).

On the Road rating: 9.4 (of a possible 10).

Prices shown are manufacturer's suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.