New & Used Hyundai Equus: In Depth
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True to its name, the Hyundai Equus is the war horse at the top of Hyundai's lineup—a powerful, plush flagship that pushes the boundaries for the brand farther upward, into a segment of the market in which others (like VW, with its ill-fated Phaeton) have failed to find success.
The Equus is a large luxury car, and the South Korean automaker's attempt to establish a presence in the executive class. It's decked out in limousine-style accoutrements and has a powerful V-8 under the hood.
For some, the Equus is a great value proposition. Others may not be able to deal with the non-luxury badge, however.
MORE: Read our 2015 Hyundai Equus review
In features and design, the Equus puts this brand in the big leagues, taking on the likes of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7-Series, Jaguar XJ, and Lexus LS—or even the Infiniti Q70—while undercutting most of them by about $10k. If the story sounds familiar, it's largely the same path that Toyota, Honda, and Nissan took with their flagship luxury cars a couple of decades ago, only Hyundai is selling the Equus as, well, a Hyundai.
The Equus looks like it might be a sub-brand of its own, though. It takes off in a completely different design direction compared to the rest of the current Hyundai lineup at its best; and at its worst it feels more like a cobbled set of details and cues from other models—from Lexus and Mercedes, especially. But its interior is well-designed and exceptionally roomy; the shorter-wheelbase version that we get in the U.S. isn't quite right for chauffeur duty, but adults will have plenty of space. In back, the right-side seat includes massage functions and an extending footrest. The Equus is common in South Korea as a livery vehicle or limo, and it's easy to see why.
From behind the wheel, the Equus feels more like a big, rear-wheel-drive classic American sedan than a competitor to the biggest and best from Germany and Japan today. The original 4.6-liter V-8 that came in early Equus models made 385 hp, providing strong acceleration with the aid of an eight-speed automatic transmission. Handling wasn't as competitive, with a floaty suspension that tended to squat and dive under acceleration and braking, but provided a smooth ride for passengers.
To differentiate the Equus ownership experience from that of an Elantra or Accent buyer, Hyundai includes what it calls "ultimate customer service" with the top-of-the-line model. When it's time for maintenance, the dealer will pick the car up from an owner's home or office, supplying them with a loaner car in the interim. And when the model launched, each owner received an iPad carrying the full owner's manual and instructions on how to use the in-car tech.
The Equus includes many of the same safety and comfort features you'd find on those other models—including adaptive cruise control, ventilated front seats, plush leather upholstery, an impressive navigation system, and a rearview camera system. Newly optional for 2012 was a lane-departure warning system, while the 2014 refresh brought further additions and improvements to safety gear.
Also for 2012, the Equus received a new 429-hp, 5.0-liter V-8 engine, bringing a somewhat lower, brawnier engine sound and quicker acceleration, while knocking EPA ratings down slightly to 15/23 mpg. The news for 2013 was limited to a few color and trim changes.
Changes were more significant for the 2014 model year, when the Equus got a revised front end, including a new grille and front fascia that brought the snout more in line with the Azera's look. Inside, Hyundai smoothed things out overall, with new trims, a flowing new center stack and instrument panel, and new rear center-console controls.
Blind-spot detection, smart cruise control, lane-departure warning, and rear cross-traffic alert are all now included, and the Ultimate adds a head-up display and multi-view camera system to the list of safety gear. The feature set remains impressive, with an excellent 17-speaker Lexicon sound system, and the Ultimate including things like a cooled rear seat, power rear sunshades, and power door closers.
The Equus was carried over into the 2015 model year mostly unchanged. It now sits in Hyundai dealerships alongside a revamped Genesis sedan, which offers new luxury items above and beyond what is available in the Equus. The larger car is likely to either be redesigned soon or have its run ended; although longer than the Genesis, it offers few other advantages to keep it viable. And Kia has its own Equus-sized sedan now in the K9, which combines the Equus wheelbase with a lot of last-generation Genesis parts for a sportier-looking hybrid of sorts.