2011 Hyundai Equus (Korean-market vehicle)Enlarge Photo
Editor's Note: For those of you who know it's not really legal to drive Korean-spec cars in the U.S., well, we wouldn't call this news report a "first drive." There may have been some use of the gas pedal, steering, and some suspension motion. A turn signal or two. Definitely some gears changing. A first drive of the 2011 Equus? That would be nitpicking.
We'll give you the full scoop next year, when we rate the Equus and publish our full review from a drive in a U.S.-spec car.
• What is it: The new luxury four-door from Hyundai, bigger than the Genesis sedan
• Key facts: As long as an S-Class; shares its V-8 with the Hyundai Genesis
• On sale: July 2010
• Price: Base price of $50,000+ (est.)
"Six years ago, think of where Hyundai was."
It sounds like a bit of a surprise to Hyundai's Joel Ewanick, and maybe it is to you, too--to see Hyundai set to challenge the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the like with the new 2011 Hyundai Equus. The Korean automaker's vice president of marketing for the U.S., Ewanick can't recall any auto brand ever shifting its perceptions so quickly in among American car buyers.
While the recession batters some luxury brands, Hyundai is happily ticking off sales of the 2009 Hyundai Genesis, the car that cemented its new reputation as a real alternative to the likes of Acura, Infiniti and Cadillac--if not quite Benz and BMW. When it bowed in 2009, the Genesis sedan capped a string of improved vehicles, from Hyundai's Elantra compact to the Sonata and Azera sedans, taking home a North American Car of the Year award in the process.
With the Genesis launched successfully in the "worst downturn in the car market ever," Ewanick points out, his company is laying the groundwork for the arrival of an even bigger, more luxurious sedan than the Genesis--the Equus , now slated to arrive in the U.S. sometime in the summer of next year.
Hyundai brought the Equus to Pebble Beach during this weekend's 2009 Concours, and TheCarConnection briefly sampled the prototype Korean-market sedan Hyundai is using to spread the word to buyers, and is using to tailor U.S. versions for sale. From now until late 2010, this Equus is the way Hyundai begins the long process of letting America know it's ready to challenge the likes of the BMW 7-Series, Lexus LS and Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
Germanophiles may scoff, but Hyundai's taken a significant leap forward with the 2009 Genesis sedan. Unlike Volkswagen--which launched the expensive Phaeton and priced it nearly twice as high as its Passat sedan, then pulled it from the U.S. market--the Genesis came to showrooms with the right look, the right price of about $40,000, and the right execution.
The Equus is bigger in every direction: in size, but particularly in mission. Marginally shorter than the German sedans it's targeting, it's set to undercut their prices by as much as $30,000.
The car Hyundai brought for this brief drive shared the 4.6-liter, 375-horsepower V-8 with the Genesis, and its six-speed ZF automatic transmission. There's talk of a larger 5.0-liter version, which Ewanick can't confirm. Korean versions also share the Genesis V-6, but American editions will not. Nonetheless, the "Tau" V-8's part of the basic goodness in the Genesis, and it feels ample enough around the streets of downtown Monterey. At 4.1 inches longer in wheelbase than the Genesis, the Equus isn't so much larger as to affect that kind of performance.