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Hyundai's Equus sedan is in its second year of irritating the likes of Lexus and Infiniti. A luxury sedan with all the credibility of an LS 460 or an M37, the Equus can also go toe to toe with the large luxury sedans from Germany in features and finishes--while undercutting them by thousands on its pricetag. The Equus may not deliver the prestige or the handling of the best vehicles in its class, but it's a striking bargain for those who don't mind a more softly sprung luxury sedan, or a great deal.
The Equus doesn't have the daring styling that the younger, cheaper Hyundai Sonata and Elantra share. It's more a mishmash of familiar cues, from cars like the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Lexus LS. The distinctiveness of other Hyundais is muted here: it's a car designed for different priorities, aimed more at pleasing Korean executives in the home market than winning over new North Americans to the Hyundai fold. It's still a fine-looking car, with an upswept tail and tapered side glass, and a maturity that follows through in the cabin. Inside its vault doors, the Equus is very much a convincing luxury car, with more Lexus and Mercedes cues interwoven with its own themes--like the winged metallic trim that surrounds the dash vents, and is echoed in the Equus' logo on its hood and on its LCD touchscreen during start-up mode.
In its first year on sale, the U.S. Equus shared a powertrain with the smaller Genesis sedan. For 2012, the bigger Hyundai V-8 is standard on all Equus sedans, while it's offered on just one Genesis trim level. The 5.0-liter V-8 is rated at 429 horsepower in the Equus, and with 376 pound-feet of torque as well, the Equus bests the LS 460 and the Benz S550 in output. It's teamed with a new eight-speed automatic that only adds to the heady rush of power that shaves a tick or two off the Equus' mid-six-second 0-60 mph times. The new engine also sounds a bit richer, with a more mellow and rounder exhaust note. The old Equus never really strained to deliver power, but what luxury-car shopper will turn down 44 extra horsepower? Fuel economy does dip slightly with the new drivetrain to 15/23 mpg--and when it comes down to the standard measure of ultra-luxury sedans, the Equus' controlled ride and sweet steering are well shy of the marks set by the latest BMW 7er and Benz S-Class, even the Infiniti M37, though to us, it's a toss-up as to whether the Equus handles better than the Lexus LS.
Inside, the Equus gives up little ground on features or room. Front passengers face a dash slathered in leather and birch or walnut trim, framing a big LCD screen that displays audio and navigation functions; a knob-style controlled, like iDrive and COMAND, dials up different radio stations, ambient temperatures, or destinations. Back-seat drivers get the best treatment: there's an airline-style right passenger seat that reclines on some versions, and it comes with an extendable footrest--but the Equus doesn't quite have enough spread-out leg room to extend the footrest far enough. Our Equus is actually the short-wheelbase version, and Hyundai hasn't confirmed we'll ever get the long-wheelbase version. The same seat can have Shiatsu-style massage functions as well, so you'll probably get over the tight toe room--but the passenger on the left side will be out of luck, as the features aren't offered on that chair.
Other luxury features on the Equus include standard Lexicon audio; adaptive cruise control; ventilated front seats, and leather upholstery. A lane-departure warning system is a new option this year: it sounds an alert when the Equus crosses lanes for more than a second, and tugs the seatbelt when the car crosses over for more than three seconds. Other safety features like Bluetooth and a rearview camera are included for free.
Also free is the Equus' white-glove service. Instead of visiting a dealer, owners can simply schedule a pick-up and loaner car through a mobile app. In the first year of sales, Hyundai gave out free Apple iPads to owners; the 2012 models get a full paper owner's manual instead. We'll take the lavish treatment over a free tablet over the Equus' lifetime, thanks--and we'd definitely consider a sub-$60,000 Equus if the Lexus LS topped our new-car shopping list, because the new big Hyundai is a plush, credible four-door that brings ultra-luxury amenities down to the semi-well-heeled masses.