2012 Hyundai Equus Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
February 3, 2012

The 2012 Hyundai Equus sounds like a warning shot--not literally, of course--over the bow of Lexus and Infiniti.

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.

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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.

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2012 Hyundai Equus

Styling

Hyundai's assembled a tasteful collection of global luxury styling cues with the Equus, but it's not as distinctive as its less expensive sedans.

The Hyundai Equus doesn't cut across the luxury-sedan ecosphere with drama and flair, but it assembles a balanced look from cues and themes we've seen on other prestigious sedans, and in the end, it all works fairly well.

Jaguar has glitzy grilles, Audi has LED eyeliner and BMW puts its kidneys on its nose. The most noticeably Korean detail on the Hyundai Equus is missing from the U.S. editions--it's a winged hood ornament offered on home-market cars, but deleted from U.S. editions for being "too Korean." You can probably find one on eBay, but do you want to? The Equus manages to synthesize a handsome shape without it, from the wide grille that reminds us of Mercedes, to the Lexus-like headlamps and the upswept tail and tapered side glass of other upscale sedans. Maybe we've grown accustomed too quickly to daring Hyundai styling with the Sonata and Veloster: the Equus simply represents a different place and time, and it's frankly still more a product of its Korean executive-sedan roots.

The Equus' cabin is very much a convincing luxury piece, with similar Lexus cues but delicately applied subtext--like the winged metallic trim that surrounds the dash vents, and echoes the logo on the hood and on the big LCD screen during start-up. In all, the Equus reminds us more of a blend of the current E-Class Mercedes and the last-generation Lexus LS--not bad stretch goals to hit, squarely.

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2012 Hyundai Equus

Performance

Rippling V-8 power lands the Hyundai Equus on the luxury-car radar, but it's definitely from the Lexus school of handling.

The Hyundai Equus measures up, spec for spec, with some seriously luxurious, prestigious sedans. It doesn't match them in handling, but it's every bit the equal in refined acceleration, even in steering feel.

Hyundai's targeted the likes of the BMW 7-Series, the Lexus LS and the Mercedes S-Class with the Equus. At launch it was powered by a 4.6-liter, 385-horsepower V-8, shared with the smaller Genesis sedan, and good for 0-60 mph times in an estimated 6.4 seconds. To give it distance from the Genesis, Hyundai's already upgraded the engine in the Equus to a new 5.0-liter V-8 that reels out an impressive 429 horsepower, pushing acceleration times down by a few tenths and gaining two more gears with its eight-speed automatic. The drivetrain hustles the big sedan to highway speeds quickly, with barely a ruffle of noise.

The Equus' ride and handling pit it firmly against the Lexus LS, while it's more softly sprung and less nimble than the German sedans in the class. We've felt the Equus as it progressed from prototypes we drove in Korea, to the production cars on the streets today, and there's been notable progress in ratcheting up the Equus' responsiveness without losing its well-controlled ride. Based on the most recent examples we've driven, the Equus can rifle off switchbacks as well as or better than the Lexus, with some of the taut ride control of the bigger BMW and Mercedes sedans, thanks to a well-tuned air suspension.

The Equus' electrohydraulic steering is pretty lovely, too--it's the ideal blend of motors where they save energy and hydraulics where linear, consistent feel are required. The steering now feels less vague than Korean prototypes we'd driven last year, and much of the time, it contributes greatly to that appealing driving "smallness" you'll find in German cars. It doesn't get harsh, even with 20-inch wheels and tires. The brakes seemed up to the task of slowing the hefty Equus, but they didn't have the soothing bite of the best brakes you'll order from BMW (or really, Porsche).

There's a Sport button on the Equus that's supposed to sharpen its steering feel, transmission shift points and throttle mapping, but it doesn't seem to alter its behavior as much as intended.

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2012 Hyundai Equus

Comfort & Quality

Every square inch is filled with high-quality materials, but the Hyundai Equus doesn't quite have the back-seat space of its rivals.

The progress Hyundai has made in the past decade--everything from styling to performance to quality--can be observed inside the Equus sedan.

The four-door's cockpit succeeds at contemporary luxury like no Hyundai before it. The automaker clearly has studied the Lexus LS and benchmarked everything from fit and finish to the comfort of the seats. There, the Equus takes the side of comfort, leaving the heavy bolstering to German performance sedans. The front seats are heated and ventilated, and like some competitors, the Equus driver seat can inflate and deflate some of its cushions to massage the driver's back. Whether you think it's a great stay-awake feature or a gimmick is between you and your backside. 

Surrounding those front seats is a dash capped in walnut or birch trim and trimmed out with fine leather. The headliner's sueded, just like the headliners in the top-line Jaguars, and the center console is framed in wood.

That console houses the knob controller that directs some of the climate and entertainment functions, which are displayed on a big LCD screen, framed by winged vents that mimic the Equus' Korean-market hood ornament. (The hood ornament doesn't fit U.S. safety requirements, though we're sure you could find one on eBay and fit it on your own).

The Equus' rear seat comes either as a three-person bench on Signature editions, or as a pair of buckets on the luxury-overload Ultimate edition. On the latter Equus, Hyundai fits a reclining, massaging seat in back--but only on the passenger side. A legacy of its role as a chauffeur-driven car in Korea, the single reclining chair also accepts the reality that this Equus isn't quite long enough to sport a fully reclining chair. Trust us--you'll be fine with the ventilation and massaging, and the gentle power rake to the backrest. And that reclining chair makes complete sense in long-wheelbase Equus sedans, should they ever make their way Stateside.
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2012 Hyundai Equus

Safety

It's a Top Safety Pick, and this year's Equus gets a few more high-tech safety features.

For the 2012 model year, the Hyundai Equus receives a couple of important new safety features.

One of them is a strong set of crash-test scores from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The Equus earned "good" scores in all tests, which makes it a Top Safety Pick.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has yet to test the sedan.

The Equus is laden with tech features to prevent and avoid accidents. Aside from the usual airbags and stability control, the Equus also has front and rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, a rearview camera, and a lane-departure warning system.

New features include a lane-departure warning system that chimes and tightens the seatbelt when it detects a drift out of the driving lane. We're not the biggest fans of these systems, because the haptic feedback can be distracting in sporty driving.

The Equus, unlike some offerings in the class, does not offer all-wheel drive as an option.

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2012 Hyundai Equus

Features

Hyundai offers unparalleled service for Equus owners, but last year's free Apple iPad was a limited-time offer.

Lavishly equipped, the 2012 Hyundai Equus lacks for nothing, while delivering white-glove service to its quietly well-to-do owners.

Hyundai fills every Equus with a long list of standard equipment, including the usual power windows, locks and mirrors; leather upholstery; moonroof; and wood trim. For the connected crowd, the Equus has a navigation system controlled with a roller knob; an LCD display for its output and for the audio system display; Bluetooth; and iPod connectivity.

On Ultimate versions of the Equus, Hyundai fits limousine-like features, including a massaging rear seat with power headrest; a Lexicon audio system; a power trunklid; a forward-facing cornering camera; and a refrigerated bin tucked into the rear center console.

Some details are clearly still being worked on, as the Equus gains a foothold in the American market. The classic Korean executive car comes with a single rear-seat LCD screen mounted on the back of the console, for instance, where it's more common for luxury sedans (even household SUVs) to have twin LCD screens mounted in the front seat headrests.

In its first year on sale, Hyundai offered Equus buyers a free Apple iPad as an entree to the sedan's exclusive service experience. All Equus owners can download a mobile app, which they can use to schedule service appointments. The appointments are a time you set for the dealer to come to you, to fetch your Equus and drop off a loaner car while it's being serviced. The free iPad is no longer shipped with each sedan, but the app continues, while owners also receive a paper manual. If you carry your own iPad, you can be secure in storing it in the car, since the glovebox is big enough to hold even the first-gen Apple device.

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2012 Hyundai Equus

Fuel Economy

Moving up in displacement pushes the Hyundai Equus' fuel economy down.

Hyundai's Equus is one of the few cars we've reviewed in recent years that has seen its gas mileage ratings drop.

There's good reason: for the 2012 model year, the Equus drops its smaller, more fuel-efficient 4.6-liter V-8 for a new 5.0-liter version of the same engine, this one making 429 horsepower.

Where the 4.6-liter earned EPA ratings of 16/24 mpg, the larger-displacement engine--coupled to a new eight-speed automatic--has been rated by the EPA at 15/23 mpg.

No hybrid, electric or diesel versions of the Equus are planned for the American market.
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December 18, 2014
For 2012 Hyundai Equus

A great full size luxury car without the luxury price

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If you're looking for a large highway cruiser with lots of power, a roomy and quiet cabin and buttery smooth ride, there is no better value than the Hyundai Equus. The adjustable air suspension does a... + More »
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