V-8 power, rear-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic sound like the performance goods bundled into a German sedan--or maybe a Lexus, or a Jaguar--and that alone spells out how Hyundai's targeted the heart of the luxury sedan market with the new Equus. Hyundai's sedan shares all those specs with the likes of the 7-Series, the S-Class, the LS and the XJ, and it's probably a bit disconcerting to some, how its other performance characteristics measure up against the pack.
The Equus shares its V-8 with the Genesis, the smaller rear-drive sedan introduced by Hyundai back in the 2009 model year. The 4.6-liter, 385-hp V-8 remains a good and faithful companion to hurtle to 60 mph in an estimated 6.4 seconds, and the Equus lets in just the right kinds of noise and vibration so you're sure it's working underhood.
The Equus is limited to a top speed of 155 mph by its engine electronics.
If it's a little thin on torque at low engine speeds, the V-8 makes up for it by marrying well with the six-speed gearbox. The transmission shifts willingly; it's swift and decisive. It lacks shift paddles, though--probably only for reasons of perception, and not for cost. We say bring on the paddles--they encourage drivers to keep both hands on the steering wheel, and more to the point, to enjoy all the gears they paid for.Sometime this year, both the Genesis and the Equus will receive a 5.0-liter version of the same engine, with 429 horsepower, and an upgraded eight-speed automatic transmission. It's possible Hyundai still will offer the smaller-displacement engine in this Equus. It may add a long-wheelbase Equus to further distinguish it from the Genesis, too, but to date that's all that's known about the upcoming engine.
Hyundai started teasing us with the Equus in the middle of 2009. Since that drive, and after a few rounds of suspension changes during its transition from Korean to American tastes, the Equus gained more handling confidence. Now, it 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.