• Mar 22, 2011
Lexus Luxury At A Hyundai Price

2011 Hyundai Equus Ultimate – Click above for high-res image gallery

My roommate – bless her heart – is about as much of a car enthusiast as the BMW X6 is a coupe. She puts forth an honest effort to hold conversations with me about autos, but 90 percent of the time, it just doesn't work. You have to understand, in her eyes, a Cadillac Escalade is the pinnacle of luxury, the fastest car in the world has to be a Ferrari and the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution is fitted with "those squeezy seats." She's still amazed by the power of Bluetooth and always gets wide-eyed whenever I plunk a car into Reverse and a rear-view camera comes on.

That in mind, it will come as no surprise to learn that when the 2011 Hyundai Equus Ultimate arrived at my door, she beckoned from the other room, "Hey, I think your Lexus just showed up."

It's like she had already drank the proverbial Kool-Aid. Hyundai wants everyone to believe that its new luxury flagship is capable of doing everything that a Lexus LS does, but at a much lower price. And while there are a few swing-and-miss things to note about the Equus experience, what Hyundai has done here is create a truly bona-fide luxury car capable of standing toe-to-toe with its Japanese competition and coming pretty darn close to the likes of its lofty German rivals.

But will we simply boast that the Equus – Hyundai's most expensive car to date – is a good value, or does it possess enough content and engineering prowess to truly stand out amongst its highly regarded classmates? Follow the jump to find out.

Continue reading Review: 2011 Hyundai Equus Ultimate...

Photos copyright ©2011 Drew Phillips / AOL

"That's a big Hyundai."

The Equus uses a stretched version of Hyundai's rear-wheel-drive BH platform – the same one that underpins the smaller Genesis sedan. At 203.1 inches long, the Equus adds 7.2 inches to the length of a Genesis, riding on a wheelbase that's been stretched by 4.3 inches. Width hasn't changed in creating the longer-wheelbase flagship, but the Equus is 0.4 inches taller than its little sister and rides on 19-inch chrome rollers as standard stock.

From the side profile, the Equus is a relatively modest-looking, yet attractive sedan. There's a strong horizontal character line that stems from the front wheel well and fades just before the C-pillar, where an arched line draws your eye up over the rear wheel, accenting the upward slant of the greenhouse.

We must say, though – there's a whole lot going on from the dead front view. The hood and grille shape references that of the smaller Genesis, but the bug-eyed HID headlamps, large LED turn signal strips and added chrome trim are a bit off-putting at first. After a while, you get used to the flashy face. It's an interesting contrast to the car's rear, which is sedate yet handsome, with LED taillamps, chrome strips to match the ones up front and large exhaust ports that are nicely integrated into the lower valence.

2011 Hyundai Equus Ultimate side view2011 Hyundai Equus Ultimate front view2011 Hyundai Equus Ultimate rear view

Interior refinement on the Equus is exactly what you'd expect for a proper luxury flagship, though there are a few small omissions. We aren't talking about big stuff here – little amenities like power lumbar adjustment for the front passenger seat, side bolster adjustments for the front chairs or a one-touch close feature for the sunroof, for example. Still, our Ultimate-spec tester's cabin arrived positively lousy with bells and whistles – niceties like a heated steering wheel, heated and cooled seats all around, a refrigerator in the rear console, power sunshades and a rear entertainment system.

What separates the Ultimate from the base Equus is its rear seating configuration, ditching the three-passenger bench seat in favor of two chairs with a fixed center console. The rear passenger-side chair – the one we've named the "executive throne" – even has massage and recline functions. If you ever have the chance to sit in a four-passenger Equus, we highly recommend spending no less than five minutes exploring the features of the royalty seat. Be warned, though – even with the Equus' longer wheelbase over the Genesis, those rear seats don't offer as much legroom as you might think.

Check it out in our Autoblog Short Cut video below:

The thing we like best about the Equus' interior is that it isn't as overwhelming as some of its competitors. There's no second-guessing of buttons, there's no scanning for control knobs and there aren't so many different levels of functionality that the whole setup needs to come with an instruction manual. Take the infotainment system, for example – it is controlled by a single knob on the center console, sort of like BMW's iDrive or COMAND from Mercedes-Benz, but because of the added layer of buttons around the large dial, it's easy to operate. Still, the graphics look a little outdated to us, especially when you consider the beautifully colored displays from Audi or BMW.

Fit and finish is superb, though the Equus often feels more like a big Genesis than a wholly different level of exclusivity. Sure, the Genesis' interior is plenty good, but the cabin – especially in front – still has the feeling that it was designed for Korean tastes and not American sensibilities. The switchgear is exactly what you'd expect to see in every other Hyundai, and other minor details like the relatively flat-bottomed seats and thin steering wheel are more proof that the automaker targeted cushier bogeys like the Lexus LS and not sportier offerings like the 7-Series.

2011 Hyundai Equus Ultimate interior2011 Hyundai Equus Ultimate car settings2011 Hyundai Equus Ultimate multimedia system control knob2011 Hyundai Equus Ultimate rear seat center console

The only available engine for 2011 is Hyundai's 4.6-liter Tau V8, pumping out 385 horsepower and 333 pound-feet of torque in this application. It doesn't quite put its power to the ground with the same level of grace or involvement as the European-engineered cars, but unsurprisingly, driving the Equus is similar to the experience you get in a Lexus LS. It's buttery smooth, refined and is more concerned with being comfortable than engaging.

Things will likely change once the Equus receives Hyundai's new 429-hp, direct-injected 5.0-liter V8, but even with the current 4.6-liter powerplant, we never once wished for more grunt. The Equus is indeed at a disadvantage against its German rivals, only because the majority of them now use turbocharged eight-cylinder setups that are super-torquey down low.

2011 Hyundai Equus Ultimate engine

Unfortunately, there's a whole lot of numbness when it comes to steering and braking. When moving the tiller from side to side, we wish there were a lot more on-center feeling that doesn't correlate to the random bouts of heaviness felt as you really pull into a turn. It's very non-linear in this regard, and if Hyundai wants to truly compete with all of the globe's luxury sedans someday, it had better work on improving this behind-the-wheel experience.

For the majority of non-enthusiastic drivers, the Equus motoring experience will be pleasant. It's eerily quiet while moving down the road, the six-speed automatic transmission does a fine job of firing off shifts with a sense of urgency and the suspension damping is soft yet appropriate in this sort of barge. The adjustable air-assisted suspension is one of the best parts about the Equus experience – not only because it does things like automatically tweak the suspension damping based on road condition or lowers the car when cruising over 70 mph, but that you don't have to push any buttons for the adjustments to happen.

2011 Hyundai Equus Ultimate grille2011 Hyundai Equus Ultimate wheel detail2011 Hyundai Equus Ultimate badge2011 Hyundai Equus Ultimate exhaust system

There's a Sport mode, activated by a button just to the right of the gear lever, but its adjustments to the transmission's shift schedule aren't great for around-town cruising. Even on the highway, when left to its normal devices, the six-speed tranny has no problem kicking down for high-speed passing.

"So, what is it, like, 80 grand?"

Far, far less. Even in the fully decked-out Ultimate trim, the Equus' price tag will go no higher than $65,400, including destination and delivery charges. You want a Lexus LS 460? Add over $5,000 to that tag. And if you insist on shelling out for German engineering, be prepared to spend anywhere from $10,000 to $40,000 more for comparably equipped cars.

2011 Hyundai Equus Ultimate rear 3/4 view

What's more, we can't overlook the benefits of Hyundai's exclusive dealership (or lack thereof) experience for Equus owners. When routine maintenance is needed, reach for the included Apple iPad in your glove box, queue up the service app and wait for technicians to collect your Equus from your home or office, leaving you a different Equus or Genesis sedan as a loaner car. When the work is done, the dealership will swap the cars back again. None of the competitors – German or Japanese – offer that.

If Hyundai continues on its current pace, it will only be a matter of time before it is widely regarded as highly as other major automakers in every segment in which it competes. Will my roommate ever tell me that my Hyundai has arrived when a Lexus LS shows up at my door? Probably not. But as long as non-enthusiasts can be convinced that the Equus is up to snuff to take on the Japanese big guns, Hyundai's path to righteousness will continue to be paved.

Photos copyright ©2011 Drew Phillips / AOL

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      It's interesting that AutoBlog likes the interior refinement, considering a couple of other publications have blasted that car for the same reason. At this point, the excuse of "it's still a new Hyundai, after all" shouldn't be used; Hyundai is a world-class car company, and if it's building a full-size luxury sedan, it should be serious about the interior build and material quality as well.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Great effort by Hyundai.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Ultimate-spec tester's cabin arrived positively lousy with bells and whistles.....lousy, huh?
        • 3 Years Ago
        I had to re-read that sentence about 3 times and I'm still not sure what they mean...
        • 3 Years Ago
        "Lousy with" is to teem/overflow with something, and it can be either a negative or a positive term - the author's usage is correct.... even if you don't know what it means.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Looks like a chinese ripoff of a lexus. No credibility whatsoever, espeically with that old-kia-designed interior. The front has a chinese grille and amorphous headlights, with sections of plastic and chrome all over, the side has the windowline of a previous elantra which was as fun to watch as a bar of soap doing nothing, and the rear has taillights from a yaris.

      This car is more than forgettable, which I suppose is what they were aiming for if they want to compete with lexus.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I think you're the first person on here who wants to talk about cars, and not bash other people for having a dissenting opinion about emperor hyundai and honorable chairman kia.

        As for Sir John H., oh no Sir John H. does not approve of me! What ever shall I do? I think I'll go drive my Si, have the time of my life every time I get behind the wheel, while you sit in your hyundai that's falling apart around you, drooling and nodding off to sleep. Seriously, you defend them like it's your job! You can keep aspiring to "one day, I'm gonna own a hyundai!" I'll take more of a "one day, I'm gonna own an STi, CTS-V Coupe, and a Lamborghini" approach to life.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @OP: Wow, just wow.

        You're making more and more stupid, racist stereotypes, and somehow, I am the one playing the race card?

        I'm simply calling you out on a series of incredibly stupid and ignorant posts that are definitely race-based.

        But yeah, you keep digging yourself a deeper hole. Go ahead.

        Personally, I'm sick of you.
        • 3 Years Ago
        So, to defend your post, you're making racist stereotypes about Chinese, which don't even apply to a Korean car, and you're calling me a moron?

        How about you engage your brain before typing on the keyboard?
        • 3 Years Ago
        Playing the race card, huh? You're jaded is what you are, if you think I'm wrong about the chinese making knockoffs of everything they lay can their hands on.
        • 3 Years Ago
        And a guy defending hyundai like that must have some real high aspirations in life, huh?
        • 3 Years Ago
        christ , if it was slapped with a honda badge you will go gaga for it .. nothing new here ...
        • 3 Years Ago
        I agree with you IBX...these people on the forum care more about the idiotic american stereotype of "political correctness" rather than caring about cars and how the asians ( yes boys: chinese japanese koreanese etc) rip off designs for both styling and engineering from the europeans and americans) praising them for basically stealing and imitating other manufacturers technologies and designs. (and I don't care for that whether that chinese or vietnamese or thai)
        You forumists would do better commenting on cars rather than assuming "moral authority" on how and what to say...these kinds of finger wagging behaviours belong on a different website.IBX I PRAISE YOU FOR EXPRESSING YOUR THOUGHTS IN A FREE AND LIBERAL FASHION.
        There was a guy who corrected your "geography"...that's funny coming from an American who generally speaking doesn't know anything about the world outside America!!! no wonder the asians are eating you up alive stealing all you jobs and your so called "american dream" yeah right, american dream :toyota honda equus LOL
        • 3 Years Ago
        a guy this dumb must be a troll.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Bottom line is, if it's not a driver's car, it won't be my car. However, I have a lot of respect for what hyundai has been able to pull off lately and I think their recent success can only be good for consumers.

      Lexus/Merc argument aside, the point is, Hyundai is no longer just a bench warmer.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Looks bland inside and out. No idea why they went this direction. They should have done something truly unique with a nice flowing exterior like an upscale, stretched Sonata, and an interior that would truly compete with anything on the market. As it stands the car is just OK and i don't see it being the success the Genesis was in its segment.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I how the clock, along with the flanking buttons, actually give you a simulated watch, with the band. :-)

      Though I do agree, even though it may be a good/great car (mechanically), overall it's just too bland and sedate. Looks like the designers were too afraid to make any bold statements, and wound up going through an old Buick spare parts bin, just to play it safe.
        • 3 Years Ago
        EDIT: I love how the..................
      • 3 Years Ago
      Roommate with benefits?
        • 3 Years Ago
        Would need pics to evaluate that statement.
      • 3 Years Ago
      hyundai has been hard at work .and i love there new cars.. its just the name that people arent appealing too.. just how toyota has lexus, and honda has acura and nissan has infiniti.. hyundai need to take that same approach and come with a luxury name for there vehicles. then there sales would sky rocket.. calling there impressive cars a hyndai.. is like me getting a top of the line toyota avalon and acting like i have a gs lexus
      • 3 Years Ago
      The interior definitely lacks refinement, but I bet the next generation will be much more impressive.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I sat in one and I was NOT impressed. Frankly, I couldn't figure out what earlier reviews were talking about when they praised this car. I thought they must be joking!
        • 3 Years Ago
        yeah.. I can't help stop thinking they should've waited till the next generation.

        But, with the great momentum they have at the moment, it may prove to be a good timing to further enhance the brand image. Smart thing would be continuously improving the car throughout its life cycle until the next one arrives.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Maybe they did more than just sit in it?
        • 3 Years Ago
        Long term Edmunds test agrees:

        Great luxury car, even better price, but cheap plastic buttons shouldn't break on a car like this:

      • 3 Years Ago
      Looks like an Avalon or some similar generic sedan. Part of the problem is the lighting in the photos is terrible for making anything look good.

      And I know people say the badge shouldn't matter, but, let's be honest, it does. Otherwise we wouldn't have so many luxury brands selling kitted-up versions of their regular/down-market vehicles.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I won't be too critical, as I think this is an impressive first effort @ offering a true luxury car. They had to start somewhere & I'm sure that just like Hyundai's other offerings of late, they'll get better every time. Also I love the idea of them coming to get my car when the service is due & taking it back when they're done. I can't believe the "real" players in the luxo segment let little old Hyundai beat them to the stripe on that one.
        • 3 Years Ago
        The Equus looks promising, though still designed under Hyundai/Kia group's "old" design ethic. I'm not sure if that's a dealbreaker for everyone, and it allows Hyundai to establish a market while they prepare their next blockbuster.

        Part of Toyota's problem with the Lexus line is that it's gotten stilted and root-bound. This is a not-bad competitor, and I'm confident that H/K can do considerably better for the next generation.
        • 3 Years Ago
        They had to start somewhere. So did Lexus. Lexus did it with an entirely new dealer network and the LS400.

        Hyundai is doing it with cheap switchgear and iPads. And it's still $65,000.
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