2012 Hyundai Equus: Luxury Sedan

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Hyundai’s $65,000 Equus is a luxury car for the new reality.

ANOTHER LUXURY automobile? In this day and age?

Given the gestation period of any new car model, Hyundai has been planning this since well before the fat lady sang, but it hardly matters—the Equus is a different sort of luxobarge, a cut-rate wonder that attacks the Europeans right where they are most vulnerable: Price. Still think a top-end Benz, BMW or Audi costs about $65,000?

Wrong. They’re now a hundred grand or so, out the showroom door; sixty-five thou is the price of this car—a Hyundai, no less. Yet about all it lacks is the cachet of a three-pointed star or a blue-and-white roundel.

Even at “only” $65,000 (for the Ultimate model; the slightly less opulent Signature version costs $58,000), Equus will never sell in big numbers; that’s a given. But it doesn’t have to.

It marks Korea, Inc.’s attainment of another value level in car-making and it puts a hole below the waterline of the establishment: Six-figure price tags are so pre-Recession.

We’ve seen this coming since Hyundai rolled out its $40,000 Genesis V-8 sedan a couple of years ago, in what was then new high ground for Korea.

From any angle, the Equus says Capitalist Gunboat in big, block capitals. Hyundai borrowed freely from the big dogs—the row of headlamp LEDs from Audi, BMW’s muscular haunches and iDrive-style computer joystick, the shark-fin roof antenna, Mercedes-Benz’s dreadnought grille, the layout of the Lexus center stack.

Equus even shares Rolls-Royce’s Lexicon-brand sound system (but with 17 speakers). The Hyundai trumps the standard German V-8s with 429 horsepower, and it feeds that power through a creamy-smooth 8-speed automatic transmission and on into a self-adjusting air suspension.

The driver’s seat moves a dozen ways and massages your back. The car has nine airbags, a camera that peers around the front bumper at slow speeds, parking elves fore and aft, and radar-guided smart cruise control.

There are all manner of electronic guardian angels, including lane-departure warning; all that’s missing are blind-spot scanners in the wing mirrors.

The owner’s manual can be downloaded onto an iPad. Dealers pick up the car at your home, for service appointments, and leave a loaner behind.

The trunk is deep enough to create an echo, and it opens and closes electrically. The front windows shed water, for heaven’s sake.

Did I say that this car, all 17 feet and two and one-quarter tons of it, costs only half to two-thirds as much as the other big gunboats?

The Equus does not, however, share the ultimate poise and driving dynamics of the Germans or the rakish personality of Maserati’s Quattroporte sedan.

Passengers love its posh cabin and its serene and wondrously hushed ride, but the driver needs more than just great straight-line stability—the Equus’s steering is rubbery-numb and the wheel wants to return to center badly enough that it seems to fight corners.

The accelerator feels disconnected, as if a computer is analyzing the pedal input before giving the go-ahead. The anti-skid control cuts in too abruptly.

There’s a simple remedy for these driving quirks. (And it’s not that the Equus isn’t up to the job so much as that the S-Class, 7-Series and A8 are so all-around smashingly good.

Did you know that they cost up to twice as much?) The remedy is to present someone else in the family with a chauffeur’s cap and the Equus key, and then take up lordly residence in First Class: The two rear seats in the Ultimate model are adjustable, heated and cooled, blessed with window shades, individual climate controls and stretch-out legroom, and separated by a console with a built-in refrigerator.

In addition there are cup holders, reading lamps and vanity mirrors, as well as a media center with a DVD movie player. The right-hand chaise longue is even equipped with a fold-out leg rest and a massager.

The Equus is a cut-price limousine, the stately Rolls-Royce to Hyundai’s more driver-oriented, equally bargain-priced Bentley, the Genesis sedan.