When Volkswagen experimented with the idea of a luxury car in the $60,000-plus price range for the U.S. market, the attempt fell flat.
Now Hyundai is doing the same thing with its Equus sedan, and as unrealistic as that might seem, the South Korean automaker that built its reputation on low-price, high-value vehicles just might have a better chance of success than Volkswagen did with its Phaeton.
For 2013, the Equus comes in two models: the Signature, which begins at $59,250, and the Ultimate, our tester, which starts at $66,250.
With the Phaeton, which VW sold in the U.S. for just three years (2004-06), the big question among American critics was whether people paying that much money for a car would want to stand in line with Jetta owners for service at their local Volkswagen dealers. After all, you get royal treatment at most luxury-car dealerships, and you don't have to mingle with people who paid a quarter of what you did for their cars.
That problem has been eliminated with the Equus, which has a special arrangement for service. The dealer comes to your home or office and picks it up, leaving you a comparable loaner car to drive if necessary while your vehicle is being serviced.
Volkswagen came up with a similar plan, and required its dealers to have a couple of extra Phaetons on hand for service customers. But many VW dealers balked at that idea, and chose not to take on the Phaeton at their stores.
The market has changed a lot since the mid-2000s, though, and a $60,000-$70,000 vehicle is not unusual at non-luxury dealerships. Big pickups and SUVs routinely bring that much at Chevrolet, GMC and Ford dealers. Volkswagen is considering bringing the Phaeton back to the United States soon, too - it's still available in Europe.
For Hyundai, the Equus represents the evolution of its vehicle line from cheap subcompacts to a car that competes with the likes of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus, although without the upscale brand name.
Under the hood of both models is a 5.0-liter V-8 engine rated at 429 horsepower when using premium fuel, or 421 horsepower with regular gasoline. The torque rating is 376 pound-feet with premium, or 365 with regular.
The engine is connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift capability. EPA ratings are 15 mpg city/23 highway/18 combined.
Among standard features are a 17-speaker, 608-watt Lexicon audio system; electronically controlled air suspension with continuous damping; electronic stability control with a pre-collision warning system; adaptive cruise control; high-intensity-discharge headlights; front and rear parking assistance and a rearview camera; premium leather upholstery; a microfiber suede headliner; heated and cooled front seats with massage on the driver's side; and a heated wood/leather steering wheel.
For the additional $7,000, the Equus Ultimate includes such extras as a forward-view parking and cornering camera, power trunk lid, heated/cooled/reclining rear seats with powered headrests, a rear seat refrigerator and a rear entertainment system.
It definitely has the kind of curb appeal that you'd expect from a Mercedes S-class or BMW 7-series, and to help keep consumers from thinking about Hyundai's past as a bargain brand, you won't see the Hyundai name or "H" emblem on the exterior of the Equus.
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