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.
The interior is every bit as luxurious as that of a European blue-blood or a Lexus, maybe even more so. The rear seat on my 2013 Equus tester was divided into two comfortable leather seats that do their best to mimic expensive living-room recliners, and there was a footrest and massager on the right side. There were even vanity mirrors that folded down from the ceiling for both rear passengers.
The tester had a White Satin Pearl exterior with chrome accents, and a Cashmere Leather interior, with lots of wood trim. Standard were 19-inch, chrome-alloy, nine-spoke wheels.
Power sunshades were included on the rear side windows, and there was an eight-inch color monitor on the back of the front center console for the rear entertainment system.
The little refrigerator is in the middle console between the rear passengers, and there were separate controls for the air conditioning/heating system for the rear.
I'm always impressed by power trunk lids, but that's not something you generally find on cars - it's usually a feature on SUV hatches. But this is a great feature, especially if you're approaching the vehicle with your hands full. The trunk is fairly roomy, at 16.7 cubic feet.
Overall length of the Equus is 203.1 inches - about three inches shorter than the Mercedes S-class and three inches longer than the BMW 7-series sedans, but less than an inch shorter than the Lexus LS 460 L (long wheelbase) model.
The Equus is the third vehicle in the Hyundai lineup to come with rear-wheel drive; the rest have front drive. Both the Hyundai Genesis sedan and coupe have rear drive. The Genesis sedan is also premium priced, with a range of about $35,000-$47,000, while the coupe ranges from about $25,000-$35,000.
Hyundai attributes the smooth and quiet ride and the fairly crisp and responsive handling of the Equus to its stiff and lightweight unibody construction, which makes extensive use of high-strength steel.
There is a driver-selectable "sport" setting for the suspension to make it firmer for better cornering stability. But for the best ride comfort, Hyundai recommends the softer "normal" setting.
The Equus has a decent 39.6-foot turning radius, and it's designed to maneuver easily in city traffic and parking lots.
LED turn signals are a cool feature, something we're seeing on a lot of new vehicles.
The optional forward-view camera gives the driver a good look ahead and to each side when pulling into tight spots. Front seats are quite comfortable, even for a long drive, and they can accommodate tall people, too. Only the driver's seat on our tester had the massage feature, though, which was a disappointment to my spouse, riding shotgun. She appreciates massaging seats a lot more than I do.
Among safety features are nine air bags, active electronic front head rests, and a lane-departure warning system. There is an electronic parking brake, as well.
2013 HYUNDAI EQUUS:
-The package: Large, four-door, four-passenger, rear-wheel-drive, V-8 powered luxury sport sedan.
-Highlights: The most-expensive Hyundai yet, this car clearly is on par with some of the best luxury sedans from Europe and Japan, just without the high-end brand name. It's elegant but not ostentatious, and has a comfortable interior, powerful engine, and smooth and quiet ride.
-Negatives: Could have better fuel economy.
-Engines: 5.0-liter V-8.
-Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual-shift feature.
-Power/torque: 429 horsepower/376 pound-feet (with premium gasoline); 421 hp/365 pound-feet (with regular gas).
-Length: 203.1 inches.
-Curb weight: 4,486-4,643 pounds.
-Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.
-Electronic stability control: Standard.
-Side air bags: Front and rear seat-mounted; side curtain for both rows.
-Trunk capacity: 16.7 cubic feet.
-EPA fuel economy: 15 mpg city/23 highway/18 combined.
-Base price, base model: $59,250
-Base price, test model: $66,250
-Price as tested: $66,250
-On the Road rating: 8.7 (of a possible 10).
All prices exclude destination charges.
ABOUT THE WRITER
G. Chambers Williams III has been an automotive columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram since 1994. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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