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Sales figures for ultra-luxury full-size sedans have been steadily shrinking for close to a decade. That doesn't imply that companies like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Lexus plan to give up on the market, but it does mean that it's become that much more competitive to plant a well-heeled executive in a specific model.
Enter Hyundai. For the last couple of years, the Korean brand has made big luxury noises with the Hyundai Equus, a large four-door car that made the gutsy statement that premium features, ride quality, and styling didn't have to cost six-figures. It's a strategy that's been working, as the $61,000 Equus currently enjoys sales volume of roughly 4,000 a year - or about half the business of its much better-known, and more expensive rival, the Lexus LS.
The 2014 Hyundai Equus has been given a mild refresh in order to keep interest up in showrooms. After driving the revised version of the Equus, I came to the conclusion that this plush ride isn't just about snagging bargain-hunting luxury seekers - it's actually a legitimate threat to the current premium car pecking order that more established brands would do well to keep an eye on.
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Not Many Changes On The Outside
There are two ways to approach high end sedan styling. The first is to walk your own path and draw on decades of design tradition. Hyundai doesn't really have a deep well of luxury cues to draw from, so it chose the second route, which is to offend as few people as possible while still presenting the vehicle in a high class fashion. The 2014 Hyundai Equus is handsome, but not in the way that would make you pick it out of a crowd at your 10-year high school reunion. Think of the classmate who went into library sciences and was really careful about diet and exercise, and you'll get the picture.
What changes are in store for the 2014 refresh? Keen eyes will notice fresh 19-inch rims, more careful placement of a reduced amount of chrome (especially on the front and rear bumpers), and the requisite LED fog lights. The tail light lenses have also been complicated in a manner that befits a luxury sedan.
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The Proverbial Bank Vault
Styling is important in a flagship sedan, but what I really want to talk about the ride that the 2014 Hyundai Equus has to offer. Closing the appropriately-weighty doors seals you inside a tomb of luxury where barely any sound from the outside world dares to make its presence known. Sure, there's some engine growl when you really get on the go-pedal, but other than that it's almost like Captain Ramius engaged the silent drive and set a course for American shores, because short of a near miss from a rocket-propelled grenade there's very little that will interrupt the peace of the Equus' cabin.
A similar story can be told about the vehicle's suspension system. Even over the undulating secondary roads the checker eastern Ontario's hinterlands, the 2014 Hyundai Equus was a model of composure. The car comes with an air suspension system that can be set to Normal, Snow, and Sport modes. Don't let that second 'S' setting fool you: the Equus isn't capable of boogeying down with its German rivals, but then again it doesn't pretend that it can, either. It's a very comfortable car with mildly sharper steering and body control in Sport mode (unlikely to be the most-often-pushed button in the Hyundai's cockpit in any case).
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Impressive Room, Questionable Ergonomics
For the most part, the 2014 Hyundai Equus' cabin is well laid out. Switchgear is where it should be, with a well-appointed center console sharing space with very nice materials and high quality leather trim on both the seats and the door panels. The real action in the Equus, however, is in the back, which receives a fold-down console covered with it's own hefty compliment of buttons and dials. These are linked to many of the same systems found up front, as well as to the pair of LCD screens in each front headrest (in the range-topping Ultimate trim level). Unfortunately, navigating the Hyundai's cornucopia of onscreen features was the car's biggest weak spot. I found myself often getting confused by which button took me to what command, and finding my way back from the Equus' nested sub-menus was a frequently impossible task.
Eventually, I just gave up and sank back into the right-side rear bucket, which offers controls that push the front seat all the way forward in order to allow for maximum stretching out. It's hard not to feel like a big shot when you've got an unfettered view of the road ahead from the back row, and reclining that seat as far as I could had me completely relaxed inside the Korean car. New for 2014 is the ability to seat three-across in the rear of the Ultimate trim level, which had previously been restricted to a 2+2 arrangement.
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Power To Spare
Under the hood of the 2014 Hyundai Equus is a 5.0-liter V-8 engine that produces a substantial 429 horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard with the Equus - as is rear-wheel drive - and when put through its paces the motor shows a willingness to deliver smooth, uninterrupted acceleration at a pace that is lively, but not likely to elevate your heart rate.
If that sounds like faint praise, it's not. In fact, it's what a high percentage of uber-sedan buyers are looking for in a modern luxury machine: enough power to merge confidently on the highway and distance one's self from common riff-raff, but not the kind of forward motion that would spill a cup of tea balanced delicately in the center console while a Blackberry is checked in the back seat. As mentioned above, sporting pretensions have no place in the Equus image - it's all about confidence.
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It Really Is A Bargain
It Really Is A Bargain
'Confidence' is exactly what product planners at Hyundai must feeling when they examine the sales progress that the Hyundai Equus has made in its few short years on the market. This is especially true when considering that traditionally, the full-size luxury sedan market has been one where logic and rationality haven't dovetailed with product pricing.
When examining the marked plunge in popularity that super premium four-doors have taken over the course of the past 10 years, it would seem that the increased number of vehicle options and types available to upper crust shoppers has created space for a new type of buyer. One who can appreciate words like 'value' and look past marketing to make their own decisions about what they are looking for in a car. One who doesn't mind trading in last year's Lexus for this year's 2014 Hyundai Equus.
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