New York Auto Show: 2011 Hyundai Equus

By Chris Haak

Surprising nobody, Hyundai formally announced that it would launch its full-size rear wheel drive luxury sedan, the Equus, in the US in this fall. Hyundai had previously shown the Equus at last year’s New York Auto Show, and said at the time that it was considering whether to offer its Korean domestic market flagship in the US. Having trotted out the Equus at various auto shows during the current season as well, and seeing a generally positive reaction to the car from the media and potential buyers, the company decided to launch the car in the US.

Intended to compete with much more expensive luxury sedans – such as the Lexus LS460 and Mercedes-Benz S550 – but at a much lower price point, the Equus takes Hyundai’s value-for-the-money formula and applies it to the luxury market. On paper, the Equus tops the two above-named competitors in most areas (after all, Hyundai specifically cited those two as their competition), and particularly compared to the Lexus LS, which with it probably most closely competes.

The Equus is equipped with a 4.6 liter V8 of the same family that the Genesis V8 comes from; in Equus tune, it produces 385 horsepower on premium fuel and 378 horsepower on regular fuel (333 lb-ft and 324 lb-ft, respectively). Dimensionally, the Equus is four inches longer than an LS460, but three and a half inches shorter than an S550. Note that the Equus would be shorter than a long-wheelbase LS460L. It’s also wider and taller than the S550 and LS460, and headroom and legroom is more or less equivalent to the other cars’ dimensions. The S550 does top the Equus in rear-seat legroom by a substantial three and a half inches.

Under its skin, the Equus features electronically-controlled air suspension that includes different suspension modes – from comfort to sport – and apparently helps the large, heavy car to control its body motions in cornering moves. The suspension made its presence known earlier today during the show when four journalists climbed into the car at the same time, and the car adjusted its level right there on the stage.

Inside the Equus, there are premium materials throughout. The headliner is fashioned of Alcantara, the dash is wrapped in leather, the seats have premium-grade leather, and the extensive wood trim comes from real walnut or maple trees. The driver’s seat is heated and cooled (and has an optional massage feature) and the rear seat is available in the buyer’s choice of a three-position bench or two-position captain’s chairs. Hyundai threw in nearly all of the expected electronic gadgets as standard features or options: lane departure warning (audible for one-second departures, and a haptic seatbelt yank for three-second departures), adaptive cruise control, and a panoramic front grille camera to see around parked cars in packed urban settings (for example).

The audio system appears to be an impressive piece on paper. One of our writers heard it at medium volume, and he would expect to be even more impressed by a true demonstration of the system’s capabilities. It’s a 17-speaker Lexicon LOGIC 7, 13-channel, 7.1 discrete surround sound, 604-watt system, and features HD Radio, XM Satellite Radio, and iPod/USB integration.

Perhaps more significant than the Equus itself – which will have to overcome Hyundai’s persistent (yet dramatically improving) non-premium reputation, and share showroom space with the likes of the Accent and Elantra – is that Hyundai plans to change the selling model for the Equus. Not all Hyundai dealers will sell the Equus; according to the company, it will be a dealer’s choice whether to carry the Equus, but the dealer will have to meet certain facility requirements. Specifically, to sell the Equus (which will surely command higher margins than an Accent does), dealers will construct a store-within-a-store to feature the rear-wheel drive models (Genesis, Genesis Coupe, and Equus) in a segregated section of the showroom.

Further, the Equus will have specialized sales representatives (called “Product Champions”) to assist potential customers with their purchase, either on-site at the Hyundai store or will deliver and Equus to the customer’s home or office for what the company calls a “personalized shopping experience.”

Should the customer decide to buy an Equus – which will be priced between $50,000 and $60,000 – the car includes a valet service program that will pick up the customer’s car whenever service or maintenance is required. If the car needs to be in the shop for longer than a few hours, the dealer will provide either an Equus or a Genesis loaner at no additional charge. These buying experience amenities are something of a big deal for Hyundai because the company said it would study how they work with the Equus, and possibly apply some of those lessons to more Hyundai buyers in the future.

The Equus is certainly a stretch for the Hyundai brand, but the company’s strategy is that adding the overhead of the glass-and-marble luxury car dealerships to the purchase price doesn’t necessarily add to the car-buying experience, so it plans to distinguish its product from the competition through superior (meaning time-saving) service, without taking the cost of the fancy showroom onto the purchase price. We’d expect that Equus sales volumes will be relatively small, but they’re also certainly not hurting the Hyundai brand, so why not sell the car here if they can move a few, and improve dealer service?

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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