Driver's Seat: Hyundai’s Equus seeks luxury, performance balance

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Laps of luxury: 2014 Hyundai Equus Ultimate vs. 2014 Audi A6 TDI Quattro TipTronic. 

This week: The Hyundai Equus Ultimate

Price: $68,920 (The Ultimate Package adds $7,000 over the very-reasonable $61,000 price of a standard Equus.)

Marketer’s pitch: “Best in luxury and performance.”

Conventional wisdom: likes the “enormous list of standard features; presidential-size backseat; supremely quiet, serene ride; phenomenal sound system” but the “interior quality and driving experience don't equal those of more elite luxury sedans; disappointing braking distances; all-wheel drive is not offered.”

Reality: It does some things well, but I wouldn’t call it the “best.”

Survey says: Whenever I test a car that doesn’t meet the Driver’s Seat level of expectations — especially when it’s a car that costs more than my first house — I like to compare notes with other sources. I’m not afraid to say, “My impression was not that great; your mileage may vary.”

But readers should trust that I write my review and then I do the consultations. I purposely avoid reading other reviews of cars I’m testing; I like to form my own impression quite like someone who just landed at an airport and rented the car. Of course, I’m more experienced than the average driver, but that doesn’t always help in locating controls on new models.

“Old person’s car”: I’ve had many Buicks in my driveway. A Lexus LS460. A Cadillac ATS and XTS. But this is the only car that 22-year-old Sturgis Kid 1.0 — or any of the other three Kid versions — has ever dubbed “an old person’s car.” Ouch. That smarts.

On the road: This is where the Equus shows it‘‍s loved for the aged. Driving is kind of bouncy. It floats even more than the Lexus LS460, which is floaty for even a luxuboat. Sport mode makes it go fast, but rather than improving handling it became fairly erratic. The V8 with eight-speed automatic was smooth and powerful.

Driver’s Seat: Arranging the seats with Hyundai’s seat-diagram controller on the door is easy.

Added mobility: In that same “old-person” vein, the Equus came with one feature that I found helpful. Drivers can easily adjust the passenger seat using controls above the console. Though it leaves a distinct impression of having to help Granny riding shotgun, I have to say it’s a terrific idea; I’m not sure why it took so long for someone to think of it. (The seat can also be controlled from the rear-seat armrest as well.)

Friends and stuff: The Equus matches others in its price range by offering lots of rear legroom. Plus, passengers can control the map and whatnot from back here — I guess the kids are better at operating all this newfangled technology anyway. The passenger side rear seat also stretches out like an airplane seat in “relax” mode. The front seat moves forward, and the rear seat reclines.

The front and rear consoles are both very large. And the trunk is huge, of course. A nice phone bin sits in front of the gearshift but it’s hard to reach from the passenger side.

Time is not on my side: At the $50,000 mark or so, automakers seem to feel obligated to offer an analog clock for added prestige. I just find them obnoxious, but I tend to be obsessive about timing everything down to the minute. The Equus version has the added annoyance of being square. Highly readable when viewed from the rear seat, it’s a royal pain for the operator.

Playing some tunes: The stereo controls operate smoothly. A dial on the console guides users through the screens, but AM-FM, satellite and media buttons sit across the dash, and left and right dials control volume and tuning. Edmunds raved about the stereo sound, and I’d have to agree.

Pretty inside: While Edmunds thought the interior wasn’t all that, I found it had lots of pretty wood trim and the seats were luxurious.

Keeping cool — or warm: The overdesigned vents can make directing airflow challenging. Knobs control the temperature; buttons control the blower.

Staying informed: Drivers get an LCD version of a dial speedometer and tachometer, something I’d first seen in Cadillacs and still think looks pretty. Cadillac, though, allows drivers to change what information they get from the screen; not the Equus.

Night shift: The room lights are great for seeing without interfering with the view of the road.

Fuel economy: I averaged about 19 mpg in my usual mix of city and suburban driving; not the worst of the big luxoboats, and at least it takes regular unleaded. Most cars in this price range must be fed premium. Bonus.

Where it’s built: Ulsan, Korea

How it’s built: Consumer Reports puts its reliability as average.

In the end: The Equus Ultimate certainly reaches its luxury aim, which is the LS460 or Mercedes line. But the ride and handling left me disappointed.

Next week: Audi puts turbodiesel in its A6 at a comparable price point; how does it compare?



Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at

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