2014 Hyundai Equus Signature: Can Hyundai sell luxury?

2014 Hyundai Equus Signature: Can Hyundai sell luxury?

Like American Motors Corp. with the Ambassador and Volkswagen with the Phaeton, Hyundai is tempting fate by building a very fine automobile profoundly out of step with the company’s more prosaic reputation. Meet the Equus, which is taking on the likes of the Mercedes-Benz S-class, the Lexus LS and the BMW 7 Series.

The first thing one notices about the Equus, a large, V-8-powered, 4-door luxury cruiser built in South Korea, is that it doesn’t go out of its way to reveal itself to be a Hyundai. The front badge is a winged design, reminiscent of the one that graces Bentleys, while the word “Hyundai” and the slanted H logo are nowhere to be seen in the passenger compartment. Centered on the vertical portion of the trunk lid, as if it were an afterthought, is the familiar H.

There really are only two glaring differences between our test car, a 2014 Equus Signature, and the grand luxury sedans from Europe and Japan – both running in the Equus’ favor. First, its sticker price, while shocking by Hyundai standards, is fairly easy on the eyes: $61,920, at least $12,000 less than any of its major competitors. The other difference is standard equipment. “Loaded” doesn’t describe this car. The only thing missing was all-wheel drive, which isn’t available on either the Signature or Ultimate models. Most competing models, equipped as lavishly as our Equus was, will have some expensive option packages.

Our Night Shadow Brown Equus was powered by a 429-horsepower V-8 engine with an 8-speed automatic transmission. It’s smooth, strong and quiet, but rather thirsty, as one might expect in a two-and-a-quarter-ton car with such a powerful engine. The Equus is rated at 15 mpg city, 23 highway, and premium unleaded gasoline is recommended. The Mercedes-Benz has 20 more horsepower and delivers an extra mpg, compared with the Equus.

Further countering Hyundai’s reputation, there’s nothing cheap about the interior accommodations. Ride, handling and performance are also a cut above the norm, though less demanding drivers might be content with Hyundai’s Genesis sedan – also big and roomy, but much more fuel-efficient and available at a little more than half the price of the base Equus.

Cargo room is expansive, at 16.7 cubic feet, and the big trunk exacts no penalty in rear-seat room. Knee room compares with what one would expect in a limousine. The seats recline so passengers can watch movies through the car’s DVD entertainment system – standard equipment, of course – in comfort.

Equus models, introduced for the 2011 model year, have been receiving top scores of “Good” in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests. Reliability data on the Equus are unavailable because it has been a niche model for Hyundai; as of June 30, sales totaled just 1,777 units, up from 1,527 for the first six months of 2013. But other Hyundais have had average or better reliability, based on Consumer Reports magazine readers surveys.

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

Price: $61,920

Engine: 5-liter V-8, 429 horsepower, 376 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 8-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: rear-wheel

Weight: 4,553 lb.

Suspension: multi-link front and rear

Wheels: 19×9-in. alloy

Tires: P275/40R19 all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 16.7 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 18 gallons

Fuel economy: 15 mpg city, 23 mpg highway

Fuel type: premium unleaded gasoline (recommended)