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First Drive: 2014 Hyundai Equus [Review]

by Mark Elias

Hyundai\'s cut-price flagship gets a new interior and some revised driving dynamics for 2014. We check out this bargain-basement luxo-barge.

Like the Avis Rent-A-Car ad campaign from years gone by, Hyundai, in its effort to try harder has filled nearly every niche except for pickup trucks.

Proof: The uber-lux 2014 Hyundai Equus paid a recent visit to the cosmetic surgeon for a mid-cycle refresh. But what underwent change wasn't merely on the outside.

Number one with a bullet

Hyundai says its Equus is the most-shopped premium luxury sedan, topping "default” luxo-barges like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Lexus LS. We aren't sure if shopping correlates with signing on the dotted line, but there's no doubt that the number of Equuses (Equine?) on the road these days is on the rise. No doubt that's due in large part to its much lower price tag.

For 2014, the 203.1-inch long Equus has received a bit of belt-tightening since it no longer has to flash its nouveau riche Powerball-winner status quite as before. To that end, Hyundai's belle of the ball receives a new set of 19-inch turbine-styled chrome alloy wheels and a refined look to the front fascia. Taking a less is more approach, the grille crossbars are thinner and stand out from the new black background. LED fog lamps are now standard.

Now available in an anything-but-base Signature model, our example went that much further and was outfitted with the Ultimate trim level. In addition to what seems to be a higher grade of leather than we remember from the Equus' first year, the interior features a more elegant, simplified look across the newly configured dashboard. The gauges are now located on a 12.3-inch TFT screen, which switches from blue accents in normal operation to red when controls are switched to Sport mode. A new flat key card is part of the mix and can now reside in the owner's purse or wallet instead of an unsightly bulge in their pocket.

As part of the Ultimate package, the steering wheel now includes haptic controls, which transmit feedback to the driver when an obstruction is in the blind spot, for instance. A rear seat entertainment system is also included with back of seat-mounted LCD displays and complete controls in a fold-down center console. In addition to operating the in-car entertainment suite, the rear controls can also be used to find a destination on the vehicle's navigation system so that the driver can operate the car without distractions.

Deleted from the list of available options, for lack of interest (sales), was the reclining right rear ottoman seat and cooling box. Though we loved the first class feel of that executive express seating package, there's no denying the fact that few Equus owners in this market are chauffeur driven.

A four or five-seater executive express, it still includes the 5.0-liter V8 engine that also motivates the Hyundai Genesis R-Spec sedan. (How we'd love to see it under the hood of the Genesis Coupe.) Producing 429 direct-injected horsepower and 376 lb-ft of torque, it does it all naturally - without the assistance of a turbocharger or supercharer. It drives the rear wheels through an in-house developed eight-speed automatic transmission that offered smooth shifting during our test conducted in the midst of one of South Florida's regularly-scheduled summer monsoons.

Hyundai says there's no plan on the table to introduce an all-wheel-drive option for snowbelt customers, even though most rivals are now sold with power going to each corner.

To counter that, the Hyundai brand is doing what they can to conquest customers from other marques. In addition to the expected high tech - blind spot monitoring, cross-traffic alerts, radar cruise control that can bring the car to a complete halt and then start moving again - there's also three years' worth of included maintenance.

Road-tested

Power from the Equus's 5.0-liter V8 and eight-speed automatic transmission offered refinement befitting the segment.

Befitting this ultra-premium segment, the 5.0-liter V8 and eight-speed automatic gearbox offered ample power and refinement. We found the gearbox making decisive moves and thought the torque sufficient to motivate the mass at hand.

Extra attention has been paid to quieting down the Equus, with the addition of a bedplate to tighten up the engine parameters and cut down on extraneous vibrations. Low-friction diamond-like coatings on the combustion components provide a hidden effort at reducing noise and vibration.

While acceleration was on par with others in the segment, we felt the electronically-controlled air suspension, with its on-the-fly ability to modify ride control, vehicle height and compliance, to be just a touch too soft for our tastes. We felt the same about the Equus's steering, which is numb enough on center to through out any hint of zippiness.

It was only when we selected the Sport mode that the steering and suspension kits offered more of a driver's feeling for its owner. Clearly not a sporting car, the Equus was nonetheless transformed into something a little more dynamic with the press of a button. Let's call it almost a driver's car, then.

MG's bottom line

Like a person reading a self-help book, the 2014 Hyundai Equus approaches its middle age through constant improvement that refines power, ride and features.

It seems just the thing to allow it to compete with the segment standard bearers, and even a few of the upstarts ( Lexus, can you hear us?). That it strives to offer more benefit at a "fire sale” price point makes it all the more compelling.

2014 Hyundai Equus base price range, $61,000 to $68,000.

Photos by Mark Elias.

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