Hyundai Equus is a high horse looking for its Praetorian Guard

, Posted by Sports Cars Fans at 11:14 AM

Hyundai Equus

The Hyundai Equus is doing its homework on the American market before it arrives in the fourth quarter of 2010. We took a ride in the upscale sedan during the Pebble Beach weekend in Monterey, and from our brief time aboard, we guess that, if it's priced right, it will do just as well as its only-slightly-less luxurious kin, the Genesis.

Hyundai looks to be breaking from its American past in a way that could leave future drivers incredulous when they hear about a thing called the Excel. With the Genesis and now the Equus – and what's to come after – it's like Hyundai has risen from vaudeville actor to perform Hamlet for the queen. If you told the monarch who only knew the actor as Hamlet, "You know, that guy used to wear a clown suit and get sprayed with seltzer water?," she'd laugh, thinking it was a joke.

But it isn't. When we asked Jim Trainor, Hyundai America's head of PR, what impelled the company's turnaround, he said it was the 100,000-mile warranty. "If we didn't want to lose a fortune on repairs, we had to start making quality cars."

In the Equus is contained everything Hyundai knows about quality. Said Joel Ewanick, Hyundai America's marketing chief, "The Equus is the culmination, the pinnacle of everything Hyundai knows about engineering and building cars," and that's from the manufacturing all the way through to the touchpoints.

"Lexus" could be the word that comes up most often when discussing the Equus, and there is more than one reason for that. However, for all of the styling details that the huge horse might have taken from the Lexus playbook, the Equus actually didn't remind us of the LS 460 in person – and while we waited for the Hyundai to arrive, we sat on a bench right in front of an LS 460 parked curbside. The Equus is brawnier, with deeper sides, a more pronounced shift in height from front to rear, and elements that stress its dimensional qualities. As soon as the Lexus left our sight, we never thought of it again in the company of the Equus.

The convenient hook for the Genesis was BMW 7-Series roominess and luxury, 5-Series sportiness, and a 3-Series price. The Equus simply goes for everything 7-Series, S-Class, and LS, save for price. Ultimate-in-luxury features include butter-smooth leather all over, a suede headliner, double-pane glass all 'round sandwiching a layer of glazing material (à la Rolls-Royce), an Auto Hold feature that keeps the car still until you press the accelerator (even on flat roads), a front-view camera that comes on at or below 5 mph, a lane-departure warning system that works with white and yellow lines and tugs on your seatbelt after an audible warning, the steering wheel is heated and the front seats have three settings for backside warming and cooling.

The only two questionable features that stood out for were that the front passenger seat doesn't have memory settings, and how certain plastic surfaces are textured. As for the seats, if it's any consolation, the rear seat passenger can move the front seat, surely a concession to the car's strong limousine aspirations in its home market. On the issue of plastic, we'd rather the surfaces were smooth, as they are on all of the competitor cars at which the Equus is aiming.

We can't really comment on the suspension because the car was fitted with the South Korean setup, which is much softer than what we'll get here, even when set on Sport. But as for interior tactile sensations, the car is really there, especially when it comes to the buttons and trim. The contrast of gloss black button surfaces, metal trim and leather is superb. Again, since we were in the Korean-market Equus, we weren't able to sample a lot of the buttons, but they look fabulous.

The laminated windows and bodyshell stuffed with sound deadening material makes the Equus exceptionally quiet. You can hear the car when driving, but only just. At idle, it's damn near silent – we turned the car off, thinking it was on, when we got in.

Other details will follow, including the car's official name. So where the word "Equus" is embossed in the seats, you can expect to find something, but perhaps not the word "Equus." The hood ornament wasn't going to make it over, but initial reaction has shown that potential customers have liked it, so Hyundai is considering whether to make it an option, like the Jag's leaper. As for that suspension, Ewanick said "It will be somewhere between the LS and the S-Class. We realize we're dancing on the head of a pin there, but that's what the engineers are going for."

What Hyundai is sure of is that they want to provide more car for less money. Depending on the price and that final suspension calibrations, as of now all signs are looking good for delivery on that.