There's no mistaking Hyundai's primary target in the premium-sedan category. The automaker's loaded-up Equus is aimed squarely at the Lexus LS, no ifs, ands or buts. And with a vast array of standard and available appointments, the Equus is right on the money in more ways than one.
To date, the Equus - by far the most expensive Hyundai available - has made only modest category inroads and remains eclipsed by the LS to a significant degree. But the fact that Hyundai even competes in this bracket without benefit of marketing the Equus brand through separate dealer storefronts (unlike Toyota's Lexus, Nissan's Infiniti and Honda's Acura divisions) is nothing short of audacious.
Although it still resembles a slightly larger version of the rear-wheel-drive Genesis sedan upon which it's based, the Equus has undergone some subtle changes. They include a cleaner grille design and revised bumper and lower air intake, along with fog lamps that are now of the light-emitting diode (LED) variety and a fresh set of polished 19-inch "turbine-blade" wheels.
The subtle tweaking means the Equus looks more like a viable top-end luxury-car rival, but it's still a bit anonymous. At least there are more dramatic interior adjustments, ranging from a new dashboard layout, floor console and control panel, to a richer selection of leather and real-wood trims.
Functionally, the standard air-ride suspension's "Sport" drive mode has been retuned for improved roll control, while the "Normal" mode smoothes out the ride to a greater degree. As well, an additional "Snow" setting reduces the transmission's throttle response for improved traction in slippery conditions.
Unchanged for 2014 is the Equus' 5.0-liter V8 that produces 429 horsepower and 376 pound-feet of torque. Hyundai boasts that it stacks up well against the Lexus LS's 4.6-liter V8 that makes 380 horsepower and 367 pound-feet of torque. On the flip side, the LS's rating of 16 mpg in the city and 24 on the highway is slightly better than the Equus's 15/23 numbers. Both have eight-speed automatic transmissions.
Most cars in this league offer all-wheel-drive and while popularity has grown significantly in recent years, the Equus comes with rear-wheel-drive only.
At least there's a lengthy list of features. The standard Signature model arrives with tri-zone climate control (separate driver, passenger and rear zones), power-adjustable front and 60:40 power-reclining rear seats (heated and cooled in front and heated in back), navigation system with 9.2-inch screen, power-operated sunroof and rear sunshade, heated steering wheel and a 17-speaker Lexicon-brand premium audio.
The Equus Ultimate adds rear-seat cooling, power rear side-window sunshades, power trunk lid and door closure and a rear-seat entertainment system with twin 9.2-inch monitors built into the backs of the front seats. Both screens can be linked to the car's navigation system, allowing passengers to input destinations directly into the navigation screen in front.
For the 2014 model year there has also been considerable upgrading to the Equus's key driver assist and safety ingredients. This was obviously necessary considering the rapid pace of development; falling behind is not an option in this group. Now standard are blind-spot detection and cross-traffic alerts, the latter being useful when backing out of a parking stall. Additionally, the Ultimate offers a multi-view camera system and heads-up display that indicates speed and basic navigation.
Like many other brands that compare themselves to the Lexus LS, the Equus has a lot of convincing to do. Helping out the situation, however, is a $62,000 base price ($11,000 cheaper than the Lexus LS), so it's OK if it only ever comes close. It's still a relatively affordable portal to the automotive Good Life.
What you should know: 2014 Hyundai Equus
Type: Four-door, rear-wheel-drive full-size sedan
Engine (hp): 5.0-liter DOHC V8 (429)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Market position: The luxury-sedan market has remained strong and ultra-competitive even through lean economic times. It's a relatively new arena for Hyundai, but the automaker appears to be quickly catching up.
Points: Modest redesign more visible from the inside; Lack of all-wheel-drive option a glaring omission when comparing to the Lexus LS 460; adding a hybrid model would also broaden appeal; No shortage of convenience/ safety content; Hyundai's Kia division will soon join the luxury-car segment with similarly packaged 2015 sedan.
Safety: Front airbags; front- /rear side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; driver's knee airbag; traction control; stability control.
MPG (city/hwy): 15/23
Base price (incl. destination): $62,000
Lexus LS 460
Base price: $73,000
Both standard- and extended-length versions plus hybrid power offered.
Base price: $45,500
New-for-2014 sedan has good looks; twin-turbo V6 option adds sizzle.
Base price: $62,300
A very direct competitor to the Equus with a 402-hp V8 and standard AWD.