Hyundai Equus takes on the Germans

By Alex Taylor III, senior editor

(Fortune Magazine) -- My time in the 2011 Hyundai Equus that I tested in Korea was divided as follows: two minutes in the driver's seat guiding the car up and down a flat, parking-lot-like surface at Hyundai's R&D Center outside Seoul, and three days sitting in the right rear passenger seat being chauffeured around the city by a skilled Hyundai company driver.

The Equus performed superbly in both roles. It rides quietly and powerfully, just the way a modern luxury car should -- much like the Lexus LS 460 that was Hyundai's benchmark vehicle.

The view from the back seat was enhanced by the careful craftsmanship demonstrated by leather seat coverings and wood veneers, as well as comfort features like heated and cooled seats, and the massage rollers that work over your back. Unfortunately, I saw no friends on the sidewalks of Seoul, so there was nobody to admire my upscale conveyance.

Up front the view was even better when I was in command. The controls on the Equus are clearly marked, the 368-hp V-8 engine responsive without being intrusive, and the performance alert. As the old Rolls-Royce ads used to say, the amount of power is "sufficient" to accelerate the Equus to 60 miles per hour in a little more than six seconds. That isn't drag-strip speed, but it's close enough for everyday driving.

Hyundai says the Equus will cost more than a Genesis and less than a $65,000 Lexus LS 460. As a value proposition that is compelling, since the car is functionally equivalent to established luxury sedans selling for many thousands more. A big difference is that they get a hefty premium for their hood ornaments, while Hyundai receives much less for the stylized "H" riding over the grille.

As acceptance of the Hyundai brand grows, that is likely to change. Until then, the Equus will feel more at home as a car to drive rather than one to be driven in. That's okay with me. To top of page