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The Globe and Mail

$70,000 Hyundai sedan more of a Jaguar than a Pony

2014 Hyundai Equus

Michael Bettencourt/The Globe and Mail

Overall Rating
Somehow less than the sum of its quality parts. It’s a statement vehicle for Hyundai, but a statement that’s garbled in translation.
Looks Rating
Looks stately but anonymous, its slab-sided body resembling everything from an S-Class to the cheaper Chrysler 300C.
Interior Rating
Quality of materials is impressive, with gadgets galore.
Ride Rating
Comfortable ride and quiet, with less big-boat wallowing in slightly sharper Sport mode.
Safety Rating
Huge full-size body, good crash ratings, and active safety features that includes the first blind-spot detection warnings in the head-up display.
Green Rating
Among the thirstiest full-size luxury sedans around, no hybrid, plug-in or V-6 options.

'More than 70 grand for a Hyundai?"

Dealerships selling the 2014 Hyundai Equus best be prepared to hear this question regularly from prospective purchasers, judging by the reactions I received over five days of driving and discussing the South Korean firm's refreshed technological halo car. Wait, but isn't the Hyundai Genesis sedan its top-line luxury sedan? Well, yes and no.

Only 27 of Hyundai's 210 Canadian dealers can actually sell the low-volume Equus, which starts at $64,799, or $72,299 for the Ultimate model. Most Equus dealers are located in the usual major cities; so for the majority of Hyundai dealers in Canada, the Genesis sedan is the top vehicle they can sell to you. An Equus customer receives special treatment, which requires extra sales training and customer service requirements, Hyundai Canada president Steve Kelleher said.

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Only about 300 Equus models have been sold in this country since its debut in late 2010. You want serious exclusivity in your full-size luxury sedan? This is your car.

"We wanted to show what Hyundai is capable of, and that we're far past the Pony," said Kelleher. "We also wanted to teach our dealers how to appeal to upscale buyers, and we're hoping that rubs off on them in how they treat their other customers on a day-to-day basis."

So the Equus is not only a comfort-oriented full-size luxury cruiser, but also a rolling engineering CV as well as a sophisticated sales training tool. That latter aspect is key, with the on-again, off-again whispers of a separate luxury division of Hyundai now appearing to be on hold once more.

The white-gloves treatment includes a delivery option that will bring an Equus to your home or office for a test drive or service visit, with Hyundai dropping off a loaner Equus or a Genesis sedan. It sounds great, but Hyundai says only 30 per cent of Equus service visits use this option.

The Equus receives a mild facelift for 2014, removing some chrome at each end to tone down its grandfatherly aura, though it still looks like a stately machine waiting for flags and an official police escort. Hyundai product planning manager Michael Ricciuto said the company has tried to make it more appealing to North American buyers, as opposed to South Korean business execs who are used to being chauffeured. So a fifth seat was added, which jettisoned the available mini-fridge, while the shiatsu and full-recline options have also gone away.

But that doesn't mean rear-seat comfort and conveniences are no longer a priority. Rear-seat passengers can still move the seats in front of them for even more space back there, with heated and cooled seats as well as powered sunshades at their fingertips, including for the side windows and rear glass. There's also an innocuously labelled Relax button, which not only reclines the right rear seat, but automatically motors the front seat forward and the entire seat right up to within inches of the glove compartment, no matter whether there's a full gym bag in the front seat or a terrified passenger.

Yes, we did learn this the hard way.

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Our two young boys also discovered the full rear stereo controls quickly. Luckily, these and the navi system's rear controls can be locked out, but the lockout defaults off every time you turn off the car. It's not ideal if you plan to regularly shuttle around kids, grandkids or curious/mischievous adults.

2014 Hyundai Equus for The Globe and Mail Michael Bettencourt for The Globe and Mail

Front-seat comforts are still plentiful, with a magic carpet ride that seems less floaty than before. The adjustable air suspension adds an easily accessible sport mode that sharpens up everything: throttle mapping, steering response, exhaust note and ride compliance. The top-line Ultimate model includes a useful heads-up display that includes blind-spot information warnings, speed and navi directions.

The drivetrain is the same 5.0-litre V-8 and eight-speed automatic, a smooth and powerful 429-hp operator, but without shift paddles or fuel-saving start-stop systems of more modern designs. All-wheel-drive is still unavailable, unlike most of its rivals.

All in all, like most Hyundais, there's decent value with the Equus. But unlike other segments, its value equation depends on which vehicles are used for comparison. It's much less expensive than a Lexus LS, but also pricier than a fully loaded Chrysler 300C or Cadillac XTS, and not much bigger. It won't hit the refinement or engineering levels of the top German luxury marques, or the LS, but it offers most of the features and much of the sophistication of those cars for much less money.

Tech specs

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2014 Hyundai Equus Ultimate

Type: Full-size luxury sedan

Base price: $64,799; as tested: $72,299

Engine: 5.0-litre GDI V-8

Horsepower/torque: 429 hp/376 lb-ft

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Drive: Rear-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 14.1 city/8.6 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: Chrysler 300C, Cadillac XTS, Jaguar XJ, Lexus LS, Lincoln MKS, Mercedes-Benz S-Class

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