Let’s say you just bought a Mercedes-Benz S550 and this 2014 Equus Ultimate parks next to you at the yacht club. Do you a) sneer at the jumped-up pretender; b) pay no attention; or c) get a sinking feeling that maybe you shelled out too much?
When it comes to sheer presence, it’s hard to loom larger than these two capitalist-tool sedans. In dimensions, wheelbase, spaciousness and mass, they come within a few inches and a hundred pounds of each other.
Both pack serious muscle too: The German heavyweight’s turbocharged 4.7-liter V-8 puts out 449 horsepower; the Killa from Korea squeezes 429 horses out of an unpressurized 5.0-liter Eight. The S-class has seven forward speeds in its manu-matic transmission; the Equus has eight.
Continue the comparo of features, from telematics to cupholders, perimeter lighting to electric window shades and door closers, and the two cars come out uncannily alike, right down to their grilles and seat adjusters. Yet the S550 starts at $93,000 and can easily reach $140,000—while driving the buyer mad with costly choices: a perfume atomizer? Heated arm rests? Two or four climate zones? Equus prices are $62,000 for the Signature model and $69,000 for the Ultimate. The difference is but a single $7,000 package of extra goodies; that is, a simple yes or no decision.
But don’t think the Equus is a “simple” car. In the glovebox you’ll find 3.6 pounds of owner’s manuals covering operations, navigation, communications, safety equipment, warranties and more.
The Equus debuted here as a 2011 model. Judging by streetside comments, most people still don’t realize that it’s a Hyundai—and the name appears nowhere on the body or in the cabin. (Will Equus become Hyundai’s Lexus, a spin-off luxury brand?) This 2014 version isn’t a new model so much as a thorough functional and stylistic re-do.
The throttle feels more linear and responsive than before, and the steering is less rubbery. Hyundai has re-tuned the adjustable air suspension too, for less numbing isolation but no less comfort. The big car now turns into corners more easily and crisply.
Three driving modes are available: Sport, Normal and Snow, which affect the suspension, throttle and the transmission all together. There’s no separate sport mode in the transmission, just the option of shifting gears manually with the stick. Happily, there is no Eco setting either, which always seems a bit bogus in cars like this. Still, we got 25 miles per gallon on the interstate with the cruise control set at 74. (In town, the efficiency dropped to 15 MPG.) The smart cruise control now has full stop-restart capability for crawling traffic, but it leaves a gap between you and the car in front that lane-hoppers exploit mercilessly. Just enjoy your automotive serenity and remain above the fray.
New side and rear blind-spot monitors and lane-departure warnings are now standard on every Equus, along with nine airbags and a long list of electronic safety nannies. The Equus Ultimate also has gained a split-screen, 360-degree aerial-view camera and a high-visibility heads-up driver display.
The exterior styling is now noticeably cleaner and more graceful, and this new crispness extends into the cabin as well. The instruments and controls are more sumptuous, less fussy and easier to comprehend. The new 12.3-inch computer screen doesn’t quite match up to the Imax theater available in an S-Class dashboard, but the Equus’s digital instruments have been enlarged and clarified.
In Business Class, aka the Ultimate’s two back seats, the chairs are individually adjustable for rake, heated and cooled, blessed with power window shades and stretch-out legroom, and separated by a console with a joystick controller that can send directions to the driver’s navigation screen. There are reading lamps and vanity mirrors, and electric motors gently snug the rear doors closed. Where the Ultimate used to have one high-res DVD screen in the back seats, now there are two; and where it had two climate-control zones, there now are three—two in front, one in back.
So let’s go back to those two cars in the yacht club parking lot: For the money, which would you rather have? An S550—or an Equus Ultimate and, say, a BMW M3?