There’s no denying that Hyundai has been on a roll in the U.S. market over the past few years. Their Santa Fe SUV is selling so well that they’ve had to add shifts to their Montgomery, AL, manufacturing plant, and farm additional manufacturing out to sibling Kia. The Genesis sedan and the Tucson crossover have racked up awards from the likes of Motor Trend and Consumer Reports, and the newly redesigned Sonata has won universal praise from the motor press (myself included). Is this success enough to warrant a full-on luxury sedan, one that competes with the best that Europe and Japan have to offer? Yes it is, and Hyundai has done their homework prior to the launch of the 2011 Equus.
The Equus isn’t the first upscale car that Hyundai has rolled out, and that’s significant to both their strategy and to public perception of the brand. The Azera sedan took them up-market from the Sonata sedan, and the Genesis sedan went one step further. The sales success of the Genesis sedan was proof that Hyundai could compete in the entry level luxury market, but taking the next step and introducing a luxury flagship sedan required a completely new philosophy. Hyundai was smart, and they learned well from VW’s experience with the Phaeton; they’ll duplicate what worked for VW, and they’ll correct the mistakes made by their competitor.
First, there’s the Equus dealer network, one area where the Korean company will mirror VW’s marketing efforts. Of approximately 600 Hyundai dealerships in the United States, only 250 will have the ability to sell the Equus. These are, of course, Hyundai’s most successful dealerships, and will be concentrated in major population centers. Each dealership will have a specially trained sales rep, whose only role is to sell the Equus, at the rate of one per dealership per month. Unlike VW’s ambitions sales goals for the Phaeton, Hyundai expects to sell between 2,500 and 3,000 units in the United States per year; having driven the car, I can tell you it’s an extremely conservative estimate.
Rather than compete with the sales strategy of other high end brands, Hyundai will eschew the putting greens and coffee bars in favor of what luxury customers really want: time. Equus buyers simply arrange a time and location convenient to their schedule, and the dealership will supply an Equus, complete with sales specialist, to them. If you buy the car, the same thing happens for scheduled service. For five years or sixty thousand miles, Hyundai will come to your house or place of business, pick up your Equus and give you the keys to a Genesis sedan or another Equus. When service is complete, your car is delivered where you want it; in other words, Equus buyers will never have to visit a Hyundai dealership during the entire time they own the car.
Unlike other brands, scheduled service is truly comprehensive. Brake pads are covered, as are rotors. Wiper blades are covered, as is the battery. About the only thing I didn’t see on the list is replacement tires, which represents a far greater value that other premium brands offer with their “free service” programs.
The sales and service strategy are sound, but on its own, the Hyundai Equus is a truly impressive automobile. Fit and finish is on par with any other premium luxury brand, and an incredible amount of thought went into the content of the car. Leather is as good as I’ve seen in a Mercedes or BMW, and even the dash in the Equus is wrapped in a matte finish, French stiched leather. Brushed metal and wood trim adorn the interior, which is astonishingly comfortable and quiet (thanks to the acoustically laminated glass). The driver’s seat is heated and cooled, and offers a superb massage function. Opt for the Ultimate edition, and the right rear seat gives you a massage function as well. The Ultimate edition also includes reclining rear seats (that are both heated and cooled), a rear console refrigerator, dual rear vanity mirrors and a rear seat entertainment system. In fact, the only drawback to opting for the Ultimate edition is seating capacity; the center console limits you to four passengers instead of five.
On the road, the Equus feels more nimble than you’d expect from a 4,500 pound car with a 120” wheelbase. Acceleration is decent, thanks to the 385 horsepower Tau V8, which still manages to return 16 mpg city and 24 mpg highway. The Equus uses a pneumatic suspension, developed by Continental, that automatically lowers the car at 70 miles per hour for improved handling and aerodynamics. For rough roads at speeds below 40 MPH, the suspension can be raised by nearly three inches, ensuring that you can still drive to your mountain retreat in ultimate comfort. The Equus’s turning circle of 37.7 feet is also impressive for a car of its overall dimensions, as are the brakes, which provided plenty of stopping power and a nice, progressive feel.
The Equus goes on sale late this year, and I can’t help but think that Hyundai has yet another success story on their hands. The amount of content for the price ($58,000 for the Equus Signature, $64,500 for the Equus Ultimate) is astonishing, and it really does make one ponder why the competition is so much more expensive. If I was a betting man, I’d put money down on Hyundai reaching their annual sales target of 3,000 units in far less than 12 months. One thing is absolutely certain: the Equus is going to cause some serious angst in Munich, Ingolstadt, Stuttgart and Toyota City.