2011 Hyundai Equus: Dancing With the Big Boys
2011 Hyundai Equus
Still reeling from Hyundai’s combination punch of the Genisis sedan and coupe, the luxury auto market is now bracing itself for yet another luxury offering from the ambitious Korean company. The Genesis shook up the midsized near luxury segment with the sedan and to a lesser extent the performance coupe market with its version of the rear wheel drive V8 powered pony car. Now Hyundai has set its sights higher, aiming for BMW’s 7 Series, Audi A8 and the Mercedes-Benz S Class with its new Equus.
The Equus rides on a stretched version of Genesis platform that was originally a Korean market only limousine. One engine, a 385 hp 4.6 L V8 will be offered, mated to a ZF six speed automatic transmission. The larger somewhat generic looking Equus has a design that borrows from the usual suspects: Lexus, Infinity with a dash of 5 Series thrown in. The overall effect is that of a luxurious, if not graceful design. It’s too early to see a design heritage for Hyundai, but the Equus lacks the bold look seen in the new Sonata and upcoming Elantra. As a luxury brand, it may take some time before the public is completely convinced of Hyundai’s pedigree in this contested and tightly competitive market. The US automotive press have yet to test the Equus at this writing. What is known is that the interior will feature a more lush environment than the Genesis, a car close to but not quite equaling the attention to detail and polish of a typical Lexus.
Hyundai is somewhat secretive in giving full details, as it cautiously (but confidently) prepares the Equus for American sale before 2011. At an expected price of more than 50k, the Equus will be in good company with the Lexus LS and a host of European sedans while undercutting them all by a few thousand dollars. Realistic pricing insures that the Equus does not repeat the debacle of the VW Patheon, the cheapest version selling for well over 65k in 2004. The Equus holds the distinction of being the first Hyundai to sell for over 50k in the US. Its also the first car to be sold with a iPad as its owners manual. A special app coordinates maintaince schedules and monitors the cars status in addition to doing all the things that iPads normally do. Unlike VW’s Pantheon, the Equus should have an easier time convincing the market of it’s worth (its got a iPad!). It’s performance is said to compare well to its intended rivals, even if it lacks a European heritage.
Will it be enough that the Equus offers similar features and creature comforts of its German and Japanese competition for thousands less? The true question poised by the Equus and to some extent the Genesis, is are wealthy car buyers shopping on price, style or brand image? My guess is a combination of all three with style and brand image becoming more important with quality being a given. Now that the quality benchmark has been raised by virtually every manufacturer who sells cars in North America, consumers now more than ever are looking for creative packaging and distinctive design.
Lexus was able to dominate the near luxury segment because it offered a level of quality and dependability that was not present in the mid-sized near luxury market before it’s arrival. Quality is not so much an issue when you are shopping between 7 Series and S Class cars, its assumed. Hyundai has it’s work cut out for it if it wants to compete on this level in the long-term. If it is able to do what it has for the mid-priced family sedan segment with the stunning Sonata, it could very well repeat that success with the Equus.
The only problem is the Equus is an attractive car, but not a distinctive one. The flared rear fender suggest power and performance while all other designs cues point to Asian styled elegance via European/Japanese inspiration. It’s an overall package that works, combining all its derivative elements into a non offensive design. There may well be plenty of shoppers who go for the Hyundai over a pricier Mercedes or BMW, but it’s likely that those products will still dictate the stylistic directions for the segment for years to come. There’s no reason to think that someday Hyundai may be a style leader (the Sonata suggests potential), but until that time comes, the wealthy will likely prefer the pedigree of a BMW or Mercedes over a Hyundai. It’s still too early to predict the direction of Equus sales, but given the huge quality gains made by Hyundai in the last 10 years, the order of things could indeed change. Could a luxury spin-off brand be too far off?
2011 Hyundai Equus