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Review: 2014 Hyundai Equus Signature

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After spending a week in a $59,000 2011 Hyundai Equus a couple of years ago, this reviewer urged Hyundai to do something about the car's interior. While the cabin in general was richly finished, the dashboard had the aesthetics of a car less than half the price, but without the ergonomic simplicity.

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“At the very least, additional money spent on upgrading the quality and appearance of the dashboard and some other interior components would be very well spent,” that review stated, adding, that it's “easy to reflect on how much better [the Equus] would be with a bit more investment.”

Mission accomplished.

The Equus still isn't perfect, but a 2014-model update to the flagship Hyundai includes a redesigned and greatly improved dashboard, slightly improved ride quality, and some updated cabin tech. It retains its plush, spacious cabin; its smooth, strong 429-horsepower V8 engine; and its dizzying array of standard features. It's still a plausible full-size rear-wheel-drive luxury sedan whose price tag is as close to a well-optioned Hyundai Sonata family car as it is to a base Mercedes-Benz S550 – a difference of just over $30,000.

The tens of thousands of dollars extra you'd spend on a comparably equipped Lexus LS460 or a European competitor do buy extra sophistication to the driving dynamics, flashier looks, and slightly better fuel economy.

But nothing else sold at the Equus's price point – now $62,000 for a base Signature and $69,000 for a full-loaded Ultimate – offers a comparable experience. There are large V6 front-wheel-drive competitors like the Cadillac XTS and Lincoln MKS that don't have the same polish and composure, and midsize luxury sedans like the Lexus GS and Mercedes-Benz E-Class that don't offer nearly the interior volume.

If you want something that's not unlike the Lexus LS and see diminishing returns in spending an extra $18,000 for some richer cabin trim, a slightly plusher ride, and other little here-and-there things – and a badge associated with luxury cars rather than value-priced mainstreamers – the Equus might very well be for you.

Fancier dashboard

It's amazing how much of a difference the dashboard design can make. The pre-update Equus checked the right boxes to be in line with today's luxury-sedan norm: lots of wood and leather trim, an analogue clock, and a big screen in the middle of the dash for the navigation system and other functions. It also followed many competitors in placing a large knob on the console between the front seats to scroll through various menus for complex features.

But the execution of the earlier model wasn't there. The clock looked like it was off a cheap wristwatch, the dashboard design left too many expanses of gray or silver plastic, and too many simple functions were relegated to the cheaply-clicking console knob. The in-dash screen was large but only displayed old-school graphics at plus-size dimensions.

Nearly all of that has been addressed for 2014. Materials quality remains strong, but everything is arrayed in a far more attractive way. More controls have ordinary buttons and knobs on the dash, which improves ergonomic simplicity while reducing unattractive open dead space. The console knob is smaller and moves more smoothly. The 9.2-inch screen's graphics – while occasionally less slick than desired – are vastly improved, and there are now additional features through Hyundai's BlueLink, including voice text-messaging and location sharing. Hyundai also redesigned the display for the adaptive cruise control – which uses radar to match the speed of a car in front of you – so that it doesn't periodically cancel out other displays. One issue that remains is an oddly cheap sound to the automatic door locks, but overall the Equus interior has gone from a weakness to a strength.

The uplevel Equus Ultimate boasts a new digital dash rather than physical gauges, which boosts flexibility of the display space. The tested Signature has a conventional gauge cluster that works perfectly well.

The Equus continues to boast comfortable front and rear seats, with the numerous power adjustments in both rows. The rear seat also has its own center console with audio, climate and other controls, located in a fold-down center armrest. (This makes for an unpleasantly hard seatback for a center-rear passenger, however.) There could be a bit more foot space for rear passengers under the front seats, especially considering the Equus' size, but no one will feel cramped.

One notable premium touch, a carryover from earlier Equuses, is a microfiber suede lining for the interior roof and door pillars.

Still drives well

The driving dynamics of the Equus have changed less in the update than the interior has. Revisions to the suspension have improved ride quality somewhat, granting the car a touch more control and slightly less harshness over some bumps. The Equus still isn't as smooth-riding or silent as the best cars in its class, but it's doing better than it was, and still quite good overall.

Unlike several large-sedan competitors, the Equus doesn't try to offer sports sedan handling. It has decent composure and responsive steering, but the steering is numb and the Equus always feels like a very large automobile. An electronically controlled air suspension, standard on the Equus, helps the car from floundering helplessly.

The carryover 5.0-liter V8 features 429 horsepower and is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. There's impressive thrust and a rich sound, but gas mileage trails the competition at an EPA-estimated 15 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway, with an overall rating of 18 mpg. This reviewer did beat that rating in mixed driving, averaging 20.4 miles per gallon on premium fuel.

One missing notable missing feature is all-wheel-drive. Unlike every competitor, the Equus comes only with rear-wheel-drive. Even in everyday wet conditions, this blunts acceleration from a stop, with traction control needing to cut power as the wheels spin. All-wheel-drive options do drive up cost and reduce fuel economy, but it's a sacrifice many luxury shoppers have eagerly made.

Lots of features

The Equus' standard features list could be a thousand-word review in itself, but a few highlights are worth noting, beyond those already mentioned earlier: an in-dash navigation system, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, a 17-speaker audio system, front and rear parking sensors, rearview camera, a rear cross-traffic alert system, lane-departure warning and blind-spot detection, and a power rear sunshade. These all come on the base $61,920 Signature model, and many are pricey extra-cost options on the competition. Expect to pay about $58,000 out the door for an Equus Signature equivalent to the tested car.

Hyundai also promises to pick up owners' Equuses from their homes or workplaces for service, leaving luxury-grade loaner cars in their place, rather than requiring trips to Hyundai dealers.

For more features still, step up the the Ultimate for another $7,000. The extra cost buys a front-view camera, power-closing doors and trunk, cooled rear seats, power rear window sunshades, rear-seat vanity mirrors, a rear entertainment system with 9.2-inch monitors on each front seatback, and the digital instrument cluster with heads-up display projected onto the windshield.

There are no additional options packages for either trim, reducing the ability to customize your car but also ensuring the price tag doesn't explode out of control.

You'd spend tens of thousands more for a comparably equipped European competitor, and about $18,000 more for a Lexus LS. A fully-loaded Cadillac XTS or Lincoln MKS is roughly the same price as the Equus; other luxury cars at this price point are a size class smaller.

Besides the missing all-wheel-drive, another absent feature that's gotten increasingly common among luxury cars -- and even some cheaper ones -- is a panoramic sunroof.

Internal competition

One more “competitor” of note is Hyundai's Genesis sedan, on which the Equus is based. It's smaller and less luxurious than the Equus, but the Genesis remains decidedly big and posh. The Equus is now distinguishing itself better from the Genesis, which starts at a sticker price of $34,200 and is often nicely discounted. Besides having more features, the Equus has interior trimmings that are now a clear cut above the Genesis.

But for a roomy luxury sedan, do also shop the Genesis if the Equus is appealing to you. Most come with a powerful V6, but the Equus' V8 is also offered.

See also:
More photos of the 2014 Hyundai Equus Signature
Review: 2011 Hyundai Equus Signature
Review: 2012 Hyundai Genesis sedan 5.0 R-Spec
Review: 2013 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 3.8 R-Spec
Review: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T
All Cars Examiner reviews

Vehicle tested: 2014 Hyundai Equus
Vehicle base price (MSRP): $61,000
Version tested: Signature
Version base price (MSRP): $61,000
Vehicle price as tested (MSRP): $61,920
Estimated transaction price as tested*: $57,952
Test vehicle provided by: Hyundai Motor America

Key specifications:
Length: 203.1 inches
Width: 74.4 inches
Height: 58.7 inches
Wheelbase: 119.9 inches
Weight: 4,553 pounds
Trunk volume: 16.7 cubic feet
Turning circle: 39.6 feet
Engine: 5.0-liter V8 with 429 horsepower
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
EPA city mileage: 15 miles per gallon
EPA highway mileage: 23 miles per gallon
EPA combined mileage: 18 miles per gallon
Observed mileage during test: 20.4 miles per gallon
Assembly location: South Korea
For more information: Hyundai website

*Estimated transaction prices are based on estimates from Truecar.com and dealer quotes.

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