First Impressions: 2012 Hyundai Equus 5.0

I Love the ’90s was a series on VH1, which ran for 10 episodes over the course of five days. Many might get nostalgic about the past, but not everyone loves the ’90s. Korean-automaker Hyundai, for example, is sick of hearing about its products from days gone by. As a member of the automotive media, I’m also sick of hearing about these stories. Yes, we’re all aware that the 1997 Accent was a pile of junk. So was the 1997 Chevrolet Cavalier, but no one brings that up in a discussion of where Chevrolet is know. Why should we continue to do the same with Hyundai at this point?

We’ve moved on here in the 21st century, and so has Hyundai. In fact, the automaker is pushing out new or refreshed product at an almost alarming rate. It’s not forcing out junk either… we’re talking about cars that range from good to great.

Recently, we got a chance to sample something from the good column, that just so happens to have a great engine mounted under its hood. The 2012 Hyundai Equus has been updated for the new model year, and we scored the keys to the automaker’s  latest lengthy luxo barge under the neon lights of the Vegas strip.

[Lead photo courtesy Zach Bowman]

The biggest story surrounding the 2012 Equus is the introduction of a 5.0-liter V8 engine. Gone is the 385-horsepower 4.6-liter V8 unit from the previous version. Replaced with increased displacement, the new mighty mill boasts 429 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 376 pound-feet of torque at 5,000 rpm. Those figures are for folks running premium fuel, however, as  Hyundai also allows this directly-injected motor to sip regular if you want to save a few bucks. Don’t laugh. The rich don’t get their riches by spending all their pennies. On the budget dino juice, power only drops to 421 and 365, respectively. Further replacements have been made to the powertrain by way of the transmission. Hyundai has ditched the 6-speed automatic, and paired the 5.0 with an eight-speed Shiftronic gearbox.

What the automaker has created with this setup is a vehicle that’s both Barry White and Reggie White. We’re talking smooth and powerful, as brisk acceleration pairs pleasantly with near-imperceptible gear shifts. All eight cogs help propel the 4,500 – 4,600-pound beast (depending on how its equipped) forward in a manner that would make Mercedes engineers nod with approval. Mash the pedal to the carpet though, and you can be rewarded with sudden surging momentum via any gear buried in that octo-box. In fact, if you hit the traction control button, you can slow that forward progress by way of a good old-fashioned rear-wheel-drive, V8-powered burnout. It’s the least classy way to leave the local country club… and that’s how we like it.

There are things we don’t like, of course. Hyundai still hasn’t found a way to add any sort of positive connection between the wheels, steering, and driver. There’s no comfortable feedback, and hitting the Sport button only dials in more electronically-metered heft. Simply tuning the steering to feel heavy, isn’t the same thing being practiced by ze Germans. Their cars feel heavy because their setups are precisely moving hefty vehicles.

Handling issues aren’t simply relegated to the steering system, as the chassis needs a bit of help as well. We know we’re not driving a sports car, and comfort is certainly the name of the game that the Equus is playing. Still, when you plop a 429-horsepower engine up front, send that go-go-energy out back, and let us spin the tires until sparks are flying, we expect a bit more compliance on a twisty road. It may not be right to chug fine wine, but we still want to, only we’re handed a straw here. It’s not the right tool for the job.

Also appearing in the negative section of our notes is the seating of the Equus. There is zero bolstering in the seats, in fact, we think Hyundai has managed to introduce negative bolstering. Your only bits of support during aggressive driving are the center storage bin and the steering wheel itself. The back seats are a different story, of course, and the amount of leg room and comfort supplied in the rear is limo levels of lovely.

On the outside, the loveliness continues in the form of subdued elegance. This is a car that can slide in and out of traffic without causing a stir, yet the occasional gawker on the Vegas strip strains their neck for a better look. Pull up the valet, and more eyeballs wonder what they’re looking at. Did we stop? No, we just drove by.

Away from the looks and lights, the desert called so our own eyes could pull over for a better gander at the exterior lines. We’d prefer a different finish on the chrome 19-inch nine-spoke wheels, but the rollers are otherwise quite handsome. LED lighting adds to the stylish allure of the otherwise simple-yet-effective body.

Despite the handling issues and front-seat complaints, the 2012 Hyundai Equus serves up enough power and luxury to make high-income shoppers think twice about their next potential stablemate. The base price of $58,750 (+$900 freight) gives you… well, damn near everything. There are only two trims, Signature and Ultimate, and each is heavily laden with plush goodies such as the Lexicon 7.1 surround-sound audio system, thick carpeting, and a power-folding rear sunshade. If you hanker for a hunk more luxury, the $65,750 (+$900 freight) turns the five-seater into a four-person sedan. Those in the back get cooled leather units fitted with a reclining function, leg support, a massage system, a rear refrigerator, an entertainment system with an eight-inch monitor, power side sunshades, and a forward-view cornering camera.

To say the Hyundai Equus is the ultimate luxury value proposition is an understatement. 

There are vehicles that offer more engaging driving experiences, and the same level of luxury, yet they cost many thousands of dollars more. Hyundai exceeded its own expectations for the Equus in 2011, as the brand sought out a 2,000-unit sales goal, and wound up moving 3,193 Equui (yes, we just made that word up… but it works). That means luxury shoppers are paying attention to this car… one that just received an engine powerful enough to make Rob Matthew Van Winkle green with envy.

Yo VIPs… let’s kick it.

Disclosure: Hyundai flew me to Las Vegas and put me up in a swank hotel. Once in Nevada, I was given the keys to three cars, and I can only tell you about one of them today. Stay tuned for the other two, one of which is a revised coupe, and the other an all-new sedan.

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