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car review

2011 Hyundai Equus

Although it had been available in Korea and Asia for a few years, Hyundai's flagship luxury sedan, the Equus, entered the North American market in late 2010. This was the car that would tell the world that the South Korean company could do more than just build mainstream sedans, economy cars and SUVs.

It was a complete departure for Hyundai in North America and, to sweeten the deal for customers, a free Apple iPad came with the car. It contained the driver's handbook and production information. Hyundai also initiated a "valet" style of purchasing for the Equus wherein a sales rep would come to your home and the deal could be done in your living room.

There were two trim levels: Signature and Ultimate. Both were full-size ultra-refined prestige saloons loaded with all the modcons and luxury items one would expect to find in this market. As well as the usual climate control, leather interior, navi system, pollen filter, wood trim and other goodies, it featured adaptive cruise control, air suspension and a lane-departure warning system as standard equipment.

The top-of-the-range Ultimate version featured a massaging rear passenger seat that reclined and was ventilated. You could also change the seating configuration of the Equus from five to four with the Ultimate version, and it came with a miniature fridge/cooler located between the two rear seats. Hyundai figured that a lot of these cars would be chauffeur-driven and occupants of the back seat would need a little refreshment en route.

Power was supplied by the same 4.6-litre V-8 engine found in Hyundai's Genesis sedan, with an additional 30 horsepower on tap, bringing it up to 385. Transmission was a six-speed automatic with manual shift mode, and the Equus also featured an electronic stability control system, ABS, brake distribution system, electronic parking brake and back-up camera.

Performance-wise, Hyundai claimed a 0-100 km/h time of just more than six seconds, and it was a lively automobile for its size. NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) levels were also exceptionally low and, at first blush, the Equus appeared to be on equal footing with anything else in this upper crust of the market.

No safety recalls to report, either with Transport Canada or the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. However, the NHTSA has five technical service bulletins on file. Most are service alerts – repair procedures, in other words – for technical personnel, but there is a warning about a "harsh" transmission shift out of Park – or no shift at all. Some complaints from customers registered with NHTSA: "while we were driving the car, the car's front suspension suddenly failed, the front collapsed and the body of the car nearly touched the ground," "the instrument panel and all of the electrical components failed," "since I bought my car, it randomly opens the trunk by itself." NHTSA also has a report of at least one electrical fire and more than one complaint regarding the air suspension.

Consumer Reports has some problems with this one, noting that the upscale Hyundai "doesn't quite measure up to the established luxury brands." With electrical, audio system and "body hardware" issues, it only rates an "average" new-car prediction from this organization. Adds C.R.: "we expect reliability of the new models will be 16 per cent above average." Some comments from owners: "Love the cool seats and massage in the back," "like a living room without the noise," "terrible owners' manual, must learn features by trial and error" and "controls are intuitive and less fussy than Lexus or BMW."

J.D. Power likes the Equus, giving it top marks for overall quality, performance and design. In terms of predicted reliability, it's still "better than most," but various issues – suspension, electrical – remain for this first-year model. More comments from owners: "A South Korean car built like a German car," "small gas tank," "size of glove box and console too small" and "voice activation doesn't understand commands about 40 per cent of the time."

From an original starting price of less than $63,000 for the Signature model, the Equus is now selling from $40,000 to the low-$50,000 range. The Ultimate is fetching around $5,000 more than the Signature version.

Tech specs

2011 Hyundai Equus

Original Base Price: $62,999; Black Book: $47,550-$52,050; Red Book: $40,000-$45,000

Engine: 4.6-litre V-8

Horsepower/Torque: 385 hp/333 ft.-lb.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 13.7 city/8.6 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: BMW 750Li, Mercedes-Benz S550, Lexus 460L, Audi A8, Cadillac STS