The 2012 Hyundai Equus Signature
Patrick Rall's picture

The 2012 Hyundai Equus Signature: super-luxury, served Korean style

There are people in the automotive world who scoff at the suggestion of a true, premium luxury sedan from a Korean automaker but the odds are good that those people haven’t experienced the 2012 Hyundai Equus – a full sized, fully loaded luxury sedan that can stand toe to toe with the top luxury names in the industry.

The Hyundai brand is best known in the United States for their lineup of popular economy cars including the Elantra and the Sonata with prices that tend to stay in the low 20,000 range – all the more reason for critics of the Equus to question the near-60k price tag. However, Hyundai is easily among the most improved automakers in the US auto industry over the past decade. While the Hyundai brand of the late 1990s and early 2000s would have been an awkward place for a super-premium luxury sedan, the Equus stands as a shining symbol of just how much the brand has improved. While their high volume vehicles like the Elantra, Sonata and Genesis family are the bread and butter, the Equus shows that the brand is capable of far, far more than just $20,000 economy cars.

The Exterior
The 2012 Hyundai Equus sports the big, bold styling that has become expected of the full size luxury sedan segment but unlike the other Hyundai models – the Equus does not sport the aggressive design with respect to the rest of the segment. While models like the Sonata, the Elantra, the Veloster and the Tucson are far more aggressive in their exterior design than many of their competition’s models of the same segments – the Equus has a slightly less radical design. However, the design cues of the Hyundai brand are still very much there even though the Equus wears a badge of its own on the hood and wheels with an abstract bird emblazoned in chrome.

Across the front, the 2012 Hyundai Equus wears large headlight housings that stretch out along the fenders with a classy projection and LED combo providing great light along with an eye-catching look. Below the headlights are bold chrome trim pieces that follow the contour of the lens and below those are a lower fascia area with chrome fog light bezels and three large air inlets. The centerpiece of the Equus front end is the massive chrome grille with thin horizontal bars and a thick center dividing bar. This front end of the Equus is not as aggressive as some of the other Hyundai models (Veloster, Genesis Coupe) but the Korean automaker has done a great job of applying “their look” to the front end of this super-sedan in a very luxurious layout.

Along the sides, the 2012 Hyundai Equus has a very fluid design with only a subtle body line running from the front end through the front door handles with a rear angle cutting up in front of the rear door handles – forming a wide, muscular rear end. The Equus packs plenty of chrome and down the sides there are chrome trim pieces along the lower skirts, the door handles, on the side mirrors, around the side windows and – of course – on the distinct Equus branded 19” aluminum wheels. The side profile of the Equus gives it a very powerful, upright design while the long greenhouse gives the sedan a slippery look without compromising head room inside. The rear roofline flows through the back glass and into a short trunk lid, a design which adds some sportiness to the brawny luxury sedan.

Out back, the Hyundai Equus has more chrome on the upper edges of the rear fascia, on an appliqué above the license plate area and in the angular, molded exhaust tips. The Equus wears large, predominantly red tail lights with only a pair of long, thin strips providing light when backing up. These lights pour down into the middle of the fascia – completing the flowing look of the Hyundai design theme.

The 2012 Hyundai Equus has a big, bold exterior design that allows it to both fit into the full size luxury sedan segment but also stand out with the design dues for which the Hyundai brand has become recognized. While driving the Equus, I had more than one person ask me “are you driving that new Mercedes out front?” They were all shocked to hear that it wasn’t a Mercedes but instead – it was a Hyundai. Those people were even more shocked when I let them check out the interior of this luxury sedan.

The Interior
As soon as you open the door of the 2012 Hyundai Equus, the level of luxury is very, very clear. Soft black leather is found on the dash, door panels, the center console and the plush seats – front and rear. The door panels have padded areas on the armrest and on the vertical portion of the panel where your elbow may rest. The black scheme continues through the carpeting and across the dash with high gloss wood grain panels adding to the luxury feel around the gauges, across the dash face, through the center shift console and on the top and bottom portions of the steering wheel. A light grey headliner provides a sexy contrast against the predominantly black interior with that lighter trim blending down into the inner pillars all around. The interior of the Hyundai Equus looks fantastic but it is even more comfortable than it looks.

The seats of the 2012 Hyundai Equus are all very plush, feeling more like expensive living room furniture than a car interior and that applies to both the front and rear seating positions. Buttons located for easy use high on the door panels for all four normal seating positions make it very easy to adjust the seats to your liking. The driver’s seat allows you to basically adjust every direction and parameter of the seat for the optimal driving experience, including all of the basics as well as the angle of the seat back relative to the lower seat portion. The front passenger can adjust their seat almost as much as the driver with just the seat angle being removed. The driver’s seat also features two different messaging modes as well as multi-directional lumbar adjustments.

The Equus interior was designed with car service duty in mind and when you fold down the rear center armrest, you find far more than you do in your average full size luxury sedan with a large control panel. This includes buttons to adjust the reclining rear seats, heated seat controls, and full controls for the stereo system and climate control. The rear passengers also have controls to move the front passenger seat forward – which allows enough room for someone under 6 foot to basically stretch completely out in the back seat. Even with the front passenger seat set to comfortably fit an average adult, there is still enough room for the rear passengers to stretch their legs.

The infotainment system of the 2012 Hyundai Equus leaves little to be desired and the entire system is controlled via a fantastic interface mounted on the center shift console – right in front of the center armrest. Without lifting your right arm off of the armrest, the driver cab select what appears on the high mounted LED screen with FM/AM radio, XM satellite radio, DC, Auxiliary, Map, Navigation controls and the phone connectivity system. Each of the various models are selected with the push of a button mounted around a large knob that allows the driver to easily scroll through the options. The driver can also control the stereo, the cruise control, the phone functions and the trip display from the buttons mounted on the steering wheel. The silver center shift console that houses the Hyundai infotainment controls also contains the controls for the adjustable ride height and the Sport mode – both of which we will address in the drive portion of the Equus review. Oh, and the Lexicon sound system sounds fantastic even at the highest volume levels with enough speaker power to turn heads like an aftermarket system.

The 2012 Hyundai Equus interior offers every amenity that a new luxury car buyer can request and most impressively – almost all of these features are standard. While other luxury automakers offer interior setups similar to the one found in the Equus, many of them offers the more luxurious features as optional equipment and with a much larger final price. However, price aside, the Equus interior is truly a luxury setting that provides tons of comfort for the driver and passengers in the front and rear.

The Drive
The 2012 Hyundai Equus Signature is powered by the 5.0L Tau V8 – packing 429 horsepower and 376lb-ft of torque – and funneling that power to the rear wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission. This is enough power to allow the Equus to rocket away from a stop with enough ferocity to beat the majority of the cars on the road (reported quarter mile times are in the higher 13 second range) but it is a big heavy car – not designed for drag racing. Where the Equus really feels comfortable is when barreling down the highway as, even when speeds are well beyond the legal speed limit, the Hyundai super sedan is every bit as smooth as it is at 55mph. The adaptive air suspension system allows the Equus to maintain a smooth suspension level regardless of the interior or trunk loads but more importantly, this system affords the Equus great handling capabilities while keeping this large sedan riding like it is on glass. If you want a little stiffer suspension, the Sport mode provides a sportier ride with a shade more “road feel” transferred into the vehicle while also allowing the Equus hit the corners a little harder. Don’t get me wrong – it is still a full sized sedan so you aren’t going to get Ferrari-like handling but the Equus handles well enough to make it a ton of fun to drive…while still being whisper quiet when cruising on the open road. That is actually my one complaint about the car as when I am roaring down the highway with 429 horsepower thrusting this large sedan along the road surface – I want it to sound like a 429 horsepower V8. Unfortunately, not all luxury owners want their car to roar so the quiet exhaust makes sense but were I to buy an Equus – a throatier exhaust system would be in my plans.

The one key area where the 2012 Hyundai Equus is the most impressive is when out on the open road where the curb weight is less of a factor. When you put the hammer down, the Equus quickly and effortlessly climbs way beyond the century mark with an urgency that will surely get a “wow” out of everyone in the car and an angry scowl on the fast of older Mustang owners who think that they are about the blow away this massive Korean luxury sedan. The Equus is so loaded inside that it doesn’t need a 429 horsepower V8 engine to complete the package but with this powerful yet efficient engine – the Equus is able to compete with the other luxury cars and a great many performance cars on the US market today. The Equus is also more than willing to put a serious smoking to the large 19” rear tires when the traction control has been turned off so the high performance driving is ideal for those who want to have a luxury car that can still get your blood pumping when you put the pedal to the floor.

The Hyundai Equus is all about luxury so the interior is whisper quiet in almost any driving situation but it does not achieve this level of silence by making the car a spongy, boring car to drive. The suspension is responsive when you need it to be and smooth when you want it to be – with enough power to get you from point A to point B in a major hurry. I have grown up a lover of American muscle cars but I loved every second of driving the 2012 Equus as it exceeded every expectation that I had on the highway, in the city and when cutting through the twisty backroads of rural Michigan.

The Final Word
The 2012 Hyundai Equus Signature is an absolutely amazing vehicle with amenities throughout the cabin that allow this roomy Korean super sedan to stand proudly alongside the best full sized luxury sedans in the world. While the $60k price tag may be out of reach to many “average” new car buyers, the amount of standard (and optional) features in the Equus make it a smokin’ deal compared to other models in the segment which offer similar features – with substantially higher prices.

If you are in the market for a premium full sized luxury sedan and you are more interested in a true luxury experience than you are the name on the trunk lid – the 2012 Hyundai Equus packs all of the highest end amenities at a significantly lower price than the competition. This is a car that prospective luxury sedan buyers should make sure to drive before purchasing a German or Japanese luxury sedan. The 2012 Hyundai Equus might not give you the over-inflated sense of self worth that some other luxury brands seem to provide but there is very, very little that the Equus doesn’t offer that you can get elsewhere in the segment. All of that luxury and a 429 horsepower V8 engine makes the car enjoyable for the driver and the passengers.

In short, the 2012 Hyundai Equus is a beautiful luxury sedan that truly deserves to be compared to the best luxury models in the world. If you are looking for a luxury sedan with loads of amenities, a lower price tag than the competition and a drivetrain that will get your blood pumping – make sure that the Hyundai Equus is on your list of cars to drive before you buy anything. I would bet that it will impress and maybe even surprise as many prospective car buyers as it impressed me.

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