Paul A. Eisenstein: Hyundai takes big step with Equus

Paul A. Eisenstein

Anyone who still thinks Hyundai is shorthand for entry-level automobiles could be in for a big surprise when they get a look at the maker’s new Equus sedan.

Equus takes things a big step beyond where it went with the mid-luxury Genesis – voted 2009 North American Car of the Year by a panel of 50 U.S. and Canadian journalists. The new sedan, due to market late this year, is designed to go head-to-head with some of the most desirable, high-line luxury products in the world, models like the BMW 7-Series, the Mercedes-Benz S-Class and the Lexus LS460.

As that would suggest, the 2011 Equus will deliver all the standard features of a premium luxury sedan: a powerful V8, hand-finished wood and leather, and a 608-watt, 17-speaker audio system. Also, as one might expect of a Hyundai product, price will be a differentiator. Hyundai of America CEO John Krafcik hints the final figure for the 2011 Equus will come in “somewhere between $50,000 and $60,000.”

But perhaps the most intriguing selling point, he suggests, will be “innovative customer services to save our customers time.”

Only about 300 Hyundai dealers are expected to represent the Equus line, less than 40 percent of the Korean maker’s total U.S. distribution network. They’ll have to meet rigorous standards, including high customer service scores, and set up separate showrooms-within-showrooms for Equus. Specially trained sales personnel will, if a potential customer requests, go to a home or office to pitch the new product.

Meanwhile, when service is needed, an owner will be able to opt for home or office pickup and drop-off, and a Genesis sedan will be provided as a loaner vehicle.

There’ll be an emphasis on technology, down to the classic owner’s manual, which Hyundai plans to replace with a 7-inch video tablet. WiFi-enabled, it will even permit an Equus owner to use the tablet to schedule a service appointment.

The focus on technology will also be seen in an array of infotainment and safety systems, from the Lexicon audio system to a navigation system featuring XM Radio and real-time traffic. There will be nine airbags, an advanced stability management system, and pre-collision technology designed to sense a potential accident and, if it can’t prevent a crash, take steps to minimize injuries.

The 2011 Hyundai Equus styling will be familiar to those who’ve seen the Genesis sedan. The new sedan’s wheelbase will measure 3 inches longer than the Lexus LS460, Krafcik said, and Equus will be larger than the LS in all other key dimensions.

Paul A. Eisenstein is an award-winning journalist who has spent more than 30 years covering the global auto industry. His work appears in a wide range of publications worldwide, and he is a frequent broadcast commentator on subjects automotive.

2011 Hyundai Equus

Engine: 4.6-liter, 385-horsepower V8 with a ZF 6-speed automatic gearbox

Fuel economy: 16 mpg city/24 highway

Base price: $50,000 to $60,000 (est.)

Fully-loaded price: $65,000 (est.)