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2011 Hyundai Equus: First Drive

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Introduced at the New York auto show last spring, the 2011 Hyundai Equus goes on sale next summer. It’s Hyundai’s shoot-for-the-moon attempt to match luxury cruisers like the Lexus LS and Mercedes S-Class for thousands of dollars less. We nabbed some seat time in a Korean-market car last week near our Chicago offices. The early take is that the Equus needs some polishing, but there is potential.

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Decide what you will about the car’s styling. We think it looks like a dressed-up Genesis: There’s a lot going on, but the sum of it doesn’t take the Equus outside the conservative lines we see in the LS and S-Class. Some might mistake the Equus for one of those – unless you get that peculiar-looking winged hood ornament, which Hyundai says will probably be a dealer option. Then, all bets are off.

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Our car had the same 4.6-liter V-8 and six-speed automatic from Hyundai’s Genesis sedan, a drivetrain we’re told will be standard when the Equus hits the market. It’s a refined drivetrain with smooth-revving power that reminds us of the LS’ 4.6-liter, but it’s clear from the get-go that the Equus has a few hundred more pounds around its waistline than the 2-ton Genesis. Acceleration isn’t as immediate right off the line, though once you get out on the open road, the Equus pulls ahead like any proper luxury car should. Ride quality in our tester was good, too, and the cabin remained whisper-silent the whole time.

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The Equus is about 7 inches longer than the Genesis; most of the extra room goes to the voluminous backseat, but there’s Genesis-like roominess to stretch out up front. Our car had no shortage of backseat amenities — from illuminated vanity mirrors to power rear seats. Hyundai says the U.S. model probably won’t get all of the features from the Korean-market version, however, U.S. drivers should get plenty of premium features. Some of the controls in the Equus looked out of place for a car that could cost upward of $50,000: The temperature dials look plucked out of one of Hyundai’s hoi-polloi models, and the finishes on a number of other controls feel midlevel. Much of this could be ironed out by the time the car hits U.S. showrooms, and certain areas — the suede headliner, side-window sunshades, and a lane departure warning system — promise entirely new levels of luxury for Hyundai.

The Genesis sedan is a promising car. Can the Equus make the case for spending another $10,000 or so beyond a well-equipped version of its prodigious sibling? We’ll find out soon enough.

2011 Hyundai Equus Video

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Former Assistant Managing Editor-News Kelsey Mays likes quality, reliability, safety and practicality. But he also likes a fair price. Email Kelsey Mays

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