Traverse City Record-Eagle

Business

January 19, 2014

Cargazing: Hyundai competes with world's best

Ten years ago, if you told me Hyundai would be selling a full-size luxury car to compete with the Mercedes S-Class, I’d call you crazy.

For one thing, Hyundai didn’t build anything even remotely Mercedes-like in 2004. The Korean company struggled to match Ford and Chevy products back then, much less a legendary, super-expensive German luxury car.

For another, I would have expected Hyundai to learn from one of the biggest flops in recent automotive history, the Volkswagen Phaeton. It was a similar S-Class fighter from a mass-market brand, and it resulted in embarrassingly low sales numbers in the United States — even though it’s one of the best luxury cars ever produced, in my opinion.

Despite the long odds, I find myself spending time this week in the 2014 Hyundai Equus, a spectacularly engineered luxury car that draws comparisons not only to the S-Class, but also the BMW 7-Series, Lexus LS and Jaguar XJ.

And unlike the disastrous Phaeton experiment, the Equus seems to be more of a sales success.

Hyundai says the Equus is the top-shopped premium luxury sedan in the nation, well ahead of its exclusive competitors. Its $61,000 base price — thousands less than the competition — is surely a reason for that, but so is its long list of features that make you feel pampered like an 18th century French king.

I’m sure Versailles was a nice place to spend time. Don’t get me wrong. But it didn’t come with power-closing doors, a power trunk lid, adjustable air suspension, three-zone climate control, heads-up display, heated and cooled front and back seats and window shades that deploy at the touch of a button.

In other words, an Equus makes you feel like Louis XIV, with an entire opulent world right at your fingertips.

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