Is It There Yet (The 2014 Hyundai Equus)?

1964 Toyota 700 print ad
Print ad for the 1964 Toyota 700.

50 years ago, a Japanese car was a punch line in America.  World War II vets who carried a grudge 19 years after the end of World War II couldn't imagine driving one instead of a 20-foot GM, Ford or Chrysler sedan, and the phrase "cheap Japanese knockoff" was still in common usage.

40 years ago, thanks to the oil crisis, the small, economical models (Toyota Corolla, Datsun B-210) began to do very well.  30 years ago, family sedans like the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry started beating the domestics in sales.

Then, about 25 years ago, Toyota founded its Lexus division and took Mercedes-Benz on head to head.  There were a lot of doubters.  But building a high-quality alternative to the big German S-Class sedan with more features at two-thirds of the price proved to be a winning formula.  Within a couple of years it was clear Mercedes had competition...and in fact, during that time, they've changed their cars in fundamental ways so that they can better fend off Lexus.

In the past ten years, the story has been replaying with a twist.  This time, it's the South Koreans roaring up behind the Japanese.  The punch-line status for Kia and Hyundai ended about a decade ago, with rapid growth and acceptance the past five years as their cars kept ramping up the quality of materials and workmanship.  There are very few buyers of Toyotas, Nissans, Hondas and Mitsubishis who still wonder if they'd be taking a step down to go with Kia or Hyundai.  And it's the same formula as Lexus...match quality, add features, and do it at a lower price.

Front 3/4 view of 2014 Hyundai Eqqus
The 2014 Hyundai Equus.

So how does that work against Lexus itself?  The Lexus LS 460 is clearly the target of the 2014 Hyundai Equus, a luxury sedan with more room, 43 more horsepower, very nearly the same fuel economy (15 city/23 highway to the Lexus' 16/24) and a better warranty for $11,000 less ($61,000 to the LS' $72,140).

Interior view of 2014 Hyundai Eqqus.
2014 Hyundai Equus interior.

Hyundai has certainly followed the formula.  They've loaded the Equus in standard form (click here for a very, very long list).  For $7,000 more, you can get the Ultimate package (a full 12.3-inch instrument cluster display, a heads-up display, a multi-view camera system, forward-view cornering camera, rear-seat entertainment system with 9.2-inch monitors built into the back of the front seat headrests, four-way power lumbar rear outboard seats, cooled rear seats, rear seat powered headrests, rear seat illuminated vanity mirrors, a power trunklid, power rear side-window sunshades, power door closure and haptic feedback in the steering wheel.

Total price that way, with $920 inland freight and handling: $68,920. Still more than $3,000 less than a base Lexus LS 460, and about $12,000 less than the nicely-equipped LS we reviewed a couple of weeks ago.

The verdict?

2014 Hyundai Equus.

The Equus isn't there yet.  The lowdown on the Equus is: "If you want something almost as good as a Lexus for less money...".  And that's not how luxury cars are sold. Not in significant and enduring volumes.  But in 2009, I wouldn't have suggested a Hyundai Sonata go toe-to-toe on your shopping list against a Toyota Camry, Honda Accord or Nissan Altima.  Today, I would.  Because the Sonata has become worthy of being mentioned in the same breath.

A lot of people are wowed by the '14 Equus because it confounds their expectations of what a Hyundai is. And in a vacuum, it's very nice.  Driven side-by-side with a Lexus LS, you'll notice where the money was saved.

I say it's a transitional vehicle....that you're actually still seeing a work in progress....and that I may well be writing about how the 2019 Equus has finally toppled the Lexus LS from its throne five years from now. But they need to remember one thing:  Lexus has succeeded because a large number of people see it as being a better choice than Mercedes-Benz.  To topple the Lexus LS, the Hyundai Equus also has to be a valid alternative to Mercedes.