Enfolded in the 2014 Hyundai Equus' luxurious cabin, enjoying the soft air suspension ride and rolling down the freeway with the help of adaptive cruise control, I had a moment, a joyous upwelling I could feel in my chest brought on by the music pouring out of the car's stereo. It was the song "Lua," off the "Dark Was the Night" compilation, deep tones from an acoustic guitar opening the way for Gillian Welch's rich vocals.
I like this album for its variety, and play it a lot. But rarely do the tracks give me the kind of sensation I experienced in the Equus. Chalk that up to the car's Lexicon audio system, 17 speakers powered by 598 watts of peak amplification. The guitar was so clear, and the vocals so present, that I had the kind of feeling I would get from being close to the stage at a small venue. A few tracks later, I was equally blown away by Antony singing the Bob Dylan track, "I Was Young When I Left Home."
I fed the stereo music, using sources ranging from Bluetooth streaming to a USB drive to an iPhone cabled to the car, and received unrelenting enjoyment from its audio output. Midranges were particularly impressive for their richness and clarity, while treble came though clearly without sounding shrill. Bass notes were palpable but soft around the edges, as the system seemed to temper its output so as not to give anything approaching discomfort to the listener.
This audio system, standard in the Equus, counts as just one of the tech highlights in Hyundai's flagship luxury sedan.
Economy to luxury
After reading "Hyundai" and "luxury sedan" in the same sentence, you may be experiencing cognitive dissonance. How could the company that produces the $16,000 Accent also make a $70,000 luxury sedan?
In the last decade, Hyundai has been full of surprises, revamping its model lineup with stylish, modern cars competing very well in their segments. The company brought the Equus to the U.S. market in 2011, and, once again, undercut the competition even in this elevated segment.
The 2014 model, in Ultimate trim, brings in many upgrades over the previous generation without looking radically different. A direct-injection 5-liter V-8 still sits under the hood, but the automatic transmission gains two extra gears. Hyundai simplified and extended drive mode selection and added an LCD instrument cluster. A new head-up display serves as the piece de resistance.
What I really like about Hyundai is that, even though it doesn't tend to push the envelope, all of its tech features work sensibly and well. Where some automakers roll out cutting-edge cabin tech features that prove glitchy, Hyundai's electronics generally work quickly, and give drivers real value.
And the Equus takes Hyundai's tech further than ever before, introducing a thing or two I had not seen in other cars.
The head-up display showed color graphics projected low on the windshield in front of me. I was not surprised to see it showing me the vehicle's speed and turn-by-turn directions, but it also brought up alerts for the blind-spot monitoring system. When another car was off the left or right rear quarter of the Equus, not only would it light up an icon in the corresponding side-view mirror, it would also light up an icon on the appropriate side of the head-up display. Without having to turn my head at all, I could see when it was safe to make a lane change. The system was sensitive enough to detect a motorcycle, and smart enough to not light up its warning when I passed other cars.
Turn-by-turn directions on the HUD nicely complemented the very rich graphics on the Equus' 9.2-inch center LCD, which showed colorful representations of freeway junctions and gave useful lane guidance. As an added feature I hadn't seen before, though, the car also warned me of sharp turns when route guidance was on. Coming down a road full of 20 mph turns, the HUD and the LCD instrument cluster carried an orange sharp-turn-ahead icon.
An onboard hard drive stores the navigation system's maps, which are clear and easy to read but only offer plan views, with no perspective, or 3D, view. The infotainment system relies on a console-mounted jog dial as its controller, and I found it a bit tedious using this interface when making alphanumeric entries. Buttons near the dial were also a bit confusing, as it took me a while to figure out the difference between what the Home and Menu buttons did.
However, voice command made it particularly easy to enter addresses, as it would take number, street, and city in one spoken string. Voice command extended to placing phone calls by contact name, but only had limited control over the stereo, and wouldn't, for example, let me select music by saying the name of an artist or album.
Hyundai also integrates its BlueLink telematics system into the Equus, which lets you find addresses on your computer, then send them to the car. There is a call button in the car with an automated pick-up to help you find business listings, but when I tried it, it seemed the voice recognition could not understand me.
Analog or virtual?
That the instrument cluster can show the turn warning in the middle of the speedometer is just one demonstration of the possibilities of using an LCD in place of formerly analog gauges. The other is how the entire instrument cluster took on some subtle shading when I switched drive modes. The graphics for the gauges were so good that I didn't even realize they weren't analog until about 20 miles of driving.
A button sitting in front of the shifter toggled the Equus through different drive modes, affecting suspension, steering, throttle, and transmission at one fell swoop of my finger. The Equus has three modes: snow, normal, and sport. Hyundai left out an eco mode, merely telling me when I was driving in an economical fashion with a little green icon on the instrument cluster.