A Brief Drive in the 2011 Hyundai Equus Raises a Small Gripe

I got the chance last week to drive Hyundai’s coming $60,000 luxury sedan, the Equus, here in the Hudson River Valley.

First of all, yes, Hyundai is entering the luxury market — six words you never thought you’d see in a sentence. Even more surreal was the presentation Derek Joyce, manager of product planning for Hyundai, made to a handful of journalists before the drive. Mr. Joyce, who has worked on the Equus for two years, compared the new flagship sedan to the Mercedes-Benz S550, Lexus LS 460L and Audi A8L.

He showed how the Equus — a model that’s been available in Korea and other parts of Asia for car rental more than 10 years — matches up with the three cars (and also the BMW 750Li) in interior space and horsepower. I had but two hours with the car — just enough time to get acquainted with it (a full review will be coming in the Automobiles section).

I drove up Interstate 87 and around some of the smaller roads around Bear Mountain, where the car behaved itself very well. The 4.6-liter V-8 puts out 385 horsepower — not enough to really make much of an impact.

There is a Sport button, which adjusts suspension damping, the transmission’s shift schedule and steering response for more spirited driving. I kept that button on all the time. Mr. Joyce said that Hyundai had yet to record a zero-to-60 acceleration time, but was expecting something in the high five-second to low six-second range. That seems reasonable.

There were dozens of other buttons controlling  things like a wide-angle front camera and the lane-departure warning, prerequisites for the luxury market these days. But as we all know, the selling point of luxury has some to do with mechanical prowess and gadgets and gizmos — and everything to do with brand awareness. And so the first half of Mr. Joyce’s presentation was how Equus would personalize the sales and ownership experience. The second half showed all the features that the Equus would provide standard on one of two trim levels, Signature and Ultimate.

One highlighted feature was the iPod interface into the Equus’s Lexicon 608-watt surround-sound, 17-speaker audio system. Shortly after I got into my test vehicle, one of the other journalists plugged in his iPod loaded with 50 gigabytes of music. In a tribute to Gregory Isaacs, who died recently, he started scrolling down the artists’ names. Below the shifter, there’s a big knob that controls most of the interface functions. And so he scrolled — and scrolled and scrolled.

After a considerable amount of scrolling, he was still in the A’s. The Equus iPod interface doesn’t have a speed sensitive dial, like the Apple iPod. It’s a linear response, so if we wanted to listen to, say, ZZ Top, it would have taken us quite a while to get there — a minute? Three minutes? After landing on Isaacs, we didn’t bother searching other artists.

Later, Mr. Joyce joined us in the car, and I asked him about the issue.

He told us that we could “page jump” through the list by pulling down or pushing up on the control knob. But that wasn’t much faster. And there was no other shortcut.

Hyundai, by no means, is the only company that needs to work on its iPod interface. And it’s a relatively small gripe when you’re talking about a car that has an automatic damping system and 12-way automatic seat adjustment with massage. But I can’t imagine not listening to music — and never having Yaz’s “Upstairs at Eric’s” at my disposal — in the car, so cumulatively, it’s an issue that will need sorting out before the model’s midterm refresh.