Stating that it takes the automaker's formula for intelligent luxury to a new level, said John Krafcik, president and CEO, Hyundai Motor America unveiled the new U.S.-spec 2011 Hyundai Equus in New York. Based on a larger and even more refined version of the rear-drive platform that underpins the Genesis, this new flagship sedan intends to boldly and directly challenge cars like the Lexus LS460 and Mercedes-Benz S550 to a real-world duel of desirability. Hyundai fired the first shot in this battle for affluent hearts, minds and wallets by announcing the Equus will start in the mid-$50K range, a pricepoint that undercuts that well-respected pair by thousands of dollars. How well this bold gambit succeeds remains to be seen, but there's no question that the tastefully styled and richly appointed Equus is going to give these as well as other Asian and European rivals something to think about.

>2010 New York Auto Show Home

Measuring 203.1 inches in length, the 2011 Hyundai Equus rides on a 119.7-inch wheelbase, a 4.1-inch stretch from the Genesis that makes its cabin even more accommodating. For true Sybarites, a long-wheelbase version also is waiting in the wings. The Equus anchors its multilink front/rear suspension and standard electronically controlled dual-mode air suspension to an ultra-stiff unit body that makes extensive use of high-strength steel to trim weight and increase torsional rigidity. Other dynamic enhancements include Continuous Damping Control (CDC) which continually monitors road and driving dynamics and adjusts damping force accordingly, a Vehicle Stability Management system, smart cruise control, a lane-departure warning system and huge anti-lock disc brakes. The final link to terra firma is provided by staggered width tires (245/45 front and P275/40 rear) on 19-inch chrome wheels.

>2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T @ 2010 New York Auto Show
>2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid @ 2010 New York Auto Show
>2011 Kia Sorento SX @ 2010 New York Auto Show

Underhood, the 2011 Hyundai Equus packs Hyundai's all-aluminum Tau 4.6-liter V8. On regular gasoline, it turns out an estimated 378 horsepower and 324 lb.-ft. of torque, but fed on premium those figures bounce to 385 and 333, respectively. This smooth operator is linked to a ZF 6-speed automatic transmission with Shiftronic manual control and has the strength to launch the 4,376 pound Equus from 0-60 mph in a claimed 6.4 seconds.

An impressive mechanical pedigree aside, it's those must-have people-pampering elements that will ultimately play a pivotal role in determining the fate of this luxo upstart. To help stack the deck in its favor, the 2011 Hyundai Equus complements its spacious -- more room front and rear than an LS 460 -- whisper-quiet cabin with rich leather, polished wood, and Alcantara and includes comfort/conveince touches like heated/cooled/humidity controlled seats, a Driver Information System with navigation, XM Satellite Radio, HD Radio and Bluetooth connectivity in the mix. Llke the Genesis, the Equus will also offer a state-of-the-art Lexicon LOGIC7 audio system with 17 speakers, 13 channels and 608 watts of sound power. For those into airbag counts, the Equus tallies up nine of the inflatable restraints. If that's not enough, Krafcik also said the Equus will replace its conventional owner's manual with a "multimedia tablet" device, although whether that turns out to be a new Apple iPad or some other electronic alternative wasn't specified.

Only time will tell whether the 2011 Hyundai Equus really will manage to establish a presence in this elite target market. But the successful launch of Lexus over a decade ago set a precedent proving that proper product and aggressive pricing can trump even a well-established traditional luxury presence. If any company appears poised to make good on repeating that feat, it's Hyundai. Stay tuned.

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