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2011 Hyundai Equus

Pigs haven’t yet figured out how to fly and Hades remains without a skating rink, but the Hyundai Equus is about to turn the luxury-class automobile scene on its asymmetrical chrome-tipped tailpipes.

In recent years, Hyundai has coerced an increasing number of prospects into its dealer showrooms and convinced them to depart in one of the company’s shiny new vehicles. The Korea-based automaker’s success lies in the fact that it builds exactly what buyers want (or what they think they want), piles on the features and backs it all up with a lengthy warranty.

For the 2009 model year, Hyundai introduced the Genesis sedan, its first rear-wheel-drive model to arrive on these shores and the first to offer A V8 engine. The Genesis was more luxurious than any Hyundai to date, but the new Equus appears poised to top that mark. Did anyone see that move coming?

Well, we should have. Hyundai has been selling the car in its homeland plus other Asian countries for years. Both the Genesis and the Equus share platforms, but the latter is more than seven inches longer and has been stretched by more than four inches between the front and rear wheels. Hyundai’s designers have also ensured that the car’s key dimensions exceed its expected uber-sedan rivals, including the Lexus LS and Mercedes-Benz S550.

Both the Equus and Genesis are identical in width and share similar grilles. However the differences between the two are apparent when viewed from the side. The Equus’s massive rear doors are a clear indication that those seated behind the chauffeur should be able to really stretch their extremities. The car displays more clearly defined fender creases, the better to envelop its standard 19-inch wheel-and-tire package.

An unmistakable sense of luxury can be seen, felt and almost tasted on the inside. The seats are covered in premium leather and come with what Hyundai calls built-in “thermoelectric devices” that provide heating cooling and humidity control to both the seat backs and bottoms. The resplendent trim pieces are done up in genuine wood and brushed aluminum and would do any luxo-cruiser proud. The driver’s seat can be further upgraded with a massaging function, while twin rear bucket seats separated by a multi-functional console are but an option tick away.

The Equus uses an electronically controlled air suspension that can be set for maximum cushy-ride compliance, or switched to “Sport” mode if a firmer ride and more control is preferred.

Motivating the 4,450-pound Equus involves pushing the starter button for the standard 4.6-liter V8. It’s basically the same engine that’s optional in Genesis with similar power: 385 horses on premium gas and 378 if you top up with regular.

A six-speed automatic transmission completes the powertrain, which is a bit surprising since the S550 Mercedes-Benz comes with a seven-speed unit and the trans in the Lexus LS 460 shifts with eight forward gears.

Hyundai brags that the Equus will reach 60 mph from a dead stop in about 6.4 seconds, a decent enough time, but not spectacular when compared to other up-market sedans. In addition, the big Hyundai’s 16/24-city/highway fuel economy is, at best, average for the class.

Managing the Equus and its driver’s road manners falls under the purview of a number of safety systems, including lane-departure warning for inattentive and distracted drivers, safe-distancing-practicing smart cruise control and a grille-mounted forward-view camera that aids in parking.

With a Genesis base price of about $35,000, Hyundai has confounded the critics by selling a respectable number of its starter luxury sedan. But it remains to be seen if the $55,000 Equus can make the luxury grade by convincing enough Lexus, Audi and Mercedes-Benz loyalists to abandon their favorite brands.