On the Road Review: Lexus LS460 vs. Hyundai Equus, part two

If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, then Mercedes should be blessed to have not one, but two Asian rivals that have used the vaunted S-class as a starting template to enter the full-size luxury sedan class.

When Lexus boldly copied the S-class with the 1990 Lexus LS400, surely Toyota had to know that some other automaker would later study its success and one day the LS also would have a giant bulls-eye painted on its rump. Incredibly, that imitator turned out to be Hyundai instead of expected rivals Infiniti and Acura.

After two high-mileage weeks in the latest LS460 sedan and the Equus Ultimate, it is easy to see why buyers gravitate to these premium automobiles. Sadly, looking back to earlier this year, these two rivals make new offerings such as Acura’s latest RL seem quite irrelevant.

Despite the outright boldness that each of these automakers has copied some other creation, there are subtle and important variances between these two luxury rockets that define how consumers will approach each offering. We’ll try to outline those differences here in Part Two of Lexus vs. Equus.

On first impression, the Equus looks larger, more intimidating, and more formidable as a full-size luxury car. The Lexus, however, is the larger car with more trunk space, plus it rides on a 2-inch longer wheelbase. Both cars have modern headlamps with complementing LED running lamps and both cars have fog lamps that do little to light your forward path.

Each car uses a proximity security/keyfob system that recognizes your presence and allows you to tug on the door handle to unlock the car. The Equus carries this one step further; when you approach the car, the power folding mirrors wink their directional light at you and start unfolding before you even reach or touch the door.

With large 19-inch multi-spoke alloy wheels affixed to both cars, plus heavily chromed dual exhaust trumpets exiting the rear of each car, their masculinity cannot be questioned. These are bold looking, self-confident machines that are swift and sleek. While the Lexus touts its heritage with simple ‘L’ badges in strategic locations, the Equus nameplate is all that you will find. To the uninformed, this car could be the Mercedes that it so coyly mimics because there is not a Hyundai badge to be found.

Stepping inside each car reveals swathes of polished wood, soft leather and sound-deadening suede. Both the Lexus and the Equus offer sumptuous seating — thick padding with power headrests plus multiple lumbar assists. The Equus places the seat adjuster controls on the door, where you can see them — even at night. And the Equus’s driver’s seat has a better power thigh-extender action that rises in behind your knees to create more support. In the rear, the Equus adds power reclining rear seats with both cooling and heating functionality, plus there are power side shades to deny prying eyes or strong sunbeams. A comprehensive center console lets rear seat occupants control audio, climate and even the nav system (all viewed on the dual rear screens) from their chauffeured position. Doors close with a solid, but quiet, thud.

The LS460 gains some points back from the Equus by offering a better overall dash layout and easier to manipulate controls. Doing this for longer, Lexus has gained some shortcuts that show up in the more intuitive, if still somewhat over-engineered, menus and steps necessary to make simple changes in the car’s entertainment and information systems. Here, the Equus’s haptic steering wheel controller was very distracting, plus the multiple steps necessary to execute basic audio pre-set changes seemed unnecessary.

Subjectively, the Hyundai’s sound system seemed stronger, more fluid, plus the steering wheel heater was more powerful and lasted longer than the Lexus’ setup. The Equus has larger storage pockets in the doors plus more power sockets. It also offers an adjustable heads-up display on the lower windshield.

If you look hard enough, some of the Equus’s components looked less high-brow than the Lexus’s layout, yet some of the LS460’s pieces are exactly the same as what you will find in a Camry — like the cruise control stalk for example. Both cabins however are very nice places to spend any traveling time — front or rear.

Press the start button and each car’s V-8 engine quietly thrums to life. The Lexus uses an optional AWD fully independent chassis here, while the Equus Ultimate runs with rear-wheel propulsion, an automatic air-assist for the independent suspension, plus the usual array of traction and safety assists.

Each car has a velvety smooth eight-speed automatic transmission that worked superbly. Mash the go-pedal for a back-road pass and each car leaps into action with authority, the transmission snapping off shifts up or down as necessary. Let off the throttle suddenly, your pass completed quicker than imagined, and the transmission in each car held that lower gear and slowed the car until you reapplied the throttle to continue cruising or to accelerate again. You need not touch the brakes. Very smart and very helpful.

The Lexus had 360 hp (26 hp less than the rear drive model) while the Equus brings 429 hp to the match. The Lexus chassis was smooth, compliant and sure-footed; with each axle pulling and pushing at the same time the car had excellent balance. The ride is softer than any of the German luxury sedans, while cornering angles allow more body lean. Steering feel is artificially improved electronically, yet it was slightly better in the Lexus.

The Equus, on the other hand, had a modestly firmer ride as well as better road manners when you leaned on the throttle. The Equus felt muscular, even invincible at times, especially as that 5.0-liter V-8 crowed a sonorous mechanical song of power. It was probably bad form, flogging a big luxury sedan, but it was hard to resist the full-throttle blasts that the Equus provided and that is reflected in the Hyundai’s lower fuel economy; 22 mpg for the week with the Lexus, 20.7 mpg for the Equus. Throttle tip-in is light, inviting, making each of these large cars seem more responsive and lithe than they have a right to be. Each of these cars also has a vast reservoir of power that owners will love exploring.

More notes from the logbook: the LS460’s headlights had more reach, while the Equus’s dynamic cruise control is vastly superior to conventional manual cruise control. The Hyundai’s auto-climate system was constant — the Lexus’s seemed to need more attention. The Equus has power passenger seat controls next to the console so the driver can move the seat while empty — the seatback can be folded all the way forward too. The Lexus had automatic parking assist; the Equus had a better back-up camera graphic. Each car has a GPS-aided analog clock — who knew?

The LS460 comes with Lexus’s acclaimed reliability record and stellar customer service rankings. The Equus has three years of free maintenance plus a 10-year powertrain warranty.

These Asian luxury rockets are the flagship creations for goal-oriented automakers unabashedly eager to increase market share against the German sedans. Both cars are winners.

However, as in 1990, the challenger has leap-frogged its primary rival. With a significant price advantage, $13,000, plus some stellar component advantages, the $69,000 Equus out-Lexus-ed the $82,000 Lexus.

Hyundai paid attention in school and has copied its rival very well.

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Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.