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America by way of Korea: A roadtrip story starring Utah and the 2012 Hyundai Equus

 

We live in one hell of an amazing section of the planet. Problem is, we don’t always realize that because we spend our days clogging the freeways and cities of the coast, cramped in airplanes flying over the Midwest, and generally keeping our heads down and our eyes looking straight ahead as we grind to and from work. That’s no way to spend your whole life, which means you have to escape from the everyday in order to see the special days.

It was with those thoughts in mind that the topic of a road trip came to be. My wife finally had time off from her busy schedule, and we both have never seen the National Parks in Utah. She made the hotel reservations, which would take us from Southern California to Utah with a stop in Las Vegas on each end of the journey. Our accommodations set, it was up to me to find the suitable machine for the journey.

This trip would include my wife’s parents, which would lead me to find something with luxurious amenities. Since I was at the wheel, however, I would needed a vehicle with an entertaining engine.

Enter the 2012 Hyundai Equus Ultimate.

Seating for four inside, a 5.0-liter V8 under the hood sending power out back, and the GPS relayed information to the center-mounted screen that shows a dot hundreds of miles away. Pull off the blinders, lift up your head, and come along on a trip through a deep slice of America… courtesy of Korea.

The Equus appears in my driveway, and though I’ve seen it before, I’m still impressed right away with its subtle stateliness. It’s a large sedan with almost classically subdued lines. My head fills with thoughts of past generations of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is certainly debatable, but I tend to think you can’t keep good styling in the past.

Another thing in the past right now, is my Huntington Beach home base. The Equus, myself and my wife are enjoying the playlist she created for the trip. Since the first destination on the horizon is Las Vegas, we kick things off with a few choice selections from The Hangover. Perhaps an ominous choice, but we’re a bit past the age of partying on the strip until dawn. Well, she is… I still need adult supervision. Regardless, the music is perfect, the front seats are comfortable, and the Lexicon audio system is bursting forth with an excellent soundtrack for the trip.

The drive to Las Vegas is a few ticks under 300 miles, and typically takes about four hours or so. I’ve done it more quickly (remember the Guess My Fine contest?), but we won’t be repeating that endeavor here today. Not for a lack of trying, mind you. As we get closer to the brightest spot in a dark desert, more and more taillights begin to blow up in front of us. Traffic has dropped to a crawl, and our four hour trip has become a seven hour test of the brakes and our patience. Leaving Southern California for Vegas on a Friday afternoon will do that to you.

Eventually, traffic clears up and we round the corner made famous by John Favreau and Vince Vaughn in Swingers. The lights hit you first, and as you get closer the looming distant structures begin to take on sharper shapes. Egypt, Paris, New York, and Venice are all highlighted here on the Strip. Sure, there is most likely a Starbucks inside each faux-monument to great cities, but the real versions have all of that now too.

Vegas serves as a fine checkpoint, but far greater sights await further up the road. After spending a night at the Palms Hotel, we reacquaint ourselves with the Equus. Jen’s parents are met at McCarren Airport, and both are initially impressed that the trunk swallows both their luggage and our own. They are even more impressed when I push the button that tells the trunk to close itself. Jen and Elaine (her mother) settle into the two rear thrones, while her father sits in the shotgun seat. The girls talk about… whatever, while Sam and I get right to our favorite subject; cars. He’s a Dodge man, and I tell him about the Charger SRT8 I recently spent time with.

As we all chat, everyone takes in more and more features offered up by the Equus. I have my seat blowing cold air over my legs and back, Sam is fiddling with the infotainment, and Jen and Elaine test out the rear-seat massage system. Well, Elaine is at least, because the Equus Ultimate is fitted with the First-Class Right Rear Seat. This unit gets power-raising leg support and a remote-controllable massage setup. Both rear seats are cooled as well. In between the ladies sits a mini fridge that rests in the center console area, and it happens to fit a few water bottles which get chilled down before their enjoyed.

With everyone settling in nicely, I point the Equus towards Utah and let Vegas disappear into background. The roads are smooth, and this Hyundai proves to be an excellent highway hauler. There might not be a lot of noise coming from the mill mounted under the hood, but it’s rated to pump out 429 horsepower. This unit is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission, which I can shift myself. That’s a good thing in case I want to grab an extra cog before pulling a left-lane pass on slower traffic. This happens often with Sam as my co-driver, because the ladies can’t read the speedometer as clearly when they’re sitting in the back. Thanks to the smoothness of both the engine and transmission, I’m able to eek out a few more digits and decrease the amount of road between us and our next stop; Zion National Park.

 

I’ve seen some pretty amazing parts of our country. The Grand Canyon will take your breath away, while the ocean splashing on to the coast of Maine can cause you to stare out to sea for hours. Snow-covered roads in Vermont are high on my list of wonderful places because of the views afforded. In a different vein, major urban centers like Boston, Chicago, and New York offer up equally mind-bendingly excellent vistas. Zion, however, is in a different league. This is the part of the United States of America that should be printed on brochures and handed out to everyone on the planet. It might be though, because many folks from around the world where wandering around with their necks craned towards the sky. It was great to see these majestic sights, and to see so many people enjoying them.

Zion boasts a pretty nice road that cuts through it, and it wasn’t hard to imagine myself hauling ass across it. Perhaps we need to start writing our politicians to try and create a National Park Time-Attack series. I wouldn’t set any records in the Equus, but it certainly makes a great scout vehicle. 

We can’t stick around Zion forever though, because there’s still quite a bit of roadway between us and Bryce Canyon. That roadway, you should know, is stunning in its own right. Zion boasts a level of beauty that can literally take your breath away, but the drive route between that park and our next destination could easily find a home on post cards that would blow your mind. Before we get too far along, however, it’s time for a pit stop, and the first thing our eyes spy is the Thunderbird Restaurant. We’ve heard about their pies, and their sign boasts just how great they are… in a unique way.

I give my compliments to the hos, because their pie is excellent. (I told you I need adult supervision…)

Leaving the hos behind, we once again hit the road and this time it was Bryce Canyon that was looming in the distant corner of the Equus’ navigation display. It didn’t take too long for us to arrive at a small town, which serves as the gateway to the park, and it was here that we would find our next hotel. Across the street we could grab more supplies (water, snacks, etc) and also grab a hearty dinner. Our beds beckoned though, because it was going to be an early start.

And what a start…

Looking back to Zion for a moment, I view that park as an awesome example of nature’s urge to climb into the sky. Majestic peaks are everywhere I look, and trees, water, and animals all live around the cliffs that clearly yearn to touch the clouds. Bryce, however, is almost the complete opposite. Here, nature has started with a massive spread of lead, and then dug deeply into the rocks and soil to produce delicate works of art. They’re not actually delicate though, because I’m talking about massive spires that number into the thousands, yet appear as fragile spikes all working together to provide one of the most beautiful sights on the planet.

It’s as if a power greater than all of us took one of those pin art face toys, and decided to mess around with this corner of Utah. Of course, I’m an atheist, so I also understand that water and time played a pretty amazing part here. Whatever you believe though, it all works here in Bryce Canyon.

After a day in Bryce Canyon, we returned to our hotel for another night. Before it got dark, I snuck away to grab some more photos of the car, and to get ever more familiar with this luxury machine. The 2012 Equus Ultimate is crammed full of many bells and whistles, and the features list is pretty astounding when compared to the as-tested price of $66,650. You have to climb pretty high up the BMW/Audi/Mercedes-Benz ladder to get the same amount of goodies, and you’re paying a hell of a lot more to do so.

Still, this doesn’t drive like any of the Germans. The handling is rubbish. In fact, it feels like the steering wheel is connected to the frnot wheels via a pair of rubber bands. There is no feel, and the wheel constantly wants to snap back to center. On top of that, the brakes are mediocre. Sure, they stop the car fine in most situations, but push it just a little bit and say hello to instant fade. Also, the front seats are not up to par. They are comfortable at first, but quickly begin to lose their luster. The seats in the Hyundai Azera are far better thrones than the ones found here. It’s not all bad though, because the engine is excellent, and it sends all of its power out to the rear wheels. In fact, I may or may not be able to tell you that the Equus is capable of epic burnouts. Additionally, the ride is as soft as you’d expect for a luxury vehicle that aims to compete with ze big boys.

Despite it’s issues, the 2012 Hyundai Equus Ultimate is one hell of a road trip vehicle. It’s plush for the passengers, entertaining for the driver as long as we’re not involving serious turns, and has more than enough features packed inside to keep everyone happy. I racked up over 1,200 miles in this particular Equus, and the only thing worse for the wear is my American Express thanks to the fuel stops. Still, even there we did alright because I was getting over 20 miles per gallon on the highway.

This trip wasn’t just about the car though, as you can imagine.

Taking a break from the daily grind is something that we all need to do. Whether your destination is a far-away beach or the interior of our country, a trip away should be just that. Spend time with the open road, your family, your loved ones, your friend, and admire every part of the journey. The road to and from Zion and Bryce was nearly as gorgeous as the destinations themselves.

After spending the day and night in Bryce, we awoke the next morning and made the trip back to Vegas. Of course, this mean’t driving back through Zion, which is a treat unto itself. We stopped for a bit, and took a donkey tour through a part of the park. Thankfully, no punches were thrown (again… adult supervision). After saying goodbye to the animals, we laid tracks to Vegas to say hello to the animals. The in-laws were tired and ducked into bed early, but Jen and I stayed up to enjoy a drink or two before calling it an evening. This was a good time to reflect upon the trip, but the BING-BING-BING-BING-BING of slot machines in the background made that difficult. It wasn’t a terrible thing though, because it brought me back to the reality of trip nearing its end.

The next morning we drove Sam and Elaine to the airport, and said our goodbyes. They enjoyed the trip, and they certainly enjoyed the car. I said earlier that Sam is a Dodge man, but I could see him giving this crafty Korean luxobarge a second look before he disappeared into the terminal.

Now the party was just two, not counting the Equus. The road ahead was empty, and Huntington Beach lay nearly 300 miles away towards the western horizon. Jen hit play on the iPod mix one more time, and I pushed the gas pedal towards the carpeted floor mat.

The journey was almost over… but I still had plenty of road left to wring out those 429 horses.

[Disclosure: Hyundai was kind enough to let me borrow the 2012 Equus Ultimate for a week, and I put a ton of miles on it during that time. They included a tank of gas, and I filled it up a few more times.]

  • Dammit Jeff, knock off the road trip posts. You're making it hard to sit here at my desk and get work done.

    That area of Utah is beautiful. I camped in Zion on our road trip to Chicago, but sadly missed Bryce. We're trying to work out a trip to Crater Lake in October then a drive down the coast on the way back, so at least I have that to look forward to. Of course, that'll be in my F150 towing a travel trailer, so the Equus' handling would be a huge upgrade 🙂

  • There's a lot to see in that neighborhood. My folks volunteered at Bryce Canyon for a while, and got to know the area pretty well. Next time, come back with a competent 4X4 and explore Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument. There are some great places there that you can only reach in a decent offroad vehicle, and they're worth seeing.

  • Plecostomus

    Glad to see you've made better use of your summer than I have – I planned to do a bunch of shit like this this summer, but then my goddamn Katana experienced failure after failure and so here we are now, doing a headgasket swap on my modded P3 Buell Blast this weekend.

    Any chance if I photo-documented it I could get it on 2-wheel tuesday?

  • Robert

    The headline caught my interest as something I can relate to having recently returned from my honeymoon driving cross country in a Hyundia. Bryce and Zion were prominent stops for us along with 12 other National Parks and Monuments. We began in Virginia out to Hot Springs NP in AR followed by parks in TX, NM, AZ, NV, UT, WY, MT, and ND. The only multi-day city stop was Las Vegas, in our case at the Flamingo. Unlike Jeff's trip, our Hyundia is an Elantra hatch. It is great for camping, very good on fuel, though not as invisible to police as expected when you have a headlight burn out or are going well over the speed limit in the UP of MIchigan.

    Zion is a place everyone should visit along with Glacier NP in Montana. I had never seen anything of the scale and majesty of those two places. They are more approchable than the Grand Canyon meaning instead of the earth being ripped open for miles ahead of you it rises up, often verticly, in front of you. You can walk right up to it or if you choose spend the hours hiking to the top.

    It is a beautiful country we live in. It's a great place to drive through, especially with someone you love.

  • Number_Six

    Please don't mention kimchi Please don't mention kimchi Please don't mention kimchi Please don't mention kimchi Please don't mention kimchi…holy shit, a Korean car article without a kimchi mention! Congratulations, Jeff, you have successfully evaded the lame trope trap!

    I was at Zion in March. It's a friggin stunning place.

  • Last year my dad and I drove up to SLC from Roswell, NM. We bypassed Bryce, sadly, though Moab was fucking radical. It is really worth it to explore Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado. There are some amazing sights to see.

    • I lived in Moab as a kid. I will gladly enter fisticuffs with anyone who disagrees with my assertion that it was the greatest place for a 10 year old to live in the entire wuhld. Living in SLC now, I don't get down there enough, but I can tell you that there are places in Zion that are really cool, but don't hold a candle to the places I would ride to on my bicycle as a 10-year old.

  • Nice write up Blooger. $65K for a Hyundai….oh the times they are a changing….

  • rpdred6

    fantastic write-up, absolutely fantastic

  • Will there be a Cliff's Notes version of this story? 🙂

    • Jeff Glucker

      No… Read it or you're fired,

  • Target29

    Really nice post Jeff. Just got back from family road trip in our '08 Sienna from Calgary down through MT, ID, UT, AZ, NV, CA and back up on the PCH north of Santa Barbara through Monterey, SF and Redwood National Park.
    We went to Bryce and Zion as well and were astounded by the sights.

  • That Hyundai Equus looks like a much more expensive car than it is. Was it fun taking it through UT?