Al Kuwaitiah  

Saturday, December 14, 2019

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Hyundai’s flagship Centennial gives premium rivals a run for their money
So I swung into the parking lot outside the offices of The Daily Star a few days ago, and suddenly the attendant jumped to his feet and frantically shooed his cohorts away. When I lowered the window of the Hyundai Centennial I was driving in order to pay him, he said: “Oh, it’s you. I thought you were the minister.” Frankly I was offended. I don’t know what minister he was talking about, but I really doubt that he too gets to drive a new car to work every week. Oh wait, that’s right, ministers don’t really do anything, not if I’m to go by the atrocious piles of garbage in the country, the sorry state of the economy and the abysmal roads – in fact, I believe the public works and transport minister should replace my two very expensive and very ruined Michelin Pilot runflat tires, which would have still been brand new had he bothered maintaining the roads near my house!
OK, I got off track. Sorry Hyundai. Back to the topic at hand: the minister ... no, hang on, I mean the Centennial. To appreciate this car and judge it fairly, you first need to shelve your brand perceptions and judge this car on its merits. ... Seriously, this minister, whoever he is, how can he justify driving a $115,000 car without doing anything? OK, OK, back to the car, I promise!
Even though there’s a vast difference in price between this Hyundai and its intended rivals, like the Mercedes-Benz S Class, the BMW 7-Series or the Lexus LS, I will avoid comparing the cars just out of principle, preferring instead to assess the Centennial based on its merits.
First impressions matter in a car of this caliber, and the Centennial – in some markets it’s known as Equus, meaning horse, a term I understand is very privileged in Korea – does attract attention. I suspect part of that is because when people see it from the front they have no idea what it is due to the lack of any identifyingmarks save for a mascot on the hood. The Hyundai emblem on the back of the trunk lid gives it away, but until then you’re incognito.
The basics you need to know about the Centennial are the following: It’s built like a bank vault, boasts outstanding fit and finish, features an interior trimmed with the skins of I’m guessing at least a half dozen cows, the Ultimate model I drove comes fitted with so much equipment that there’s nothing more left as factory options to order, it’s powered by a remarkably powerful mill, and when you cruise by people think you’re a minister. – There he is again. Get out of my review and fix the trash crisis! – So why would you say no to paying significantly less for a car than what rival manufacturers are demanding for similar offerings?
An answer might come to you if I elaborate further. Consider that the current model comes fitted with a 5.0-liter direct-injection V-8 engine that produces 424 horsepower, 510 Newton-meters of torque and comes mated with an outstanding eight-speed automatic with a Tiptronic feature and various driving modes (set it in Sport and the instrument cluster shifts hue from a cool blue to a fiendish red, just for emphasis. That’s understandable as this 2,100-kilogram car gets to 100 kilometers per hour from a standstill in 5.8 seconds.
The steering on the car is wonderfully well-weighted and precise, and the air suspension absorbs the aforementioned road aberrations so capably that while driving the car I briefly stopped fuming at the also-aforementioned negligent minister. Briefly.
Design-wise, it’s impressive, projecting grandeur by utilizing clean lines and elegant trim that are enhanced further by the fantastic 19-inch turbine-spoke rims it rides on, but inarguably taking far too many of its cues from Mercedes-Benz. In that regard I think the Centennial has yet to find itself. When the current model was designed it was clearly suffering from an identity crisis, trying to look like the big boys rather than forging its own path. It has tried to be different by subduing the fascia, but has only managed to become more inconspicuous in the process. In its defense I believe it has now overcome that problem, but more on that later.
In a car like this, the interior matters just as much, if not more, than the exterior. What the cabin of the Centennial offers is nothing short of premium. There’s leather throughout, including the seats, dash, door panels, armrests, gear shift and multifunction steering wheel, parts of which utilize magnificent polished wood trim. That wood also extends to the dash, door panels and rear console, while suede adorns the cabin’s ceiling, lending the interior nothing short of a prestigious allure.
That rear console, which is accompanied by 9.2-inch screens fitted on the back of each of the front seats, can control nearly everything in the car, and the rear seats are not only power adjustable, but can actually recline, with the front passenger seat sliding all the way forward.
The Centennial also literally features every kind of equipment you can conceive of, including cameras on all sides, which also stitch together an around-view display that makes parking a cinch. It speaks more languages than I do, and I speak five – I actually had to switch it to English to understand what it wanted from me when connecting my phone via Bluetooth. That language adjustment also extended to the working navigation, which amazingly also displays the speed limit on any given road. Really, if you drive this car you can’t complain that there are no speed limit signs. I’d just like to know how and where it gets that information, because Google Maps doesn’t have it.
Naturally, everything is displayed on the infotainment screen, which is controlled by a knob just behind the gear shift.
You also get not one, not dual, but tri-zone climate control! I didn’t even know that existed, or what it is, but this car has it. The seats are also both heated and ventilated, and you have power shades for the rear windows and rear windscreen to preserve your privacy in case you’re up to anything grandma would frown upon.
The car also comes with nine air bags, anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control, brake assist, brake force distribution, smart key with push start/stop and almost everything else you could want in a car.
So, again, why would you pay a great deal more for pretty much the same thing? Since my editor-in-chief thinks I’m a gearhead because I like anything that rolls on four wheels, I needed the input of someone who has more than a passing familiarity with this kind of car. So I took the Centennial to my uncle, who’s owned every sort of automobile and still has a very nice Bentley T2 tucked away. After carefully going over every inch of the Centennial, he looked at me and shook his head. “You know, we don’t make the smartest choices when it comes to selecting cars,” he said.
“This is amazing,” he added, pointing to the Centennial, “with all the luxury, quality, power and equipment you could want, and we still go after more expensive marques just for the badge.”
In other words, according to my uncle we’re stupid. And he’s not wrong. In fact, though I’ve said the same thing before, numerous times, I’m not any smarter, considering I bought a pre-owned BMW for a boatload of money when for the same amount I could have easily picked up a brand new car in the same segment, with more current technologies, from a marque that’s not necessarily German.
Sure, I’d have preferred it if the Centennial had a touchscreen display and sportier suspension, but those are hardly worth paying an extra $100,000, if not more. This is without a doubt a world-class car that I’m betting makes the engineers in Munich, Detroit and Tokyo pray that Hyundai would fall off the planetary map.
But Hyundai has other designs, and just like Nissan did with Infiniti and Toyota did with Lexus, the Korean carmaker intends to release the next generation of this car under the Genesis umbrella, as the G90, which by the way will feature a singular and ravishing design philosophy, proving once and for all that the company is inferior to no one.
Whether it’s called Centennial, Equus or G90, it’s still worth every cent of the asking price. You’ll probably also want a chauffeur, but I hear there are a few idle ministers out there who could make themselves useful by driving you around. Then when you arrive at the parking lot, the attendant won’t be wrong if he assumes the minister is driving.
 
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