Hyundai Centennial vs Audi A8. The Great Pretender

Hyundai says its Centennial is a legitimate rival for the German large luxury saloons. We called its bluff, but not everyone wanted to play ball.

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In the run up to organising this feature, some interesting things happened. We wanted to call Hyundai’s bluff. The Korean company was telling everyone that its new 2014 Centennial is a legitimate rival to makers of luxury large saloons, namely the BMW 7 Series, Mercedes-Benz S-Class and Audi A8. So we decided to see if that was true, and get all four cars together for a shootout.

But when we started calling the Germans to assemble their forces, there was a notable pause when we told them what they would be up against. That in itself is not that surprising. Hyundai is not exactly first to mind when considering luxury cars, so to put one against the flagship of some of Europe’s most established manufacturers is unusual. But we didn’t anticipate any problems. After all, it’s a Hyundai. It’s going to get minced, surely?

Audi, it must be said, didn’t pause at all. The Middle East office gladly organised an A8 L 3.0, which is the closest to the Hyundai in price. BMW ummed and aahed and said it didn’t have the appropriate spec available. When we suggested that a more powerful model than the base spec car would be fine, as the Hyundai still boasted more horsepower, the response was that ‘putting a 740Li against a Hyundai wouldn’t be fair’. Attempts to change their minds proved fruitless.

Still, surely Mercedes would be happy to provide a car. The S-Class is the bastion of luxury in the Middle East; we couldn’t imagine the three-pointed star would be worried about a bit of cut-price Korean competition. Then the email arrived from the PR team, with a quote from the late UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher. “Being powerful is like being a lady,” it read. “If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”

Ignoring the fact that, by that logic, we would never again see a Mercedes-Benz taking part in a group test for fear of being labelled powerless, that meant that two of the leading contenders for luxury saloon honours had declined to take part in a test with a Hyundai. Either they felt it beneath them – which is a little weird – or they’re genuinely worried about how far Hyundai has come in recent years.

It’s some distance. A decade ago, Hyundai cars were little more than appliances. Sure, they worked, but they were soulless, lacking any kind of character or emotional appeal. They were cheap, and that was it. But lately that’s changed. Together with sister company Kia it has sunk huge amounts of time, money and resources to try and improve its brand image and its products. With some success. The Genesis mid-size saloon garnered appreciative nods from the industry, while the Genesis Coupe offered 300bhp, rear-wheel drive and big smiles for the price of a Golf GTI. Suddenly, people were actively lusting after Hyundais. Who’d have thought?

And now we have the latest flagship. The 2014 Centennial is a facelifted version of the car introduced in 2009, with some minor tweaks to the exterior and a more thorough revision of the interior that brings plenty of new gadgets and a redesign. Our test car sits at the top of the range and comes with the 5.0-litre V8 engine producing 424bhp. The cost? $73,509. By contrast, the Audi A8L 3.0 comes with a 286bhp 3.0-litre V6 at a price of $84,383.

The big questions are, therefore, how close does the Hyundai get to the Audi, and does its cheaper price make it a viable alternative?



Categories: Editor’s Picks,Road


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