It may be the weekend when all of the classic-car world preoccupies itself with Pebble, Laguna and Quail, but on a slightly less rarified level, the Monterey classics celebration also serves as a launching pad for new luxury vehicles, this year from Infiniti, Lexus and Cadillac alone.

Hyundai's also counting itself present at Pebble Beach, with a display on the Lodge's Peter Hay Hill, and also with the 2012 Equus, the updated and upgraded version of its flagship sedan coming later this year.

While the rest of The Quail's attendees took on the challenge of fighting other well-heeled noshers for French dilled salmon, Mediterranean tabbouleh and a rather nice Italian pizzette, we went for a brief first drive in the Equus, and came back with nearly the same impressions as we did during our first drives of the 2011 Equus just last year. That is to say, the Equus proves Hyundai can build a credible luxury sedan, it's priced to drive that point home, and it's outfitted to compete on a global level, though its handling takes a languid Lexus tack, instead of a sharper BMW-like feel.

It's only been on sale for a single model year, but Hyundai's replacing the Equus' 4.6-liter, 385-horsepower V-8 with a new engine. It's the same 5.0-liter V-8 fitted into the smaller Genesis R-Spec sedan, and as it does in that car, the big V-8 is rated at 429 horsepower in the Equus, and at 376 pound-feet of torque. Hyundai says those figures put the Equus atop the 2011 Lexus LS 460 and the Mercedes-Benz S550 for overall output. And as it's done with the Genesis' V-6 and V-8 engines, Hyundai's fitted this one with direct injection.

Also new for this year: an eight-speed automatic transmission with a sport-shift mode, taking the place of last year's six-speed automatic. Other changes are said to improve the engine's block stiffness, for better control of noise and vibration.

As we've seen with many other cars making the switch to eight-speed automatics, the Equus doesn't seem to get much more confused by its sudden abundance of gears. Upshifts in our test car were quick and almost imperceptible. The 5.0-liter Equus certainly feels more willing, and in both the flagship four-door and in the Genesis R-Spec we drove recently, the larger-displacement Tau V-8 sounds a bit richer, with a rounder exhaust note, than the 4.6-liter version.

Is it any faster, though? That's a difficult thing to measure, especially on a day and a road where vintage Ferraris and modern-day Bugattis are stuck, just like we are, behind more pedestrian Tauruses and Corollas. The old Equus never really strained to deliver power, and since that car was capable of 0-60 mph times estimated at about 6.4 seconds, it's easy to see and feel this Equus ratcheting the numbers down below six seconds, what with its 44 added horsepower.

Hyundai says the goal with the new V-8 isn't vast improvements in 0-60 mph times, though it expects the 2012 Equus will shave those tenths from posted acceleration figures. Primarily, it's to put some marketing distance between its mechanically related luxury sedans. The new powertrain does dip in fuel economy, to 15/23 mpg, though.

We'll have to wait until production-ready cars come later this year for more substantial impressions. The vehicle we drove was an early engineering car, with some steering tics yet to be massaged out and some ancillary drivetrain noises waiting to be buffed down.

The 2012 Equus should be on sale by October. No pricing information has been released yet, but once again, Hyundai will offer Signature and Ultimate editions, with standard Lexicon audio, adaptive cruise control, ventilated front seats, and leather upholstery. A lane-departure warning system will be a new option this year: it sounds an alert when the Equus crosses lanes for more than a second, and tugs the seatbelt when the car crosses over for more than three seconds.

The other change with Equus this year is one you've probably read about here at MotorAuthority: Hyundai's no longer offering a free the Apple iPad for Equus buyers, as a delivery device for the car's owner's manual. It's described the first-year freebie as a promotion to stir interest in the Equus, and while the owner's-manual app remains available for downloads, it's directing owners to the standard paper manual.

No, it won't have the Cupertino halo glowing over it any more, but the Equus has a halo effect all its own--and now, a more distinctive niche above and beyond the excellent Genesis four-door.


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