As much success as Hyundai is experiencing nowadays, truth be told, they have a big gaping hole in their sales figures for models beyond a certain price-point. One of the those models is the Hyundai Centennial. As even Hyundai owners might not know, the Centennial is the flagship of the Korean brand, designed to tackle premium brands head-on. The car has been around for a couple of years now, but we finally took one for a spin at the launch of the mildly-facelifted 2014 model.
The Centennial is undoubtedly a handsome car. However, there aren’t enough distinctive design cues to make it stand out. Sure, there’s that nice muscular kink on the rear haunches, but that’s about it. We assume the conservative design is appealing to management-types in the Far East who prefer to get shuttled here and there without fanfare. Even the Lexus LS used to be just as anonymous, at least until its facelift this year.
Inside, the Centennial gives you your money’s worth with a cabin that plays in the big league. Slightly redesigned for 2014, mostly to accommodate new gadgets, the Centennial offers cabin materials almost as cushy as the stuff in a Lexus, although most consumers won’t be able to notice the difference. The design itself lacks any distinctive features apart from the new BMW-inspired joystick shifter and rotary-dial multimedia controls. We liked the layout of the rear seats much more than in the Lexus though, with its nicely-integrated dual LCD screens, reclining seats and cooler box in our loaded 4-seater test car.
The tech is also easy enough to figure out, for the most part, and you even get upscale little options such as doors that suck in and close by themselves if you just shut them lightly. You can also spec up the car with features like an LCD gauge cluster, adaptive cruise, around-view parking cameras and LED headlights. There’s more options, like the haptic-feedback steering-wheel buttons and the multi-colour heads-up display, that we’ve never seen before in any other car.
Hyundai was so confident about their product that they made us drive all the way from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, and then made us do laps on the Yas Marina F1 racetrack!
The highway drive was comfortable, with a very compliant ride even with the optional 19-inch alloys. The car was quiet for the most part, but some wind noise was noticeable at speeds above 120 kph.
The new 5.0-litre direct-injection V8 engine offers decent power, but you will never feel a kick in the back when accelerating. The 8-speed automatic felt a bit confused at times, preferring to stick to higher gears, as it takes ages to downshift when you put the pedal to the metal. It’s possible the brand new cars take time to learn the driver’s behaviour.
At the track, after a brief lunch, we got to try out the car on three different circuit layouts, using different sections of Yas Marina. The two longer tracks were mildly amusing, as we weren’t really moving much beyond 120 kph, kept in check by a pace car. The sharper corners were handled just fine, as the stability control made sure understeer was kept at a minimum simply by cutting off the power smoothly.
We had the most fun at the third track, a smaller course that was full of sharp corners and there wasn’t enough space to get the speeds too high anyway, so the pace car didn’t hold us back. The Centennial is by no means a driver’s car, but with the stability control and sport mode left on, it offers unflappably safe handling, with moderate body roll and trustworthy brakes. Whatever lean there is on a turn is quickly quelled as the road straightens out. The body movements are well-controlled, not feeling artificially-manipulated like we noticed in the Lexus LS. The Centennial will never keep up with a BMW 7-Series on the corners, but it doesn’t need to. Nobody takes their full-size sedan to the track.
The Centennial is an excellent effort by a company that is keen to showcase what they’re capable of now. The only thing holding back this car in this region is the lack of a premium badge, as proven by the likes of the Volkswagen Phaeton and the Honda Legend. If that doesn’t bother you then, for the money, the sheer amount of metal and microchips you get for the price is impossible to beat.
For prices and specs, check out the Hyundai Centennial buyer guide.