It’s time to rethink what you thought you knew about Hyundai. Luxury is redefined in the Equus sedan.

Seriously. If you’ve never owned a Hyundai, this will be easier than if you have previously owned one.

For those who once upon a time owned a Hyundai and swore you’d never own another one: Your old Hyundai may have been a rattle-trap and it may have always been in the shop, but we Americans are forgiving people, and if you haven’t forgiven Hyundai, you’re only hurting yourself. This is not the same car company you used to know.

For those who have never driven, much less owned, a Hyundai: Go drive one today. Go in with no preconceived notions, and you will be impressed. Drive a Sonata. Drive a Genesis. And if your tastes and budget put you in the luxury car category, drive an Equus. It’s a luxury car for less, and more people who have luxury taste without a luxury budget will be able to get one.

Powered by a 385-horsepower TAU V-8 mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, the Equus comes in two versions: Signature and Ultimate. Our test vehicle was the Signature, and who could have figured there’d be a fancier one?

Our test Equus Signature had an adjustable electronic air suspension system, 19-inch alloy wheels, a lane departure warning system, smart cruise control, automatic HID adaptive and auto-leveling headlights, parking assist with rearview camera, power folding heated mirrors, a proximity key with pushbutton start, illuminated scuff plates, a leather wrapped dash and real wood interior trim, a 608-watt Lexicon surround sound system with 17 speakers, Bluetooth, automatic climate control and a power sunroof.

Other near-luxury sedans have such appointments, but the Equus sets itself apart with its passenger comfort features. We’ll start with the front seats. The driver’s seat adjusts 12 ways, it is heated, it is cooled and it will give you a back massage while you are driving. The steering wheel is also heated for cold winter mornings. The passenger seat is also heated and cooled.

In back, the 60/40 rear seats have a power recline feature, and they’re heated too. The back seat also has controls for sound and climate control. If you’re a celebrity and you don’t want people seeing you, the back seat has power shades that rise inside of the rear window glass, as well as a power rear sunshade. Try to find a near-luxury car with those features. The interior comfort package in this car is fantastic. If you’re wondering what more could be included, the Ultimate edition is aimed at rear seat passengers, adding a refrigerator, a leg-support and massage system, an 8-inch LCD DVD player and cooled rear seats.

On the road, the Equus performs well with good acceleration and top end power. Cornering is solid for a car of this heft, and the ride is smooth and quiet. The EPA says the Equus will get you 16 miles per gallon in the city and 24 mpg on the highway.

With nine airbags including knees and side curtains, and sophisticated vehicle stability and traction control systems, the Equus gets the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s top rating of “Good” and is a “Top Safety Pick” for 2011.

So what’s the bottom line for all this luxury and safety? $75-grand? More?

The 2011 Hyundai Equus Signature edition without any options stickers at $58,000.

If you’re one of those people still clinging to the belief that Hyundai (it’s pronounced like Sunday) is a cheap carmaker, you should totally reconsider.