Road Test: Hyundai Centennial VS460 is Gangster cheap

For the wiseguy on a budget, Richard Whitehead thinks he has found the perfect choice.

Badaboom! The Hyundai Centennial has room enough in the boot for any gangster's, errr, needs. Jaime Puebla / The National
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We called it 50 Cent-ennial and you could hardly get more gangster. In shiny black with bright chrome trim, it's a tad sombre and totally bling at the same time - better for hanging in Harlem than the habibi 'hood. Forget about sets of golf clubs, we joked about the number of bodies and quick-drying cement bags you could fit in the boot.

The top-of-the-range Centennial is the Korean carmaker's take on the Lexus LS460, the Lincoln Town Car and all sorts of German top-of-the-range premium machinery. Aside from Emirates Palace levels of luxury, the main talking point here is the price. This is a car for gangsters who have been hit by the recession, for wiseguys with a conscience, who don't like to show off their wealth in times of austerity.

But to say it is huge is an understatement. Actually, the only way to get bigger than the Centennial is to swap its wheels for a hull and pull out the shuffleboard. At 5.16 metres, the Centennial is just about the longest in its class, with the 1.9m width meaning you will need to choose your parking spaces with care.

Despite its differing dimensions, it does look very much like an LS460 (even the Centennial's model name, the VS460, is almost the same). But what Hyundai has done here is take an original and make it look even better. It enjoys a wider stance with more defined flanks; on the front, there's a heck of a lot more bling on the headlights and between them is a hood ornament and quite a serious-looking, if not sombre, radiator grille. The wraparound nature of the fascia looks quite sporty in spite of the car's vast proportions. Meanwhile, the rear is very Lexus-esque, not least with the two, square exhaust pipes coming out flush from the bumper.

Inside is where it really matters, because this is where you would find your friendly neighbourhood gangster if you had occasion to look for him. And with all the kit in stock, why would he be anywhere else?

While there's anything you could think of inside, it is pretty much the same spec as the Lexus, with everything from sumptuous leathers and umpteen-way adjustable seats with massage function for driver and rear-right passenger, to a small fridge in the behind-centre console.

Mostly, the materials are excellent, with very clunky switchgear, a lovely swathe of fascia and a forest worth of real timber setting off the dark solemnity of the cabin with some warm touches. It is let down by a centre stack that looks like it has come straight out of a Sonata with its unsubstantial plastics. But on the whole, this is one of the few blips in a very well put together interior.

At this end of the market, long-wheelbase cars are made with a chauffeur in mind, and he has plenty to play with inside the Centennial. For example, there's a low-level front camera that switches on whenever the car is still. Unfortunately, though, the digital screen that houses the sat/nav and entertainment system (connecting to 17 speakers and plenty of decibels) isn't the most functional or attractive and could sorely do with a software update. But your driver will definitely like the 4.6L V8 engine with 360hp and 440Nm of torque, even if it runs at 15hp less than the Lexus and a sizeable 28hp behind the Mercedes S500. He will also like the way the suspension pretty much cancels out every bump on the road and how he can more or less steer such a heavy car precisely with his little finger.

With the driver in place, you can set down in the opulent and optional rear VIP seats with their armchair-like seating. You should make the most of the buttons, dials and gauges that extend out of the central arm rest, which also houses the fridge, because within moments you will be sending the front seat forward to make space for your own reclining, rising, leather foot rest. Designed for top brass - corporate and mob - the seat moves into position to become an ottoman. But if work comes ahead of relaxation, a sturdy wood table pops out of the seat in front and is ideal for a laptop.

The Centennial matches the Lexus almost every step of the way with a full spec sheet, some thoughtful touches, generally excellent materials, sublime ride quality and unexpectedly good performance. But what really does make it stand out is the price. At Dh239,000, it is competing with many other cars that are significantly below its spec level and size. It is really amazing what the Koreans have been able to do by putting together an excellent, well-built package and aiming it directly at its more expensive competitors. Every self-respecting gangster in town will be eyeing this one up - not least because of the ample boot space they demand and require.