Hyundai Accent – keeping it simple

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Someone once said simplicity is the key to happiness.

It probably wasn’t the same guy who coined the phrase, “keep it simple, stupid” or the person who wisely intoned “less is more.”

But the individuals responsible for those expressions would all probably praise the Hyundai Accent for its simple and easy-to-use switchgear.

In fact, we may go so far as to call the Accent’s dashboard layout a work of minimalist art. Everything is clearly marked and placed exactly where it should be. We would hazard a bet that even the most novice driver could get behind the wheel of the Accent and in seconds pull away with knowledge of how to operate the radio, turn on the lights, run the wipers and set the temperature — with air on or off.

And the driver would have no problem reading the clear white-on-black gauges.

This marvelous simplicity was brought to our attention by one of our frequent riders. “This is the way a car should be,” she said. “The operation should be simple. You should never have to get out the owner’s manual to figure out how to do the basic things.”

This simplicity does not come because of a lack of content. The Accent begins at $13,305 and becomes very user friendly at around 15 grand with the basic 21st Century amenities.

For that price Hyundai provides a 172-watt audio system with CD and six speakers, air conditioning, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, 4-speed automatic transmission, tilt steering wheel, variable intermittent wipers, rear window defogger and power heated outside mirrors.

We make a big deal out of Hyundai’s well-appointed but simple-to-operate features because simplicity is going out of fashion in the automotive world. It’s now the rule rather than the exception that as price increases, ease of operation decreases proportionally. Just ask us about “i-drive.”

Hyundai’s entry-level sedan, now in its third generation, sheds its bargain basement image with a redesign for 2006. It can stand up to the growing competition from such newcomers as the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris and other sub-compact players such as the new Chevrolet Aveo, Suzuki Reno and Scion xA.

However the ’06 Accent need make no apologies to any of its competitors particularly in price, content, standard safety features and warranty.

Our frequent rider (who far too often insists on us buying her lunch for her opinion) summed up the Accent in a couple of sentences: “It’s so easy to drive. It’s small and agile and fun and the ride is really nice” she offered without prompting.

And we might add that the Accent is amazingly quiet inside at highway speeds for a car in this segment.

The multilink suspension with coil springs is tuned for a soft side.

You don’t feel those pesky road strips the way you do in many small cars which offer a tighter setup. For the wife, this was good. But for others the Accent may be a bit on the mushy side, especially if getting frisky in the corners is something you enjoy occasionally.

That being said, we found the handling predictable. And the rack-and-pinion setup offers good steering feel, imparting the sensation of being in control of all situations.

The Accent is powered by Hyundai’s 1.6-liter twin-cam inline 4 with variable valve timing. The engine develops 110 horsepower, six more than the previous edition, and 106 pound-feet of torque. That’s not much torque, but the engine is designed for superb low-end pull and that translates into a sprightly feel from the stoplight and in stop-and-go traffic.

Where the Accent seems to run out of breath is climbing quickly to 65 miles per hour to stay ahead of traffic from the freeway on-ramp. If you keep your foot in it, the little car will move out adequately, but with an elevated noise level from the hard-working powerplant.

Our test car was outfitted with the automatic, which probably cuts into performance — as well as gas mileage — when compared to the 5-speed manual. But we figure most people will opt for the automatic.

Gas mileage is rated at 28 city and 36 highway with the auto and 32/35 with the manual shifter.

In addition to its simplicity of interior styling, the Accent has been outfitted with some neat touches including two power points conveniently located under the center stack and just above a storage bin big enough for a cell phone and/or a Blackberry. In fact, both can be recharged at the same time.

Overall fit and finish is excellent, and the quality of materials is exemplary and would be considered adequate in a car costing 10 grand more.

We found the seats comfortable during our short jaunts and the driving position good. The driver’s seat comes with a fold-down armrest on the right side. Unfortunately for the passenger, a left-side armrest is not available. Rear-seat leg room is adequate for a car this size, particularly if you can reach a compromise with the passenger in front of you.

Trunk space is decent at 12 cubic feet and total storage space measures 32 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded.

One of the small car’s impressive features is standard safety. All Accents come with four-wheel antilock disc brakes, side-impact airbags for front passengers and full-length side-curtain airbags. Front seatbelts feature pretensioners and load limiters.

The Accent comes only as a four-door sedan in one GLS trim level at $13,305. To give the car most of the amenities we have come to expect at any level, add the $1,500 premium sport package and all the aforementioned equipment, in addition to 15-inch alloy wheels, will be yours. Our test car had a sticker of $14,870, which included $65 floor mats.

The now famous Hyundai warranties come with the Accent. They include a five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, a 10-year/100,000-mile drivetrain warranty and five years of unlimited roadside assistance.

People who purchase entry-level vehicles want to get as much for their hard-earned money as possible. We say to those people, put this car on your shopping list. You will be hard pressed to find another vehicle under 15 grand that offers the level of quality, safety, comfort, amenities and simplicity of interior design as the new Accent.