Hyundai Accent — A pleasant surprise

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

 For nearly a decade we have recommended the sub-compact Hyundai Accent to people who desired a new car over a used car, but were strapped for cash and couldn't afford much of a monthly payment.
The second and third generations of the Accent were no-nonsense plain-Jane vehicles that offered a low purchase price, excellent gas mileage, enough creature comforts and amenities to make driving life bearable, and enormous monetary peace of mind with a gargantuan 10-year, 100,000-mile drivetrain warranty.
Yes, the Accent was the typical econobox of the last decade, its chief downside a lack of horsepower, but we thought the Accent just good enough to be recommended, particularly the third generation from 2006 through 2011.
Times have decidedly changed and manufacturers could no longer survive with the antiquated econobox template no matter how reliable and fuel efficient it might be.
The field is now crowded with numerous upscale and sophisticated offerings, designed to tempt not just the low-budget first-time buyer, but a whole range of car buyers looking for well-made, attractive, fuel-efficient small cars that won’t deplete the pocketbook, yet will please the senses.
So it is noteworthy that Hyundai has transformed the Accent into a stylish car both inside and out with 40 mpg mileage, a competitively peppy, if noisy, 138-horsepower engine, the choice of two six-speed transmissions, one manual and one automatic, attractive interior materials, and a wide range of equipment that not many years ago was relegated to considerably more expensive vehicles, all while maintaining the attractive long-term Hyundai warranties.
Purchasing an Accent in previous years was a matter of practicality. For 2012 design excitement has now been added to the equation. The owner can not only take pride in the car’s practical side, but in its make-your-best-friend envious good looks.
The Accent is actually the third chapter in Hyundai’s so-called “fluidic sculpture design” language that was first revealed two years ago with the mid-sized Sonata. It moved down last year to the compact Elantra and now to the smallest Hyundai sedan offered in North America. It works just as well in the Accent is it does in the Sonata.
Underneath the gorgeous skin the biggest single improvement over the previous generation is the engine output; the most advanced powerplant ever offered in a small Hyundai. The new 1.6-liter direct-injection 4-cylinder now makes 138 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque. That trumps most competitors including the Honda Fit (117), Nissan Versa (106), Ford Fiesta (120) and Mazda2 (100).
The Accent is quick on its feet when outfitted with the six-speed manual. A major automotive magazine measured 0-to-60 in just 8 seconds. The six-speed automatic, probably the transmission preferred by most buyers, sucks up the power, but 0-to-60 can still be accomplished in the upper ranges of 9 seconds.
The downside — we found the engine excessively noisy. If you’re disposed to headaches this car will give you one; or if you live in a real quiet neighborhood it’s a sure bet everybody will know your name.
Gas mileage is rated at a very competitive 30 mpg city and 40 mpg highway with both the manual and automatic. Note that gas mileage ratings of the new Hyundai Elantra have come under fire as too generous, and there have been some auto reviewers who have come up short in their test drives of the Accent as well. Our mileage during one 200-mile test week seemed acceptable with the on-board computer measuring an overall 32 mpg; while another shorter route scored only at 29 mpg. We must admit that at times we exhibit bad behavior behind the wheel with quick starts and occasionally running the engine into the higher end of the rev band, not typical of the average driver.
Hyundai has always given the Accent buyer a choice between a more traditional sedan and a user-friendly hatchback. And this continues for 2012. The hatchback, which previously came only as a two-door, has been redesigned as a more practical four-door. Although it carries a higher purchase price than the sedan, it offers considerably more storage space and that, we think, is an important consideration for a growing family.
The base GS hatchback starts at $15,355 and the upscale SE at $16,555 including destination charge. Our SE tester with a couple of options carried a bottom line of $16,730. The automatic transmission is a $1,000 upgrade in both trim levels.
The sedan comes in only one trim, GLS, starting at $14,955. But that’s a relatively bare-bones car. The premium package at $1,300 provides the necessary driving amenities of modern life with remote keyless entry, cruise control, power windows and locks, Bluetooth hands free phone system, 16-inch alloy wheels and steering wheel-mounted audio controls. Add in a couple of extras plus an automatic transmission and our GLS test car came to $17,385
The Accent’s interior is really quite nice, not only because of the attractive dashboard, above-average materials and attractive fabrics, but because of new-found room. The new dashboard look contributes to the upscale feel of the car. It artistically flows downward from each side into a center console display that includes a large radio readout, perfect for the satellite radio that comes standard. The gauges are clear and an information display between the speedometer and tachometer dispenses trip and gas mileage information.
The living area has grown from sub-compact status to compact dimensions according to EPA’s guidelines. This means more leg and head room in back allowing four adults passengers to reside in comfort. The rear seats sit occupants fairly upright and do not recline, which may affect long-distance comfort. And, inexplicably, there are no drink holders for rear passengers. 
The hatchback has 21.2 cubic feet of storage behind the seats, which can be expanded to 47.5 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded. If you opt for the sedan, you will be rewarded with a generous trunk, measuring 13.7 cubic feet, and folding rear seatbacks here also allows for additional space.
The new Accent is a pleasant surprise, showing that Hyundai has not lost any of the design momentum it derived from the ground-breaking Sonata; and the fact that the car is not at all like the Accents of the past.
Base price: $15,555; as driven, $16,730
Engine: 1.6-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 138 @ 6,300 rpm
Torque: 123 lb-ft @ 4,850 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 101.2 inches
Length: 162 inches
Curb weight: 2,430 pounds
Turning circle: 34.1 feet
Luggage capacity: 21.2 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 47.5 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 11.4 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 40 mpg highway, 30 mpg city
0-60: 8 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Nissan Versa
The Good:
• Very stylish inside and out
• Excellent fuel economy
• Near top of segment in horsepower
• Both sedan and hatchback variants available
The Bad:
• Rear-seat sits up-right and no cupholders
The Ugly:
• Noisy engine