Hyundai seems to be batting a thousand these days. Working its way from the top to the bottom of its lineup, the Korean automaker has debuted a pair of luxury sedans in the Genesis and the Equus, a line of performance Genesis Coupes, the Sonata that's caused the Japanese competition to take notice, and the Elantra sedan that's as good--if not better--than any Civic lacking an Si badge. Hyundai now turns its attention to its entry-level Accent: a car that, in its previous generation was noteworthy for once holding the title of cheapest car in America with its sub-$10,000 price tag.
This new Accent is bigger, more powerful, and about $6,000 more expensive. It's obviously better than the old car--let's face it, the Accent had nowhere to go but up--but does it reach the bar set by the rest of Hyundai's lineup? More importantly, does it have what it takes to compete in the hotly contested subcompact car market?
Under the Accent's short hood breathes a 1.6-liter gasoline direct-injected engine that outputs a peppy 138-horsepower and 123 foot-pounds of torque. Fuel economy is estimated at 30 mpg city and 40 mpg highway, but our average tended to hang near the bottom of that range. However, that's mostly due to the way we drove the Accent during our week.
We started our week with a spirited blast up one of our favorite mountain roads on a foggy San Francisco Bay Area afternoon and found that Hyundai's little hatchback is surprisingly fun to drive up to its modest limits.
Its 1.6-liter engine has a good low- to midrange output, but tends to run out of steam as you approach the upper limits of the tachometer. Keeping a grin on your face from behind the wheel of the Accent requires careful gear selection. Fortunately, the Accent's six-speed manual transmission is also quite nice with a low-effort shifter and a clutch with a smooth take up and easy engagement that's quite forgiving when you don't quite get the timing perfect on shift, but also rewarding when you do nail that perfect downshift before a turn. It's nowhere near as rewarding as a Honda gearbox, but it definitely doesn't get in its own way. The second and third gears are spaced a bit too wide for our performance driving tastes. Then again, this isn't exactly a performance car.
The Accent's handling is on par with its power train--that is, good enough to put a grin on your face, but not so good that it transcends its pricing class. The handling limits are good, thanks to a solid chassis, 16-inch wheels, and a well-tuned suspension. However when those handling limits are reached, the Accent will react with predictable understeer, which is safe and easy enough to catch and correct under most conditions. If you get too far out of sorts, the standard stability control system will step in with a bit of ABS braking to pull the car back in line. The ABS system is quite loud, so you'll hear when you've reached the limits of the Accent's handling even if you don't feel it.
Around town and at lower speeds, the Accent still feels zippy and alive, making it easy to turn a simple run to the grocery store into a driving challenge--which didn't do any favors for our fuel economy. We did run into one issue with the gearbox that manifested itself at low speed. There's not very much definition between the first and third gear shift gates when shifting from neutral, so at least two to three times daily we'd near-stall the car starting in too tall of a gear. Eventually, we got to the point where we triple-checked that we had indeed selected first gear before every start. For a shifter that is effortless at speed, having to be this OCD was maddeningly annoying.
Overall, we were quite pleased with the eager Accent SE's performance. If you subscribe to the mantra that "it's more fun to drive a slow car fast," then you'll find much to like in this little hatchback.
You'd think that after driving every vehicle in Hyundai's lineup that we'd know what to expect from the Accent's cabin technology package. And you'd be right--with one minor exception.