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.
On a foggy mountain road, the Accent SE surprised us with its zippy performance.
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.
Like its older and larger siblings, the Accent SE comes standard with Hyundai's basic cabin technology package. That means you'll get a single-slot AM/FM/CD player with MP3 playback capabilities, an XM satellite radio receiver, and standard USB and auxiliary inputs. There's also standard Bluetooth connectivity and a cool blue backlight to the controls and large monochrome display. With the aid of a $35 interface cable, users are able to add iPhone/iPod playback capability with full access to the iPod's organizational structure for browsing by artist, album, genre, and podcast.
The standard Bluetooth connectivity supports the Hands-free Profile (HFP), Phonebook Access Profile (PBAP), and the Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) and Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP) combo that enables stereo audio streaming. With a compatible phone paired and its address book synced, users are able to initiate handsfree calls by stating the recipient's name thanks to a voice command feature.
Sound reaches your ears through a 172-watt audio system with six speakers that is best described as "adequate." It's not bad for the sort of stereo you'd find in a $15,000 car. Bass output is not this system's strong suit, with serious distortion occurring at the low end of the audio spectrum at louder volumes. Mids and highs don't fare much better, but with a bit of tweaking to its three-band EQ, we were able to get some enjoyment out of our music.
The Accent offers a good level of tech, but the omission of navigation keeps it from being great.
You'll notice, however, that we haven't mentioned navigation. That's because the Accent is the only vehicle in Hyundai's lineup that can't be had with the automaker's navigation system. So, you'll have to bring your own portable navigation device or smartphone app if you need help getting from point Alpha to Bravo.
Options and packages
Outfitting your Accent couldn't be easier, because there aren't many options available. If you want a five-door there's either the SE or GS. At the SE level, everything is standard, whether you chose the six-speed manual or automatic transmission.
Stepping down to a GS trim level downsizes the wheels to 14-inch steel wheels with plastic covers, swaps in a less aggressive steering tune, and deletes the spoiler out back and fog lights up front. In the cabin, you lose a few more niceties such as Bluetooth connectivity for calls and audio and the leather trim on the steering wheel and shifter. Again, no option packages are available, but you do get the choice of automatic or user-shifted transmission.
Now, if you want an Accent sedan, things get a bit more complex. The manually shifted GLS sedan is even more basic than the GS hatchback, losing its remote door unlock, downgrading to fewer creature comforts in the cabin, and ditching its body-colored side mirrors and door handles in favor of blacked-out parts. Stepping up the automatic transmission option unlocks the ability to add back all of the features of the SE (with the exception of the sport-tuned steering) with the addition of a $1,300 Premium package.
For our money, the $16,555 Hyundai Accent SE (including $760 destination charge) represents the sweet spot for this model, giving drivers reasonable economy, as much tech as Hyundai offers in this class, and a few grins if you don't mind driving a slow car fast. Add $35 if you're an iPhone or iPod user and $1,000 for the automatic transmission, if you're not a fan of rowing your own gears.
The Accent SE trim level offers the best blend of performance, utility, and technology of the available trim levels.
The Accent SE's most obvious rival is the Honda Fit Sport. Watching the manually shifted versions of these hatchbacks go blow for blow is an interesting exercise in how far Hyundai has come in last few years. The Accent SE has more power and better economy. The Fit Sport has slightly better handling and a much better shifter. The Hyundai strikes back with better cabin technology and a $1,000 lower MSRP and the Fit counters with better utility thanks to its Magic Seat. Which of these hot little hatches wins is entirely up to the preferences of the buyer, but at the end of a week with the Accent SE, I'm leaning toward the compact from Korea.
Other competitors include the Scion xD, Toyota Yaris, and Chevrolet Aveo, which can't compete in cabin technology or pure driving joy, and the Ford Fiesta SES, which has a better tech package thanks to Ford Sync, but is also almost $2,000 more expensive.
|Model||2012 Hyundai Accent|
|Powertrain||1.6-liter GDI four-cylinder, FWD, six-speed manual transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||30 city, 40 highway mpg|
|Observed fuel economy||29.4 mpg|
|Bluetooth phone support||basic voice command, phonebook sync, A2DP audio streaming|
|Disc player||single disc, CD/ MP3|
|MP3 player support||analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB, available iPod connection cable|
|Other digital audio||Bluetooth stereo streaming, SiriusXM satellite radio|
|Audio system||172-watts, six-speakers, no subwoofer|
|Price as tested||$16,590|