Sometimes, a car is about getting from Point A to Point B and little else. Not every driver on the road wants some raw, poetic thing that has you speaking in spondee every time someone asks about it. For many, simply having a new car is an excellent thing and, what do you know, the 2018 Hyundai Accent SE is a simple new car.
Revised for the 2018 model year, the Accent SE is the most affordable Hyundai you can buy in the US today. It's small and it's basic, but it will accommodate five human beings with cargo, it doesn't feel oppressive to drive and there's even a decent smattering of tech in the cabin.
Do you like cars? Great, because the Accent is one. It's handsome enough, with a strong character line on the side and some nice sculpting on the front and rear bumpers. Sure, you get steel wheels with plastic covers, but again, it's a base model -- a $15,000 base model.
The interior is well laid out, with a dashboard and center stack that are low and out of the driver's sight line. The USB port is under the radio and easy to access, and both the glove box and center console tray can hold more than enough junk, which is good because the center armrest cubby is smaller than some.
But you probably care less about how it looks and more about how well it works for you. The front seats have ample space for tall drivers. Rear headroom is fine, but legroom is a bit tight for taller folks given the Accent's economy-car size. The seats are made of a durable cloth that both looks and feels nice.
Visibility is excellent from all sides. Blind spots are minimal or nonexistent, and the rear glass is large enough to fill the rearview mirror with a clear view of what's behind you. As for the trunk, it holds plenty for a small car -- 13.7 cubic feet -- good for both groceries and suitcases.
The Accent's 130-horsepower, 1.6-liter gasoline four-cylinder engine is a bit on the louder side, and not in an appealing way. In conjunction with my tester's six-speed manual transmission, I really had to wring it out for acceleration. With just 119 pound-feet of torque on offer, sixth-gear acceleration is not great. The shifter itself is lovely, with appropriate feel and travel from the lever, although the clutch pedal's action is entirely devoid of feedback, which means practice makes perfect if you want a smooth drive. A six-speed automatic is available for $1,000 if you prefer.
While the engine may not sound that great, it delivers some proper fuel economy. The Accent is EPA-rated at 37 mpg highway and 28 city, but I saw closer to 41 on the highway (at 80 mph, no less) and 30 in the city over the course of a couple hundred miles.
In terms of ride quality, it's on par with other economy cars. The suspension is a little on the stiff side, but it's made up for with some thick tire sidewalls, which help the suspension soak up bumps and potholes. Shod in 185/65-15 Continental ProContact TX all-season tires, the car handles cold, drenched pavement without an issue.
During around-town driving, the Accent is fine. It is surprisingly susceptible to crosswinds and uneven pavement, and wind noise is present and tough to ignore. But when the wind dies down and the road quality goes up, the Accent is actually pretty fun to drive. It's light on its feet and easy to shift, which makes for a good time as you dart through traffic -- so long as you keep the momentum up.
When it comes time to turn, the steering is average, if a bit numb, as for most economy cars. The brakes, on the other hand, are easy to modulate -- there's not a lot of stopping power, but then again, there's not much car to stop, either.
The Accent SE packs all its tech as standard, although there isn't much -- you get one USB port, a backup camera, no driver-assist systems, a 5-inch touchscreen infotainment system and a monochrome display in the gauge cluster.
The infotainment system is bare-bones, but it's easy to work. Audio is limited to AM and FM radio, Bluetooth, USB and 3.5-mm auxiliary input. The screen is touch-capable, but there are buttons for swapping between screens. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are sadly absent. The four-speaker sound system sounds fine. The backup camera features a higher resolution than I find in cars costing twice as much (I'm looking at you, General Motors).
The screen in the gauge cluster only shows four different things: trip meters, fuel economy, estimated distance to empty and a digital speedometer. It's simple, but for $15,000, it's a welcome addition. The steering wheel controls feel a step above this price tag, as well.
The Accent SE has no additional options packages, so this is how I'd spec it, I suppose. That said, if you can muster the scratch, I'd drop $16,795 on the midtier Accent SEL, which adds a second USB port, alloy wheels and a 7-inch infotainment system with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. If you want automatic emergency braking, heated front seats and big ol' alloy wheels, be prepared to spend $18,395 on the top Limited trim.
The Accent has a number of competitors, including the Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Kia Rio, Mitsubishi Mirage and Toyota Yaris iA. The Accent beats several on price, but it comes in higher than the price tags on the Rio and Fiesta S sedan. It's more efficient than the competition, with the exception of the Yaris iA (30 city, 39 highway) and the city ratings of both the Fit and Rio (29 mpg). The Mirage is cheaper and more efficient than the Hyundai, but I would never recommend that car to anyone, because it's a bad car, full stop.
It's also worth noting that some competitors, like the Mirage and Fiesta, are available as both hatchbacks and sedans. For the time being, the Accent is limited to a sedan, in case you're on the hunt for more cargo space.
Competing in a busy segment like this means the Accent really needs to make sure it stands apart. It's easily the second most handsome car of the group (the Fit's got it beat there), and its complement of standard tech is competitive, although the Fit can add driver-assist systems on the base model.
If you're on a strict budget and you still want a new car, the Accent will not let you down. It looks good, it drives nicely and it's loaded with just enough tech to add a bit of safety and convenience. Base-trim economy cars don't need to be penalty boxes, and the Accent definitely isn't one.