In 2001 Honda introduced the Fit. Three years earlier, in 1998, Toyota brought out the Yaris, which was then called the Echo. Almost an entire generation of cars before that, Hyundai first introduced the world to the Accent.
|1. Gone is the 3-door hatchback, replaced by a 5-door model that’s priced at a premium and starting at $14,595 compared to $14,195 for a sedan. Add $1,000 for an automatic transmission.
2. The Accent boasts 138-hp from a direct-injection 1.6L 4-cylinder, with an incredible 30/40 mpg rating.
3. A $1,300 Premium Package can be added to sedan models that includes remote keyless entry, steering wheel audio controls, 16-inch alloy wheels, upgraded seat material and Bluetooth.
A roaring success, the Accent long outlived its product cycle, allowing the Japanese to catch up and even surpass the Korean sub-compact, which differed so little over its first three generations anyone would be forgiven for thinking this is the first time Hyundai has updated the car.
Now on its fourth generation, Hyundai has finally given the Accent the attention it has so badly needed, with an all new look and engine.
HYUNDAI SHEDS ECONO-BOX TRAITS
With all the additions, there’s also something notably absent from the new Accent, namely in its model lineup. Gone is the discount three-door hatchback model, replaced by a five-door hatch which is now priced above the sedan.
There’s no longer anything close to a sub 10K Accent, with the stripped-down sedan starting at $12,445. Anyone looking for a automatic transmission will, however, have to start at $15,195.
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Priced right on par with Japanese rivals, has Hyundai overstepped the value being offered in this new model, or is the significant increase warranted?
EXCELLENT FUEL ECONOMY AND POWER
Even before you get in the Accent and drive it, the car’s new style and the numbers seem to suggest it is. Offering not just best-in-class fuel economy at 30/40-mpg, the Accent also delivers excellent power (only the new Chevy Sonic makes more) thanks to the first direct-injection engine in this segment. The 1.6-liter 4-cylinder makes 138-hp, which is a 25 percent improvement over its predecessor. Plus, it’s actually more power than the Toyota Corolla, which competes in a larger class size – even if the Accent is now classified as a compact.
The style of the car is engaging at first, but it’s not hard to see that the Accent did not get the full attention of Hyundai’s design department. While the hatch has its strong points, the sedan gives a distinct feeling that while innovative now, it won’t be long before it looks dated. In many ways it looks like a cheap Chinese knockoff of the Elantra. Arguably Honda’s Fit continues to be the only truly original design in the sub-compact segment.
SAY GOODBYE TO LOW GRADE
Sit inside the Accent and you’ll hit the reset button, wiping clear all past impressions of what a Korean economy car is. Sure cars like the Sonata and Elantra are big improvements over their predecessors, but despite Hyundai’s major leaps in interior design and quality, we still expected the Accent to underwhelm. It does the opposite. With the upgraded Premium Package (a reasonable $1,300 option), the seat material is even nice. Other goodies included in that option group include remote keyless entry, steering wheel audio and cruise controls, Bluetooth and some nice piano black trim accenting. The improvement is so significant a previous generation Accent wouldn’t recognize this new model as one of its own.
But wait… there is one aspect that’s less than ideal. Normally we don’t gripe too much about soft-touch-this, or hard-plastic-that, but the ledge on the doors (where the driver might rest his elbow) is made of some seriously hard plastic and if you’re using the Accent as a put-put commuter, then this is bound to make you grumpy.
Turn the key in the ignition and there’s a reminder of Hyundai’s past, with the rather crude sound of the direct-injection 4-cylinder permiating the cabin like the firewall is made of rice paper.
Fortunately, complaints about the engine stop as soon as you get on the gas. During our drive we hit 36-mpg average and there’s no lack of power. In fact, this might be the first sub-compact ever built where you don’t have to put your foot all the way down just to merge on the highway.
Once on the highway the car is smooth and quiet. As a sign that this is till an economy car bumps in the road (even rather small ones) can still be heard and felt, but just appear muffled rather than eliminated.
Steering is decidedly strange, as with all modern Hyundais. It’s less vague with better on-center feel than the past few Hyundai’s we’ve driven, but lacks feel while cornering – in many ways the opposite of the Elantra and Sonata.
Those looking at getting the stick shift model will be pleased it comes with a Hillstart Assist control system. Popular in Europe and usually reserved for more premium models, it will hold the car on a hill for just a second, long enough for you to engage the gas and let off the clutch. All without sliding backwards!
Those looking for maximum practicality might want to choose the more spacious hatchback with around 20 cubic feet of space (47.5 cu-ft total), but even the sedan delivers a solid 13.7 cu-ft behind the back seats, while offering usable seating.
EASY TO BUY, BUT NOT AS EASY TO AFFORD
It’s impossible to call the Accent expensive, but the price has jumped considerably over the past model. While that entry price of $12,445 doesn’t sound too steep, it doesn’t include AC or power options. With the automatic transmission model starting at $15,195 and the premium pack adding $1,300 you’re then up to $17,255 for a car like our tester.
And while that’s the combo we’d suggest, (if you’re shopping for the sedan at least), deciding otherwise is made easy with only 8 buildable options in general.
Those looking for a hatchback model will have to spend slightly more, with the 5-door starting at $14,595 for the GS model and $15,795 for the SE.
In tossing aside the 3-door model, Hyundai is neglecting those whose wallets are a little empty, a dangerous move in shaky economic times. A company that pioneered basic transportation in the modern era, Hyundai has proven it doesn’t have to be basic any more, for better and for worse. Such is the cost of progress.
But enough moping. The new Accent is excellently built with solid interior design and materials, it delivers exceptional power and fuel economy and is even quite spacious. Plus it’s not bad looking either. True, the new Accent is more expensive, but it’s an even bigger value than before.