2009 Hyundai Accent SE 3-Door Hatchback

Ken Glassman
by Ken Glassman

When Hyundai dropped off a manual-transmission 3-door Accent SE, I knew it would be the perfect car to teach my teenage niece how to drive a stick shift. I doubt that she’ll ever buy a car with a stick, but like my daughters before her, I feel that every young driver should at least know how, and I was determined to teach them.


1. The Accent 3-Door starts at $9,970, with SE modes like our tester priced from $15,070.
2. The SE models adds air conditioning, power windows/mirrors/door locks, remote keyless entry, fog lights, illuminated vanity mirrors, a rear wiper/washer, tire pressure monitors, a tilt wheel, ABS, and an upgraded 6-speaker audio system.
3. Fuel-economy is rated at 27/33 mpg (city/hwy) with the automatic and 26/35 mpg with the manual transmission.

She didn’t have a clue about a manual transmission as we pulled into the deserted suburban parking lot. A short briefing on the concept, and use of the pedals and shifter, and we switched seats. Even my daughters will admit that I’m a good and patient teacher, and my niece, while nervous, got the hang of it fairly quickly.

Sure there were a few stalls and a few herky-jerky starts, but no undue torture was done to the tranny. The little Hyundai’s transmission set-up proved easy to operate. It has a light pedal effort, a wide friction zone and the gearshift lever action is smooth and sure – in part due to the SE trim’s B&M sport shifter. She could have driven the car on the road, but as I was the one who signed for it, it wouldn’t have been inured for her. And despite its low sticker price, I wasn’t willing to risk buying a new one in case of a catastrophe.

Driving home, I thought that this would be the perfect first new car for her – with the automatic transmission option box checked. Inexpensive to buy, cheap to own and operate, decent room for four, and good usable cargo space. Basic transportation – an “appliance” car.

It reminded me of when I was her age 40 years ago, and looking for my first new car. A lot has changed in the last four decades. In 1969, economy cars were rare and “economy” usually meant “piece of crap.”

A Chevy Vega, or Ford Pinto were in the $2,500 to $2,700 range. But they were underpowered, noisy, had dodgy quality, and everything shook and rattled when traveling over a bump. If you wanted some quality, you had to move up to a Camaro, or Mustang, or more expensive car. The price of economy was lack of quality. And don’t think that the foreign cars were any better at that time. Despite revisionist history, they were even worse in most cases than the American cars. They rusted just as quickly, their interiors were cheap and ugly, and they were even noisier and had less power than their American counterparts.

If you don’t believe me, you can look on eBay today to see how many 1969 Honda’s are listed. Zero. And there are only four 1969 Toyota’s listed… and they’re all trucks. No, all those old Japanese cars have long been sent to the junkyards or have rusted away. There are, however, over 130 1969 Chevy’s listed. But I digress.


The major difference between low priced economy cars from yesteryear and today is that the inexpensive cars of today are still high in quality. This little Accent feels solid and well built. The 1.6-liter, four-cylinder puts out 110 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 106 ft-lbs of torque at 4500 rpm. Those would be great numbers for my motorcycle, but it’s the low end of the scale for a car. However, it makes that power in a civilized manner, without much clatter or noise. And with a curb weight of only 2,500 lbs, it will allow the Accent to keep up with traffic, and smoothly merge onto the highway.

You won’t win any drag races, but you’ll be able to pass a lot of gas stations with mileage numbers listed at 27 city and 33 highway with the automatic, and 26 and 35 with the manual. The 11.9 gallon tank gives you a highway cruising range of nearly 400 miles.


The interior is Spartan but comfortable. There’s lots of hard plastic, but its attractive. One nice touch is the soft pull down right side driver’s armrest attached to the seat. I do, however, wish the driver’s door panel was padded, as the hard plastic makes it impossible to use as an elbow prop.

The seats are supportive and upholstered in nice looking cloth, and just fine for long hours behind the wheel. The gauges and controls are easy to see and use. The air conditioning is strong and easily cooled my tester in 90-degree heat. The radio is XM ready and has an in-dash CD player and auxiliary jack for an MP3 player. The car also has an ashtray and cigarette lighter, as well as another 12V outlet for charging cell phones, etc.

As long as the front seats aren’t pushed all the way back, rear seat room is decent for two adults, although it’s hard to squeeze into the rear unless the front seat is pushed all the way forward. Those rear seats fold down to open the rear cargo area for more carrying capacity. With the seats up, the rear cargo area has 15.9 cu.-ft. of space and will hold a weeks worth of groceries for a family, or enough luggage space for a weeklong trip for two. It also has a fold up cargo tray that can hold some storage items, and hide the contents of the cargo area.


You can’t rave about the brakes, or suspension on a car like this. They are capable for everyday driving. Push the car too hard in a turn and it leans over hard, even on the SE model with its “sport tuned” suspension. That “sport tuned” part is mostly ad copy but the MacPherson front and torsion beam rear offers a reasonably nice ride quality. Still, the wheelbase is just 98-inches; so don’t expect a luxury car ride. The 3-door SE model also is fitted with 16-inch alloy wheels instead of the 14-inchers on the 4-door and base 3-door models.

The Accent is quite nimble in town and is easy to maneuver in parking lots. And fitting in to those spots is a cinch thanks to an overall length that is just under 160-inches.

The 4-door model is rather frumpy looking, but the 3-door SE is quite attractive and sporty looking. The door, trunk and hood seams are first rate, and there is nothing cheap looking about the exterior.


The 3-door SE model starts at $15,070 with the manual and $15,870 with the automatic transmission. That price includes air conditioning, power windows/mirrors/door locks, remote keyless entry, fog lights, illuminated vanity mirrors, a rear wiper/washer, tire pressure monitors, a tilt wheel and upgraded 6-speaker audio system. ABS brakes with electronic brake force distribution are standard on this model. Front, side and roof-mounted airbags are in all models. The only other major option is the Sunroof package, which also ads Cruise Control for $1,100. The base GS 3-Door starts at $9,970 and the base GLS 4-door, at $12,920. The test car with freight listed for $16,590.


Today’s economy cars, like this Hyundai Accent 3-door SE, are high quality, solid machines that offer some good content at an attractive price. Car enthusiasts need not apply, but for those who view a car as a machine to take them from point A to point B, safely and economically, and in relative comfort, this is a great buy. Add in Hyundai’s 10 year, 100,000 mile warranty and the Accent looks even better.


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  • Sporty good looks on the 3-door SE model
  • Excellent build quality for the price
  • A lot of content for the price


  • Hard to climb into the rear seating area
  • Hard plastic on door armrests
  • Modest performance
Join the conversation
 1 comment
  • Steve Garrett Steve Garrett on Oct 19, 2013

    I own one, and it has served me well the past year; though i have regretted passing on the auto. and cruise-control options that were never at issue in my youth. Now in my mid-50s i'd simply prefer not to have to shift gears all the time around town. And on the road i really do miss the comfort of setting the cruise, and just rolling. Overall its been a good choice, and i think i'll buy Hyundai again.