By Kevin Gordon
There is a wonderful trend happening in the automotive world. Small cars no longer need to be automatically considered economy cars. The team at Autosavant has now had a chance to sample most of the cars in this class and if you read them you’ll notice they are some of the most positive words we put to pixels around here. The Hyundai Accent would like to add its name to that list. The recently redesigned Accent wears a family familiar face and carries an impressive options list. Read on for our full impression and to see if the Accent has graduated from the economy class.
At this point of the review, I would typically talk through the history of the Accent, the history of Hyundai, and how not-great these cars were 5-10 years ago. Why dwell on the past? The 2012 Hyundai lineup provides buyers a wide range of choices at a wide range of prices that should no longer make buyers sheepish about driving around with a crooked H on the back of their ride. At the bottom of this range of choices lies the Accent. It is the cheapest Hyundai and one of the least expensive cars in the US market, with its base trim GLS model starting at just $12,545. We tested the range topping SE model which starts at $15,895. Our tester also came with an iPhone connection cable and floor mats for a grand total of $15,925. For less than $16,000 you get every option you could really need, in a car that drives nicely and delivers good fuel economy.
The way the Accent drives isn’t going to make pulses race, but with a longer wheelbase than most of the cars in the subcompact class, the Accent manages to be steady on the highway. At higher speeds road and wind noise is prevalent, but here again, about the same as similar cars. The little 1.6 liter engine provides adequate power. The “Gamma” designated engine is a little low on torque off idle and yet still manages to be a bit wheezy at the top of its rev range. Our tester came with a six speed manual transmission which took advantage of all of the power available and allowed the little hatch to never feel out of place while merging onto the highway.
The clutch on the Accent grabs at the top of its range of motion and provides minimal feedback about how it has engaged. The six speed manual shifts nicely with positive notches and short throws between gears. Steering is electrically assisted which does exactly as its told all while feeling a little numb. One thing they have managed to do is negate almost all torque steer on slippery conditions. I noted in my log book that this would be a decent car in which to teach someone how to drive. Despite the vague clutch, you can pull away without any gas pedal, and the transmission is well-synchronized for someone less than familiar with driving a stickshift.
One other thing the manual transmission does for this car is allow it to claim a 40 MPG rating on the highway. Some of you fellow savants out there might know this, but for everyone else, it may be good to know. Both the Accent and its sibling, the Elantra, have taken a bit of flack in the press and from some of its owners for the fact that this number is difficult to replicate in real life. We did not do extensive scientific testing, but I did take a mostly highway trip after topping off of the tank and the car returned 38 MPG. If you drove the car the way the shift indicator requested and kept it below 70 you would easily see 40+ MPG. I believe the issue lies with the way that you end up driving this car. Because of a lack of torque off of idle, you do rev it a bit and drive it harder than you would something with more power. Take from that what you will, but there is no taking away the fact that this thing is economical to drive.
Inside the Accent is nicely designed. Colors are sedate, but they have managed to make a handsome design without being ostentatious. Hard plastics are prevalent, but at least they have attempted to give them texture and made panel gaps tight and clean. An interior highlight is the seats, which manually adjust for height. The seats are well bolstered without being annoying and are comfortable with thigh support that a Corolla could only wish to have. When I mentioned that the Accent has all of the features you could ever need, the only thing I missed during my time with the car was automatic climate control. I have to admit that I have gotten spoiled over the years, and having to manually adjust the temperature was the only reminder that I was in a less expensive car. This isn’t to say that auto climate is a feature you will find on the Accent’s competition, it is just the only thing that would make me remember I was driving something that costs well under $20,000.
In the class of subcompacts, bragging rights come from most interior room. The Accent claims the title of most cargo room behind the rear seats in the hatchback. I can also attest that rear seat room is good. I was able (using the not-yet-patented Chris Haak method) to sit behind myself with the driver’s seat in my normal location. I also put child seats in the rear with no issue. The rear latch anchors are buried a little in the cushions, but I had our Britax installed in two minutes.
If you are looking at the Accent than you have probably seen all of the interior features from Hyundai’s website. If this is the first that you are reading, then I can tell you that it has everything its competitors have with the exception of optional leather and the remote starter available on the Chevy Sonic. Here is the very good news. All of the interior features I used worked without annoyance. The radio has knobs, one adjusts volume and the other tunes. The bluetooth connected to my phone without consulting the owners manual and call clarity was good. The radio sounds decent, it streamed pandora while showing track information on the screen, and the buttons on the steering wheel are logically laid out.
By now you might have realized that the Accent hits all of the important points. Towards the end of my time with the car I was trying to find a way to differentiate this car from its pack of competitors. In this mission, I have failed you. What is the best small car for you will come down to personal preference, looks and price. On price, the Hyundai continues to be competitive. Using TrueDelta.com it comes as less expensive than all of its direct competitors, and outdoes all of them in the warranty department. On looks, the Accent has adopted its family grin, and its your call on how it rates. To my eye, it falls somewhere in the middle in the looks department, but then again I think I have the best looking kids of all of my friends. Ultimately, the 2012 Hyundai Accent SE receives its diploma and graduates from just being an economy car to being highly competitive in the subcompact car class. Add the Accent to the list of cars we were happy to drive for a week.
For a video summary of this review, please check back on our YouTube channel early next week.
Hyundai provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas for this review.