By Jim MacPherson
For decades most low-budget models never let you forget that you scrimped big time on car shopping. Even now, not everyone has adjusted to the idea that inexpensive small cars don’t need to feel cheap.
Fortunately, there's progress on this front. An excellent example is the completely redesigned 2012 Hyundai Accent.
The Accent was the weak link in the revitalized Hyundai lineup. It served as a price leader and offered good value. But it probably made many buyers wish that they could have afforded something more. Buyers of the redesigned Accent, introduced recently as part of Hyundai's 24/7 initiative (which calls for 7 new models in only 24 months) should suffer no such second thoughts.
As with the last generation Accent, the new version comes in two body styles. The four-door sedan returns, albeit with new styling, a new drivetrain and a completely reengineered body structure and suspension system. In other words, about the only things carried over are the model name and position in the lineup.
Also offered is a completely new five-door hatchback that could just as easily be called a small wagon, based on styling and function. Both versions ride on a 101.2-inch wheelbase, but at 172 inches, the sedan is 10 inches longer than the hatchback.
Regardless of the body style, power comes from a new 1.6-liter engine, which is part of what Hyundai calls its "Gamma" family. This motor’s high-tech features make the Accent’s $14,955 starting price even more remarkable. Try finding a car in that price range that offers variable intake and exhaust valve timing, along with direct fuel injection.
The payoff comes in power output and economy. Power is rated at 138 horsepower, about 20 more than is found in the competition. These competitors also fall short of the Accent’s EPA ratings of 30 miles per gallon in the city and 40 MPG on the highway. Transmission choices are a manual and automatic, both with six speeds. Every Accent has front-wheel drive.
Performance in our review GLS sedan with the automatic transmission was lively enough around town, but power waned as speeds climbed. Our zero-to-60 time came to 10.1 seconds, which is highly respectable in this league. Full throttle acceleration produced ample engine noise, but no signs of distress, such as vibration or roughness. For reasons that escape logic, the automatic comes with a hill holder function, which keeps the car from rolling back when starting up hill. The manual version, which could really use it, doesn’t have this feature.
The sedan only comes in GLS trim. The hatchbacks are offered in GS or a sporty SE trim. The base GLS with the manual gearbox is the price leader. Opt for the automatic transmission and the price jumps $2,750, a sum that includes the addition of air conditioning, power windows, power mirrors and an AM/FM/CD-playing audio system. None of these features are standard in the base manual gearbox model. However, for $1,750, buyers who shift for themselves can opt for a package with these extras.
Performance is enhanced by a much more solid body structure, another byproduct of the redesign. Handling is secure and braking is good. Lean in corners was kept in check.
Inside, buyers will find an airy interior that is roomy enough to move the Accent into direct competition with compacts, though it retains the subcompact designation. Of greater importance, the interior is nice enough to let you forget that you bought the least expensive model on the showroom floor.
Realistically, most Accent buyers will end up paying about $16,000 for their cars. Nonetheless, calling the Accent a great value is entirely in order.
Hyundai Accent: Starts at $14,955
123 lb-ft of torque
Next week: Mercedes-Benz S350 with diesel power