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March 6, 2012 > Auto Review: Hyundai Accent

Auto Review: Hyundai Accent

Accentuate the positive

By Steve Schaefer

I just spent a very happy time with the all-new fourth-generation 2012 Hyundai Accent. It's the Korean manufacturer's smallest car sold in America, in competition with other entry-level cars such as the Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit.

The Accent is sold as a five-door hatchback or a four-door sedan in multiple trim levels. All Accents wear the company's fluidic sculpture design, a look that already has raised the perception, and sales of other Hyundais, including the midsize Sonata sedan, Elantra compact sedan and Tucson compact crossover.

I drove the Accent hatchback, in a sober Cyclone Gray worthy of a Mercedes-Benz, but the car managed to mix cuteness with confidence in its own wheelbase. That 102.1-inch wheelbase, by the way, is 2.8 inches longer than on last year's car, giving the car an EPA classification of a compact inside while some competitors are classified as subcompacts. The Accent five-door has a best-in-class cargo volume of 21.2 cubic feet; there's plenty of rear legroom for adults. Even the glove box is significantly roomier than the competition.

The five-door comes as a GS, GLS or SE; my tester was the SE. As Hyundai has done for years, even the base-level GS has lots of standard equipment including a trip computer, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, air conditioning, a sound system with iPod/USB jack, and more. The GLS adds an automatic transmission and cruise control. SE really shines, offering a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, leather shift knob, 16-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, and more.

My tester flaunted - hooray - a six-speed manual transmission. There aren't many cars around that let you shift for yourself these days. As it is, Hyundai has chosen the manual transmission as standard and an automatic as optional at each level, unlike its corporate cousin, Kia, which offers the manual only in the base version of its entry-level Rio.

The interior design felt just right. I enjoyed having Bluetooth for my phone, Satellite Radio, power windows, locks and mirrors (also pretty ubiquitous). While some small cars, such as the Ford Fiesta, now try to overwhelm with fascinating curves and angles, the Accent strikes a balance between youthful exuberance and an environment you wouldn't mind occupying for a few hours a day without being distracted. The seat textures and an ellipse along the doors feature a fanciful circle pattern cloth; plastics are attractively grained and trim pieces gleam.

Accent uses a 138-horsepower 1.6-liter engine that moved the 2,500-pound car along smoothly and quietly. It's the first car to use Gamma GDI - with gasoline direct injection, which provides increased power and lower emissions. That 138 horsepower, along with 123 lb.-ft of torque, are not huge numbers but are well above competitors which start at just 100 horsepower!

The Gamma series engines use many other high tech methods to deliver high fuel economy and low emissions, including dual, continuously-variable valve timing, electronic throttle control, and anti-friction coatings on drivetrain components.

Hyundai's press material compares power to weight ratio for the relatively lightweight Accent and it comes in tops, above the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Ford Fiesta, and others.

Accent's EPA ratings are 30 City, 40 Highway (34 average) - an 18 percent improvement over the previous car with manual transmission. EPA Green Vehicle Guide numbers are "6" for Air Pollution and "8" for Greenhouse Gas (that's SmartWay-winning territory). My tester's trip computer automatically reset with each fill-up; I recorded 32.6 mpg for the first tank and 31.5 mpg for the second, averaging about 32 mpg overall - just a little under the official posted number. The ECO setting provides an upshift light which encouraged me to shift up more quickly, saving fuel.

The Accent boasts six airbags, front seat active head restraints, and a Collision Load Dispersion Mechanism in the vehicle's structure to absorb impact in a crash. Active accident prevention includes Electronic Stability Control and Traction Control. The point is, this little car feels bigger - and actually is more substantial than its competitors. Its new styling complements the 162-inch-long body; folks in back can stretch out comfortably. A quick flip of the seats and my bass lay in there easily.

Accent prices start at just $13,320 for the GLS four-door. The GS five-door begins at $15,475, and moves up to $16,650 for the SE. All prices include shipping.

Hyundai vehicles have been attractively priced from the beginning and offer plentiful standard features and terrific warranties. But they have now become great cars you want to own and drive, even when they're competing at the starting end of the market.

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