Power for the Accent comes from a clean and sophisticated 1.6-liter double overhead-cam engine, featuring variable valve timing and delivering slightly more power than the Yaris or Fit. The environmentally friendly Accent is an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle, or ULEV, and rates 33 mpg in the latest, 2008 EPA Highway tests. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) has recognized the Hyundai Accent as one of the top 12 greenest vehicles you can buy.
What's more, this emphasis on economy and environment does not come at the expense of safety; in fact, Accent offers a generous list of safety features. Six airbags (front, seat-mounted side-impact, and side-curtain) are standard on all models; antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution are optional on the sedan and standard on the sporty SE coupe. The Accent and the related Kia Rio are among the least expensive cars on the market with these important safety features.
Hyundai last redesigned the Accent sedan for 2006, and released the latest coupe that spring. While the sedan brings some suave to the entry-level family segment, the coupe is clearly seeking street cred, offering hip accessories ranging from a strut-tower brace to faux carbon-fiber trim.
New for 2008, all audio systems include XM Satellite Radio with a three-month subscription, and an auxiliary audio input jack. There's a new instrument cluster available, and a new alloy wheel design for sedans. 2008 Accent SE coupes come with a B&M sport shifter, plus a rear center armrest with cupholders, and coupes are now available in Mellow Yellow.
We think people in the market for small, practical, but hardly Spartan car should consider the Hyundai Accent alongside the best from the Japanese name brands. A generous five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty with roadside assistance and a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty make the Accent a particularly good deal for anyone who does not want to buy a used car and intends to keep the vehicle for an extended period of time.
Hyundai Accent GS coupe ($10,775), automatic ($11,775); GLS sedan ($12,925), automatic ($13,925); SE coupe ($14,575), automatic ($15,375)
The back of the sedan roof sweeps toward the trailing edge of the trunk lid, giving it almost a coupe-like appearance. Unlike many modern cars, Accent has a generous greenhouse with big windows; blacked-out trim both defines and unifies the side-window opening. This, coupled with a long wheelbase and relatively short overhangs, makes the sedan appear a tad bigger than it actually is.
The Accent sedan is more buttoned-down conservative than the more youthful Kia Rio, with which it shares its basic construction. We see a hint of Volvo in Accent's nose and maybe a dash of Honda in its rear three-quarter view.
The Accent coupe has a look all its own, though it shares its front fenders and defining character line with the sedan. The differences begin with a more aggressive two-slot air opening that replaces the sedan's fine-lined horizontal grille, and ends with a rounded tail that takes the tentative reverse curve at the base of the sedan's roof, boldly widens it, and fuses it with the horizontally curving quarter panel. The two-door Accent is unashamedly a hatchback, and makes no pretense to a separate trunk lid.
Not surprisingly, then, the coupe is as tall and wide as the sedan, and shares the sedan's 98.4-inch wheelbase, but at 159.3 inches overall it dispenses with a significant 9.2 inches of the sedan's rear overhang. The result is one of the cutest little rears we've seen anywhere lately, and a short, sassy profile that looks like it should cost more than it does.
On both coupe and sedan, a roof-mounted micro-antenna is aerodynamic, flexible, and said to improve signal strength.
The dashboard wraps around to the door panels, and the center stack is nicely integrated, with large, well-positioned climate control knobs. The big speedometer and tachometer are located in a nicely contoured instrument pod in front of the steering wheel. Smaller fuel and coolant temperature gauges are set inside, along with a small LCD readout for the odometer and trip meter as well as gear-selection indicator for automatics. Gauges on GLS and SE have been redesigned for improved readability.
The new auxiliary input jack (in Accents built December 2007 or later) allows iPods and other portable MP3 players to be connected directly into the vehicle's audio system.
The seats are contoured and finished in a classy cloth material that feels high quality. The driver's seat is eight-way adjustable on all models.
We noticed several nice touches that kept our test sedan from feeling like a cheap econobox. Among them: dampened grab handles, a thick roof lining, center folding front and rear armrests, a tilt steering wheel, a micro roof-mounted antenna, driver and passenger side-illuminated vanity mirrors, cabin air filtration, remote trunk and fuel cap releases, and a windshield shade band. There are decent-size pockets with a cup holder in each door. In addition, there are other storage places and a big glovebox.
The rear seat splits 60/40 for additional storage capacity. For better rearward visibility, the three rear-seat headrests slide down shingle-style into the seatback when not needed. A fold out center armrest with two cupholders is provided for rear-seat passengers.
Rear-seat leg room and headroom is not too bad unless the car is full of six-footers. Getting into the back seats is made easier by locating the rear wheels farther back, so the wheelwell does not intrude into the sedan's door opening as much.
Compared to the sedan, the coupe surrenders less than a half inch of hip room up front, and less than an inch in the rear; otherwise its passenger-comfort dimensions are identical to those of the sedan. Both models qualify as compact cars by government interior-volume standards, while the competing Toyota Yaris and Scion xD are classified as subcompacts.
Trunk volume in the sedan is a very respectable 12.4 cubic feet. Despite its shorter length, the hatchback coupe expands this to 15.9 cubic feet with the rear seats in place. Folding the back seats flat in either car greatly increases the total cargo volume and makes room for long and bulky items.
Hyundai's 1.6-liter four-cylinder is a modern, sophisticated engine with dual overhead camshafts and continuously variable valve timing. This DOHC/CVVT combination helps give the engine a broad power band with high fuel efficiency and low emissions. The engine produces 110 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 106 pound-feet of torque at 4500 rpm.
The EPA's latest City/Highway fuel economy estimates are 27/32 mpg for the manual, 24/33 mpg for the automatic. When making comparisons, remember that 2008 figures are generally lower (poorer) than in previous years because of new test procedures designed to better reflect real-world driving. The automatic does slightly better than the manual because its overall top gear ratio is a low 2.77:1, versus 3.39:1 for the manual. In exchange, the stick-shift Accent should deliver snappier throttle response from cruising speeds.
The sedan's ride is on the soft side, softer than the Kia Rio, which gets sportier settings. The power assisted rack-and-pinion steering provides reasonable feedback and the handling proved to be acceptable on some winding mountain roads near San Diego. Our GLS automatic had the optional 15-inch alloy wheels with the sportier P195/55VR15 tires. We did not try a base model with the skinny 14-inch tires and steel wheels, but suspect it would not handle as well. Overall, the driving characteristics and performance make this a commuter car rather than a long distance cruiser.
The SE coupe is more stiffly sprung than the GS coupe or GLS sedan (by 24 percent up front and 11 percent in the rear). Its suspension struts are valved tighter, and its front anti-roll bar is beefed up to 24 mm, vs. the 21 mm bar on the GS/GLS. And the SE's V-rated tires have stiffer sidewalls and wider treads, which makes for a firmer ride. The steering ratio is the same (15.5:1) in all three models, but Hyundai says all three racks are tuned differently for different levels of sporty feel, while the SE's suspension upgrades make it 70 percent more resistant to body roll so it leans less in corners than the other models.
The SE's now-standard B&M Racing sport shifter decreases the distance the driver has to move the lever from one gear to the next, which should enhance the driving experience.
For 2008, the brakes were downgraded from four-wheel discs to ventilated discs in front and drum brakes in the rear. To be fair, a small, front-wheel-drive car relies more heavily on its front brakes anyway, so the change probably represents a bigger loss in bragging rights than in real-world safety. In theory, discs are better for their improved ability to dissipate heat, particularly when used repeatedly such as when hurtling down a steep mountain road.
The 2008 SE adds four-channel, four-sensor ABS with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD). This feature isn't even offered as an option on the GS coupe, and is optional on the sedan as part of the Popular Equipment Package. ABS allows the driver to maintain steering control in an emergency braking situation by preventing wheel lockup. EBD improves stability in hard braking situations by balancing brake force front to rear.
The Hyundai Accent is a competent subcompact car that's big inside and sprightly underway. It includes an impressive array of standard safety features and is certainly worthy of being considered alongside more expensive models from other manufacturers. The hatchback coupe adds a strong dose of sporty styling, plus more cargo-hauling versatility, with no significant loss of passenger space.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent John Rettie filed this report from San Diego.