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2012 Hyundai Accent

Accent escapes from the bargain basement Add to ...

The two-door Accent hatchback has been jettisoned from Hyundai’s lineup and, with this strategic adjustment, disappears the likelihood of Hyundai Canada ever again being known for hawking the cheapest of cheap cars.

For Accent buyers, the departure of the two-door promises the end of clubbing adjacent vehicles’ doors in tight spaces, and mercifully no more squeezing between front seats and door jambs to access rear seats.

For Hyundai Canada, the move is a step forward of another sort. With it, the typical Accent price point climbs from as low as $10,000 for the traditional volume leader, the three-door as they called the hatch, to either side of $16,000. A wad of Korean won in additional profit, in short.

Up to now, the two-doors have accounted for 60 per cent of Accents sold, but the company foresees four-door hatches – five-doors, they call them – accounting for that percentage of 2012 models, with the remainder four-door sedans.

In 2011, the sedan was a step up from the hatchback, but now becomes the base model, starting at $13,199. The hatchback variation carries a $400 premium for a starting price of $13,599. In the prevalent GL trim, which includes air and keyless entry, chosen by most buyers, $14,999 sedan and $15,399 hatch, rising with an automatic transmission to $16,199/$16,599.

Whatever the shape, the 2012 Accent is hugely more substantial and capable than the third-generation car it’s currently replacing in Canadian showrooms. Safer too, with antilock brakes, stability control, four-wheel disc brakes, six airbags and active front headrests now standard.

With the unexpected combination of best fuel efficiency and most power in the subcompact class, the 2012 Accent may well continue as the Canadian best-seller in this category despite its aspiration of moving beyond the bargain basement.

In fact, Hyundai Canada still affords its sales persons with winning numbers. They emphasize that the Sedan L with a manual transmission sells for $1,100 less than its 2011 predecessor, at $13,199 against $14,299, while including $1,400 worth of new standard equipment.

The cars that journalists sampled in a drive to the Hoover Dam were American counterparts of the GLS sold in Canada for $17,199. These test cars were not equipped with automatics, which surely stumped some manual-resistant U.S. journalists in the previous group of invited writers as Hyundai’s new six-speed manual was featured. Another Hyundai boast is that Accent is the first subcompact offering both six-speed automatics and manuals.

On the road, the first question that comes to mind is, how can a car this small be this quiet? The smooth ride may be explained by the smooth pavement – a Ford Shelby Cobra would ride like a Lincoln on U.S. 93 – but the absence of wind and engine noise is directly tied to the Accent’s aerodynamic efficiency, effective door seals and outstanding body rigidity.

Seats are properly upholstered for a comfortable ride. The driver’s seat is six-way adjustable, the steering wheel tilts. The longer wheelbase (an additional 70 mm between front and rear wheels compared to the previous Accent) improves both the ride and stability at cruising speeds, while facilitating a far larger interior.

Both sedan and hatchback are among the roomiest in class. The sedan falls just short of the Nissan Versa in passenger and cargo volume, while the hatch boasts the most cargo room and is topped in interior volume only by a Versa five-door and the Honda Fit with its one-of-a-kind folding rear seats.

The ambience is similar to that of cars that sell for $10,000 more. Dash panels fit together nicely. There’s no shiny hard plastic.

Basic needs are well attended to, with twin cup holders well placed in the centre console and complemented by bottle cavities in the doors, overhead sunglass storage, a centre armrest, and even in the base model the audio system has an input jack for playing and charging recording devices.

What’s missing is the fun-to-drive quotient that may not matter to many sub-$20,000 buyers, but can be a deal clincher for those of us who need to enjoy the drive. Despite its class-leading 138 horsepower, the test Accent’s new direct injection engine feels adequate rather than lively.

Although this engine needs to be taken to 3,500 rpm for strong response, there’s no reward in thrashing past 6,000 to the 6,800 rpm redline. Similarly the Accent steers around corners surely, but with little feedback through the steering wheel. This car’s made for cruising, not sport.

Fun? Whenever Hyundai Canada executives talk about how much fun will be on offer in the upcoming three-door coupe, the Velostar due this fall, it comes across as a concession that the Accent’s role in the lineup is purely tied to appealing to good sense and delivering great value.

Yes, the move to four doors has distinguished the Accent as a sensible choice at sensible, sub-$20,000 prices. In other global markets Hyundai remains in the two-door cheapo business with its made-in-India i10. In its North American operations, though, the concept now becomes as obsolete as knobs on television sets.

Hyundai has accomplished so much in upgrading its sub-compact entry, it becomes a rival to the company’s larger, more expensive, hence more profitable compact model, the Elantra. Prudent consumers will want to compare the two cars closely before choosing one over the other – a much different situation than existed with the 2011 Accent.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

Tech specs

2012 Hyundai Accent

Type: Four-door sedan/five-door hatchback

Base Price: $13,199/$13,599

Engine: 1.6-litre, direct injection, DOHC, four-cylinder with variable valve timing

Horsepower/torque: 138 hp/123 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic

Drive: Front-drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 6.7 city/4.9 highway with manual transmission, 7.0/4.8 with automatic; regular gas

Alternatives: Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris, Mazda2, Nissan Versa, Honda Fit

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