Hyundai’s product parade has created a bandwagon a lot of auto reviewers are jumping on and, after spending a week with its latest Accent, I too found myself looking for a place as a drum-thumper and Hyundai horn tooter.
I don’t want to beat one of those really big drums – the new fourth-generation 2012 Accent isn’t going to bring world peace or save the planet from human excess all by itself – but its mix of style, technology, features, drivability and, as always, value, are certainly worthy of some ruffles and flourishes.
Hyundai’s somewhat frumpy-looking previous-generation Accent was already serving the company well, leading the subcompact sales race at mid-year when the new one began arriving in showrooms, adding showroom momentum which, not surprisingly, continued into the fall.
This new Accent isn’t a tepid warm-over of the previous version, but a stem-to-stern redesign that includes a stiffer structure, more powerful and efficient engine, six-speed auto and manual transmissions and compact-class interior dimensions wrapped in eye-catching bodywork. The new version has been named the Best New Small Car (Under $21,000) for 2012 by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada.
The 2012 Accent is available in five four-door sedan models starting at $13,199 and six five-door hatches starting with the base L at $13,599, stepping up to a GL at $15,399 and the GLS at $17,199. Those prices are for manual gearbox-equipped cars. The top-of-the-line GLS hatchback with automatic – my tester – lists at $18,399.
Personally, I don’t see why anybody bothers with a sedan in this class. Hatchbacks generally not only look better, but given that both models are really only four-seaters, are eminently more practical. And in the Accent’s case, the additional $400 for the hatchback, comparing base prices, surely wouldn’t be a deal breaker.
Both the sedan and the hatch benefit from Hyundai’s new Fluidic Sculpture styling that, with some clever sheet-metal manipulation, creates a much raised level of visual appeal. They share an aggressive front-end look with central grille and lower air intake flanked by swoopy-looking fog and headlamps. Sculptured sheet metal on the sides adds further flare, with a rising curve on the hatchback that compliments its flowing roofline.
A longer wheelbase and an additional 70 mm in length contribute to compact segment level cabin space. And under the rather small hatch there’s a deep compartment with 600 litres of cargo room (compared with the sedan’s 389 litres) with the rear seats occupied and 1,345 litres with the seats folded.
Base models come with tilt-steering wheel, power locks, brake and driving dynamics electronics, a sextet of airbags and power locks. Step up to the GLS and you add an upgraded audio system with voice-activated Bluetooth, air conditioning, keyless entry, cruise control, power windows, heated seats and door mirrors, leather-wrapped wheel with audio and cruise controls, a sunroof and fog lights.
All this is installed in an interior that matches style – with some bright-work trim adding a visual kick – with functionality. Seats are just about long enough under the thighs with firm bolsters, the wheel feels good, cup holders are an easy reach and materials don’t look cheap. At highway speeds there’s a little wind and motor noise evident, but overall it’s quiet enough to enjoy the audio system. Headroom is fine and getting in and out not difficult. Nicely done in other words and makes living with the Accent a pleasant sub-$20,000 experience.
Complementing the Accent’s enhanced level of interior sophistication is the new 1.6-litre Gamma four-cylinder that boasts latest-tech Gasoline Direct Injection, sophisticated variable valve timing and other features that help it produce a noteworthy 138 hp and 123 lb-ft of torque for a non-turbo motor of this size. That’s up from 110 hp and 106 lb-ft of torque from the previous 1.6-litre unit and considerably more than others in the class offer.
Matched with this are new six-speed manual and automatic transmissions, the latter making use of all those gears to generate acceleration that exceeds expectations in this size car. Passing or merging can be safely accomplished but you will find it shifting out of its tall top gear on highway hills with some frequency if you engage the ActiveECO button. This alters shift-mapping and throttle application to produce a claimed 7 per cent improvement in real world economy. Think of it as trading response for responsibility.
Fuel economy numbers are 7.0 litres/100 km city and 4.9 highway with the automatic, improved from the previous four-speed automatic equipped model’s 7.6 city/5.5 highway. After a week of highway and semi-rural travel, with the ActiveECO button pressed for about half of it, the Accent averaged 6.6 litres/100 km and, at four-lane cruising speeds, 6.2 litres/100 km.
The Accent’s suspension doesn’t stray from small-car wisdom with struts up front and a twist-beam axle in the back, but the ride is surprisingly good, even over rougher surfaces that often overwhelm the shock-damping in cars of this class. The larger 16-inch wheels and tires that come with the GLS undoubtedly help big time in providing decent steering response and the Accent changes direction with a willingness bordering on the sporty.
This iteration of the Accent doesn’t take a rear-seat to anything in the class.
2012 Hyundai Accent GLS
Type: Subcompact, five-door hatchback
Base Price: $17,199; as tested, $18,398
Engine: 1.6-litre, DOHC, inline-four
Horsepower/torque: 138 hp/123 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.0 city/4.9 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Ford Fiesta, Kia Rio, Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Mazda2, Nissan Versa