2008 Hyundai Accent SE

MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE

The Hyundai's most endearing quality may also be the least expected - how well it drives. The Accent is most comfortable in the fringes between city and country, where roads twist but speeds are kept in check. Drive it hard between 20 and 50 mph, keeping revs in the middle of the tachometer and the steering wheel constantly spinning to discover the true character of this car.

Once you get away from a stoplight, even city driving in the Accent is enjoyable. Turning down a new street invites a downshift to turn on the power and pull out of a quick corner. Cloverleaf highway on-ramps are also a great place to demonstrate the Accent's handling prowess, keeping power on tap in second gear for full-throttle acceleration once the ramp straightens out.

But once on the highway, the Accent begins to show some more serious flaws. Cruising at 80 mph had us wondering why earplugs didn't come as standard equipment with this car. At nearly 4000 rpm, the four-cylinder engine roars while you're casually keeping up with traffic. A sixth gear that put revs much closer to 3000 rpm would be a welcome change, even if that meant a downshift to fifth would be needed for highway passing. In fact, the noise was so invasive, this car may be one of the few we actually wish would actually pack on some weight. Fifty pounds of strategically placed insulation could probably go a long way toward making the Accent a better highway commuter.

Rough road surfaces occasionally take control of the Accent's short wheelbase and sport-tuned suspension. Cracks rattled the car and our heads nodded like Bobble Head dolls as the car bounced over grooved roads. For the most part, the highway ride was an acceptable compromise for what was gained in low-speed handling. Further damaging highway credibility, the Accent fails to offer cruise control, even as an option.

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