The new Hyundai Accent is an inexpensive car, but it doesn't feel cheap. Now, I do wish the door armrests had more padding (OK, any padding), and I definitely agree with Evan about the fluorescent radio display. Also, the six-speed manual's shift action is too lifeless for my liking, and its gearing feels quite tall and is clearly set up for maximum fuel economy (as Greg alluded to). Other than that, though, the Accent is inoffensive and actually quite pleasant.
The exterior styling isn't exactly my thing, but it definitely gives the car character and boldly stands out from its competitors as well as its predecessors. A comparison test of all the new bargain-basement cars is definitely in order, but along with the Ford Fiesta, the Accent is among my two early favorites to win. Nice job, Hyundai!
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
Yawn. Another subcompact that looks, feels, and drives like a larger, more expensive car. We've discussed both the improvements in the B-car segment and Hyundai's rise ad nauseum, but it really is quite amazing to drive the Accent -- very recently known as the cheapest new car in America -- and realize that it is part of a whole group of really, really excellent small cars (Fiat Five Hundred, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Mazda 2, and coming this fall, Chevrolet Sonic) that did not exist three years ago. As others have noted, the Accent feels substantial. Even when I purposely drove too quickly over a mid-corner bump, something that upsets the larger Hyundai Elantra, the Accent retained its composure. The steering is responsive without being jittery. The manual shifter, as Rusty notes, wants for more mechanical feedback, but is pretty precise.
Like Evan and Rusty, I'm not in love with the radio display, mostly because I had some trouble navigating through my iPhone's songs - it seems like there's no obvious way to get to an album or artist menu. Of course, the fact that I'm complaining about the iPhone-pairing in a $16,685 car just reinforces how far we've come.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
If cars like the new Elantra and Sonata are responsible for Hyundai's meteoric rise, I can't imagine what effect the Accent is going to have on the brand's sales and reputation. In almost every aspect, Hyundai's subcompact is better executed than its larger predecessors. The biggest difference is in the suspension, where the Accent rides without the brittleness that plagues the Elantra and, to a lesser extent, the Sonata. It is softer and corners with a bit more body roll than those other cars, but it is an intelligent trade-off to take that tiny backward step in body control for the monumental leap in ride quality.
Jason's comments on the Accent's character are spot on and in my measure, only two of his points beg for correction to make this Accent truly great. The slow steering has the most natural weighting of any recent Hyundai, but it could be even better if the return assist were stronger so the wheel spun back to center faster. The engine is powerful around 3000 rpm, but you don't want to catch yourself in 1500 rpm with your foot to the floor. With an automatic gearbox capable of quick and effortless downshifts, this probably isn't as much of an issue, but if you purchase a manual-transmission Accent, the car is so sluggish that even the laziest, most unhurried drivers will find themselves frantically shifting. The engine needs to rev quicker. But those two gripes are relatively minor, and overall the Accent is a fabulous, substantial choice in the small-and-stingy segment.
The subcompact arena is entering a new era with fresh entries from Chevrolet and Kia and an updated Yaris and Versa. I haven't driven those cars, but I have an idea of how the Hyundai might fare against two current standouts in this segment. The Accent isn't quite as agile as the Ford Fiesta, but it is far more spacious, and while it's not quite as practical as a Honda Fit, it rides significantly better. As a middle ground between the enthusiast's car and the utilitarian choice, the Accent has what it take to put it at the top of buyers' shopping lists.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor