First Drive: 2012 Hyundai Accent
Is Hyundai as hot as Vegas in June? Based on recent sales numbers, you'd have to say yes. Deliveries are up 29 percent through May, and that's compared to the record levels of 2010. May was also when the Sonata became the bestselling car in America (retail sales-wise). Clearly, the tsunami-related supply disruptions for the Japanese automakers could not have come at a better time for the Koreans, who were already seeing sales of their impressively redesigned new models zooming to new heights. Is the new Accent up to Hyundai's heady recent standards?
As is typical of new Hyundais, the Accent has got the numbers down. Its new, direct-injected engine has more horsepower (136 hp) and torque (128 pound-feet) than any competitor. At the same time, it's rated at 40 mpg highway and 30 mpg city -- for all versions -- and both of those figures are best in class.
On the road
The 1.6-liter four is mated to either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic -- and the Accent is the only car in the segment to offer two six-speeds. Shift action for the manual isn't exactly positive but it's light and easy -- very much in the Volkswagen idiom. It would be more pleasant to use if the clutch take-up weren't so close to the floor. In our brief time with the automatic, we found it to shift smoothly. With either gearbox, acceleration is only adequate -- nothing in this class is genuinely quick. The direct-injected four is fairly happy in its work, but don't expect a lot of oomph off the line.
What surprised us was how quiet the Accent is on the highway, with very little wind noise. The gearing isn't super-tall, so the engine is turning about 2750 rpm at 70 mph (with the manual transmission). That means the car can climb modest Interstate grades or gather a bit more speed without the need to downshift.
In contrast with previous Korean practice, the chassis is quite tied-down: the ride is firm, and bumps can be fairly sharp. It's not Ford Fiesta-fun, but it is more solid than we expected. Importantly, stability control and ABS are standard here (that's not a given in this bargain-basement price class), and the Accent is the only car in the segment to be fitted with disc brakes at all four wheels.
New styling, new body style
The sedan has grown in length (3.5 inches) and wheelbase (2.8 inches). Its 101.2-inch wheelbase is shared with the new four-door hatchback, which replaces the previous two-door hatch. The Accent's handsome new exterior owes nothing to its dumpling-like predecessor. The sedan isn't too far off from the Elantra; the four-door hatch, however, is a dead ringer for the Fiesta.
Interior space and quality
The interior is very attractive; on the SE there's shiny black finish around the center stack and trim that mimics brushed metal and chrome (it's also optional on the GLS). Too bad Hyundai didn't spend the extra nickels for padded door armrests; these are rock-hard plastic. Switchgear, though, is of high quality and controls are dead easy to use. Outward visibility in the sedan is not too bad but the hatchback has large rear blind spots; you will rely heavily on the side mirrors.
Rear-seat space in either body style is sufficient to put an adult back there behind a six-foot driver. The seat cushion is low, but headroom and legroom are okay. The Versa remains the best small car in rear-seat space, but the Accent's overall interior roominess is sufficient to garner it "compact" rather than "subcompact" status, per EPA measurements.
Cargo-wise, the sedan's trunk is pretty good at 13.7 cubic feet but of course the hatch is the better hauler of stuff. Its 21.2 cubic feet, with the rear seats in place, bests all comers. With the seatbacks folded, there's 47.5 cubic feet, which is also good but falls considerably short of the commodious Honda Fit.
One recent trend among the newest small cars is increased availability of luxury amenities. Hyundai proved hip to that trend with the new Elantra, but not here. You won't find a sunroof (available on the Nissan Versa and the Fiesta), navigation (Versa, Fiesta, and Fit), heated seats (Versa and Fiesta), or leather (Fiesta).
What is perhaps more surprising is that the Accent is not the least-expensive car in the segment. The starting price is $13,202, and that's for the stripper sedan with no air-conditioning (an unimaginable configuration in Vegas in June). Option it up with the bare-necessities package -- Hyundai's Comfort Package, with A/C, power windows, power mirrors, and a stereo -- and you're an all-you-can-eat buffet shy of $15,000 (actually, $14,955).
As it turns out, despite the low-ball come-on prices you see advertised, $15,000 is pretty much the price of entry even in this class, for a car with today's minimum level of equipment. Typically, hatchback models are a bit more, and that's the case with the Accent too. A base GS hatchback starts in the mid-$15,000 range, but the far preferable SE (nicer interior, Bluetooth, steering-wheel audio controls, cruise) is in the mid $16s. The same holds true for a Fiesta or a Versa, with a Fit not far behind.
To its credit, though, Accent doesn't need to be the very cheapest car in the segment. The 2012 version can compete on real-car virtues of power, fuel economy, interior quality, roominess, and general pleasantness. In that respect, it very much follows in the tire tracks of its freshly redesigned siblings, and will likely play a significant role in further heating up Hyundai sales.
Base price range: $13,205-$17,555
On sale: Now
Powertrain: 1.6-liter, 16-valve I-4
Horsepower: 138 hp @ 6300 rpm
Torque: 123 lb-ft @ 4850 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic
L x W x H: 162.0/172.0 x 66.9 x 57.1 in (hatchback/sedan)
Wheelbase: 101.2 in
Cargo capacity (sedan; hatchback, seats up/down): 13.7; 21.2/47.5 cu ft
Curb weight (sedan, hatchback): 2396-2630, 2430-2654 lbs
EPA rating (city/highway): 30/40 mpg