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2012 Hyundai Accent

At the press event, every journalist in attendance kept commending the Accent's size. While it's true that the interior is quite spacious for a subcompact (the EPA rates it as a compact), the Accent still drives like a small car. The short wheelbase -- and relatively stiff suspension of our SE model -- makes the car crash over highway irregularities and skip like a stone on a lake over expansion joints. In the city, the Hyundai performs much better.

Although the Accent may be powerful for its class, it's still rather slow. On the highway this results in tense times when it comes to passing, but around town the little car feels peppy enough. The important thing to remember while driving this car is that the six-speed gearbox is really a five-speed with an extra overdrive. This means you often need to drop down one gear lower than you think you should. For example, if you expect a downshift to fourth to be enough to pass another motorist, think again -- you'll need to downshift at least to third.

Overall, the 2012 Accent is a rather nice small car, with plenty of room and a relatively high-quality interior (although the hard door armrests still suck, and the dash is showing a hairline crack already). But it's still a small car and a bland one at that. Personally, I couldn't justify choosing this over plenty of better used-car alternatives, but if you really want a new car, it's not a bad choice.

Greg Fink, Editorial Intern

Hyundai and Kia have upped their games across the board, but most notably with their styling efforts. Kia poached ex-Audi designer Peter Schreyer (who contributed significantly to the original Audi TT), and Hyundai has been crafting a new corporate look with its "fluidic sculpture" design language. Both brands have been adding splashes of style into otherwise dully designed segments -- cases in point: the Hyundai Elantra and Sonata and the Kia Sportage.

The Accent's puckered front fascia -- it looks like a fish or someone about to steal a kiss -- is in line with its larger siblings, and the sweeping side character lines give the little hatchback a dash of panache. The cost for this much style in such a small package is rear visibility. Luckily, the dimensions are tidy, meaning that it's not hard to place the Accent when backing up, even if there is little that can be seen out the back window. This is not the first time the Koreans have prioritized style over function; one of our biggest complaints with our Four Seasons Kia Sportage is its mail-slot-sized rear window.

Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor

I try to keep an open mind each time I drive a new car, but I still had preconceptions that the 2012 Hyundai Accent would be a cheap, boring car with few redeeming qualities. How wrong I was. The new Accent is a perfectly competent small car that I wouldn't mind driving on a daily basis.

Here is an affordable, compact hatchback with interesting styling, a quiet engine, an acceptable ride, and excellent switchgear ergonomics. What a change from prior Accents. It may not be the most thrilling vehicle I've ever driven, but I was pleasantly surprised by how satisfied I was with the driving experience. All the controls feel perfect for urban commuting. And with a low MSRP and high EPA ratings, the Hyundai is a very practical choice.

Our test car was equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, and while the gearbox has long, loose throws, the lever always slot home with a convincing click. It may disappoint enthusiasts, but the transmission is perfect for duty in the Accent.

There are some giveaways that let you know the Accent is Hyundai's cheapest U.S.-market product, including uncomfortable seats and weak headlights, but I'm still impressed that a sub-$17K Korean hatchback drives this well and looks this smart.

Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor

Let me start with a suggestion: Whoever is in charge of designing the radio faceplate for this new Hyundai Accent needs to actually use it at night. Not only is the big blue display hard to read (there's not enough contrast), but it's bright -- Vegas neon bright. So bright, that even when the instruments are fully dimmed, the radio continues to cast its glare into the cabin.

But that's my only complaint, which should serve as some indication as to how agreeable this latest Accent truly is. Years ago, the only justification for buying an Accent was price. No more. The Accent is stylish and relatively sophisticated for a car that starts just north of $14,000. I was surprised by the presence of a six-speed manual transmission but equally taken aback by the car's driving demeanor. The clutch is weighted nicely; the brakes have surprising grab; suspension is a bit firm but compliant over big (and I do mean big) bumps.

Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor

I cannot believe I'm writing this, but driving the Accent reminds me of driving a 1980s Mercedes-Benz 190E. Okay, I may be hungry and suffering from low blood sugar, but I'm not totally insane. Let me first explain that, being the most ludicrously overengineered small sedan in the history, wrapped in a stunning body with the best proportions of any four-door car ever, the W201-chassis Mercedes 190E has earned a permanent spot in the Jason Cammisa Automotive Hall of Fame.

OK, now back to the insanity: when you drive a 190E, it feels like it weighs three tons and has a 7-liter V-12 under the hood. In reality, the car was a featherweight at 2700 pounds, and it was powered by a 2.3-liter four-cylinder.

Likewise, when you get into a Hyundai Accent, you think, "wow, is this really an entry-level economy car?" It feels so much more substantial than that -- and upon closer inspection, Hyundai pulled a lot of the same tricks that Mercedes did thirty years ago. The four-banger is smoothed by a flywheel that feels like it weighs 150 pounds, so it's slow to rev but hard to stall and smooth beyond its cylinder count. The long-throw, light-effort shifter feels spring-loaded so that even the limpest of wrists can easily engage the next gear. The steering uses a slow ratio and is lazy to self-correct, giving the feeling of a land-yacht-size luxury car. The suspension is soft and progressive, using lots of travel to absorb big bumps that would trip up sportier suspensions.

And the Accent is really sharp looking. It doesn't come close to the timeless, elegant design of the 190E, but not much does (and that includes all of Mercedes' current models). But the mere fact that I can reasonably compare an entry-level Hyundai to a Mercedes -- even a 30-year-old Mercedes -- speaks volumes about how far cars have come in the past three decades.

Jason Cammisa, West Coast Editor

Count me among the Accent fans in the office. I agree with Jason that the Accent feels more substantial than it is. There's a lot of storage space in the hatch area, and there's adequate legroom for passengers in the rear seat. I wouldn't want to drive an Accent (or any other B-segment car) with four adults on board all the time, but there's adequate power if you keep the six-speed manual transmission in the appropriate gear.

What surprised me most in the Accent is how much better it handled at speed than the larger Elantra sedan. I'm not impressed with the current Elantra sedan on the highway because the steering feels too light and it needs a lot of correction. The Accent's steering is a bit heavier, and the slow ratio matches my expectations for a car in this class. It's not a chore to keep the Accent on course at speeds up to 80 mph, which is rare in this class.

As of today, I prefer the Accent to the Ford Fiesta and the Honda Fit. But there's a revised Toyota Yaris and Nissan Versa, a new Chevrolet Sonic, and a new Kia Rio slated to hit the streets in the near future. Just as the compact class became hugely competitive this spring, the subcompact class is poised for an all-out battle for sales in the coming months. It's never been a better time to shop for a small car in America.

Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor

I was at the 2011 New York Auto Show in April when Hyundai unveiled the Accent, and I basically yawned. On the show floor at Javits Center, it looked pretty unremarkable. So I was quite surprised when I saw our Accent hatchback test car in our parking structure -- it actually looks good in the real world. It doesn't just look good, it looks great.

It also drives very well, for all the reasons my colleagues have outlined. What we have here is yet another Hyundai model that goes from the bottom of the barrel to the top of the heap in one fell swoop. These sorts of leaps from worst-in-class to vying-to-be-best-in-class are quite rare these days in the wider automotive world, because most cars are, quite simply, pretty darn good. Hyundai has taken stinker after stinker and transformed them into class-leading charmers. First the Sonata mid-size sedan, then the Elantra compact sedan, and now the Accent subcompact. I wouldn't have recommended a single one of them to a friend in their last generation; now, if someone is shopping in those segments, I'd admonish them to be sure to take a test drive at their Hyundai dealer.

Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor

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

Base price (with destination): $16,555
Price as tested: $16,685

Standard Equipment:
1.6-liter inline-4
6-speed manual transmission
Cruise control
Power windows, locks, and mirrors
XM Satellite radio
Trip computer
Electronic stability control
Four-wheel disc brakes

Optional Equipment:
iPod cable - $35
Floor mats - $95

Key options not on vehicle:
Six-speed automatic transmission - $1000
Mirror w/Homelink - $250
Mudguards - $85
Cargo tray - $80

Fuel economy:

Engine: 1.6-L I-4
Horsepower: 138 @ 6300 rpm
Torque: 123 @ 4850 rpm


Transmission: 6-speed manual

Curb weight: 2430 lb

Wheels/tires: 16-inch alloys

Competitors: Toyota Yaris, Mazda2, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Chevrolet Sonic