2003 Hyundai Accent Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
A new look to an exceptional value.
Roomy and comfortable, the Hyundai Accent offers an exceptional value. It's a new car at used-car prices. Hyundai backs the Accent with an aggressive warranty that eliminates worries about maintenance costs. Accent is surprisingly refined for such an inexpensive car and 2003 models come standard with a gutsy twin-cam 1.6-liter engine.
New styling gives the 2003 Hyundai Accent a fresh, appealing look. Nearly all of its body panels have been redesigned, making it appear softer, yet more alert. It comes in hatchback and sedan styles.
A new Accent GT promises sportier handling with a sport-tuned suspension and more aggressive wheels and tires. It looks ready for action with 14-inch aluminum wheels, fog lamps, body sill moldings, and a rear deck lid spoiler. Inside, white-faced gauges and a leather-covered steering wheel and shift knob accent its sporty character.
Hyundai Accent is available in three-door hatchback and four-door sedan body styles. Accents come in three trim levels. For 2003, all Accents are powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with double overhead cams and four valves per cylinder rated 104 horsepower.
The base Accent ($9,499) is indeed basic, offering air conditioning as an option ($750). Accent comes standard with an AM/FM/cassette stereo, tachometer, center console, vanity mirror, tilt steering, intermittent wipers and a 60/40 split folding rear seat. It only comes as a hatchback equipped with a five-speed manual transmission.
Accent GL adds air conditioning, tinted glass, and a digital quartz clock, and upgrades to the stereo, seats, console, and carpet. GL buyers may choose either the three-door GL hatchback coupe ($10,649) or four-door sedan ($11,049). Both come standard with a five-speed manual gearbox. A four-speed automatic transmission ($650) is optional.
The GT Package ($495) firms up the suspension and upgrades the 13-inch wheels to 14-inch aluminum wheels. Fog lamps, body-color sill moldings, a rear spoiler, white-faced gauges, and leather wrappers for the steering wheel and shift knob accent the GT's sporty demeanor.
A Popular Equipment Package ($400) adds a CD player plus power mirrors, locks, and front windows to GL or GT.
Hyundai Accent gets a major facelift for 2003. The engine hood is new, and flows more smoothly into the new front bumper and fascia. The sturdy-looking cross-bar grille is flanked on either side by new oblong light clusters that blend back around into the new front fenders. This gives the Accent a new look that is at once softer, yet more alert. There's more expression in the Accent's face, and a cute quality we find appealing.
Around back Hyundai has replaced the rear quarter panels, deck lid, tail lights, and bumper for 2003. Again, the overall look is softer, while the taller tail lights suggest action.
The overall form of the Hyundai Accent is a low-slung wedge topped by a steeply raked windshield and a tall wrap of window glass. There's a fast slope to the front hood and a brief back deck. The three-door model is shaped more like a sedan than a traditional hatchback. Hyundai calls it a hatchback coupe.
Hyundai Accent was designed to maximize interior room. Its tall windows, generously sized bucket seats and multi-level console all contribute to an overall impression of spaciousness. Front passengers do not feel squeezed into a tiny cubbyhole as they do in some subcompact cars.
Those form-fitting front bucket seats feel substantial and supportive. Packed with high-density foam, they feature swoopy indentations and firm side bolsters. The driver's seat is comfortable, and adjusts to fit even a tall frame. High off the floor, it provides excellent visibility through those tall windows all around.
The front seats in GL models move in multiple ways to conform for leg length, seat height, lumbar curve, seatback tilt and headrest position. Also, the driver's seat on GL editions provides a right-side armrest that folds up and out of the way when not needed. Three-point seatbelts adjust for height. The curvaceous front door panels include an integrated armrest and a generous map pocket low near the floor.
The instrument panel orients the driver with large gauges set immediately forward of the steering wheel. These consist of a speedometer and tachometer, with flanking dials indicating fuel level and engine temperature. On base and GL models, white markings and red pointers over a dark gray field ensure an attractive appearance and easy readability. Accent GT opts instead for fashionable white-faced gauges.
The surfaces of the doors and dash, coated in soft-touch synthetic material, feel refined, even sophisticated, which is unexpected for the class. The GT adds leather coverings for the steering wheel and shift knob.
All controls are close at hand, logical, and easy to operate. Large and easy-to-use rotary knobs for the audio and climate systems are stacked at the middle of the dash. The glove box is an ice-chest-size bin that drops down from below the passenger-side airbag, looking as though it could swallow a couple of six-packs of soda.
The back bench provides three-point belts and bucket-style spaces for outboard riders, plus a two-point belt on the center hump. The seatback splits 60/40 and folds to increase the capacity of the flat-floored trunk.
Hyundai Accent accelerates briskly, rides smoothly, and is surprisingly quiet. The bigger engine provides more power to an already zippy car.
Compared to the old 1.5-liter engine's 92 horsepower at 5500 rpm, the twin-cam 1.6-liter produces 104 horsepower at 5800. More important, the 1.6-liter generates 106 pounds-feet of torque at just 3000 rpm, instead of 97 pounds-feet for the 1.5-liter. That means a faster launch into traffic, where the Accent easily keeps pace.
We found the Accent relatively quiet inside. The stiff structure of the body, plenty of sound-deadening insulation, and double door seals all work to block out noise from the motor and surrounding traffic.
Of course, the whole package weighs only 2255 pounds, which explains in part why the Accent feels zippy. Cars are getting heavier and heavier these days, but apparently Hyundai didn't get the memo. That's a good thing, as weight is bad for acceleration, stopping distances, handling, and fuel economy. The Accent's favorable power-to-weight ratio combines with slippery aerodynamics and well-selected gear ratios that make the most of the engine's torque.
Accent handles mountain switchbacks with a poise and agility unexpected from such a low-rung economy car. Hyundai's smallest product is actually fun to drive. And we're talking about the base model; we haven't yet sampled the sportier GT.
Accent's relatively long wheelbase and all-independent suspension provide a smooth-riding platform. Yet it responds quickly to the driver's demands. Steering geometry is optimized with a high caster angle, to reduce front-end lift when accelerating, or nose-dive during braking. A front anti-roll (stabilizer) bar reduces body lean when cornering. To isolate noise and vibration, all of the front end's mechanical parts are attached via a sub-frame. That kind of sophisticated engineering is rarely found in this price-conscious class, and it helps temper road noise.
Hyundai Accent does not behave like the bottom-dollar economy car that its low price tag implies. It's much better than that, with sophisticated mechanical equipment and comfortable amenities.
Hyundai protects Accent buyers with one of the best warranties in the business. A 60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper protection plan shields the owner against a variety of problems, while the powertrain is warranted for 100,000 miles. The plan even includes five years of roadside assistance with lockout and emergency towing service. That's piece of mind.
Hyundai Accent is an impressive value with brisk performance, nimble handling, and a smooth and quiet ride.
Accent ($9499); GL hatchback coupe ($10,649); GL sedan ($11,049).
Asan, South Korea.
Options As Tested
Popular Equipment Group ($400) includes CD radio upgrade with 6 speakers, power windows, power mirrors, power door locks.
Hyundai Accent GL hatchback coupe ($10,649).
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