2008 Hyundai Accent Expert Review:Autoblog
Dismal little car. That's what you'd hear 20 years ago when the conversation turned to Hyundai. The Excel wasn't as terrible as a Yugo, or even as horrifically unreliable as sneering Peugeots, but it wasn't exactly welcomed with open arms. Back then, even Japanese brands were still targets of xenophobia; who was this Korean company trying to fool?
Hyundai persevered, and now the South Korean industrial giant is making vehicles that garner good recommendations and carry one of the best warranties in the business. Hyundai's Accent could be considered a spiritual successor to the unloved Excel, and it carries on that car's basic formula of delivering a comparable car for less money than the competition. What do you give up to get a car that's not stripped, yet still cheaper?
All photos Copyright ©2008 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.
Recent history has seen Hyundais roll off dealer lots as well-equipped, attractively anonymous cars that lack engaging driving dynamics. That's not so much the case anymore, as our time with the Accent has proven. The first check mark in the Accent's plus column is styling that's normal. It's even dull, and that's fine when faced with the ugly visages of any Scion, the ungainly proportions of a Versa, or the outright confusion of a Focus.
Deliciously conventional, the Accent has clean flanks broken by a strong stroke carved across its middle and a mildly sporting hatch profile. The 3-door we sampled carried the top SE trim level, coming with body color mirrors and door handles, a rear spoiler, foglamps, and handsome 16-inch alloy wheels as highlights among the nearly all-inclusive package of goodies. It's base price was $15,280 with the only option being sporty floormats.
The Accent SE runs with a pack of cars that includes the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, and Suzuki SX4 wagon. All are less conventionally styled than the Accent, and on virtually every measure, the Hyundai is competitive. Measuring tape doesn't tell the whole story, though.
Like the exterior, Hyundai's not stretching to break new ground with the interior. Spend some time in the hell-box interior of an xB and you'll cry tears of joy the first time you plant your tukas in the Accent. Rather than be different for the sake of it, Hyundai delivers a clean, simply operated human-car interface rendered in decent materials. The radio sits up high, easily reached, and just below it are three knobs for the HVAC - no fiddly rocker controls here. Because we're lazy auto journos, we missed audio controls on the leather wrapped steering wheel, but the stereo is right there.
The seats are econo-car fare, though bolstered halfway decently and supportive in the right spots. Cloth upholstery in two tasteful patterns should endure at least until the warranty runs out in a decade. There are touches of bargain bin inside, however. The seat brackets, especially for the rears, are right out in the open, not dressed in like on some other cars, which adds a touch of cheap. The door panels are made of a plastic that will quickly become marred with scratches, too. Our sampler was already showing signs of wear in this area. Overall, materials are midpack for the class, with low-luster coverings on the dash and upper door panels, non-flimsy controls, and faultless ergonomics. It's a richer feeling cockpit than you'd expect, and the simple gauge package is thankfully where it belongs, right in front of the driver.
Hyundai's 1.6-liter four-cylinder kicks it with a DOHC 16-valve layout and a slightly gravel voice that'll happily bellow all day. 110 horsepower and 106 lb-ft of torque have 2,500 lbs to bear, and when channeled through the five-speed transaxle, the Accent can even be mildly entertaining. The shifter isn't a model of precision, but the startlingly chunky setup OEM'd by B&M feels good in the hand and the ridiculously oversized machined aluminum lockout ring is a conversation piece. Our favorite powertrain feature by far was the honest-to-goodness throttle cable. No drive by wire actuation here; press the pedal and you get a response without latency.
A sporty suspension tune is also part of the SE up-rating. MacStruts up front and a torsion beam out back are time honored ingredients for the sporty hatch recipe. Hyundai stuffed plenty of rubber under the Accent SE, wrapping the 16-inch alloys with 205s for plenty of stiction. SE-specific springs and shocks keep body motions in check while you're flinging the Accent SE around by the scruff of its neck, exercising the model's specific steering rack and stabilizer bar. Even with a disc/drum combo platter, the brake pedal is firm and confident. And while the Accent ultimately understeers, it's got the moves and the traction to keep you grinning. The ride winds up being firm without being harsh, though the Accent can't manage the supple chassis dynamics of a Volkswagen Rabbit.
Sharp responses aren't everything, and the Accent works just dandy as a daily driver, too. Adults will fit in the rear seats, though the Accent will likely not be the staff car of an NBA franchise. Hatchbacks have winning flexibility, and the Accent happily hauled plenty of bulky items, construction materials or whatever for us. One disappointment during the Accent's stay was fuel economy. While the EPA rates the Accent SE at 27 mpg city and 33 mpg highway when equipped with the 5-speed, we only acheived 27.5 mpg with a highway-heavy commute.
Maybe we were having more fun than we thought with the Accent, and that's why we didn't see the type of fuel economy we were expecting. Rare is the small car that can mix it up on a back road at the hands of a competent driver and give fits to the poseurs in sportier cars. We're not sure we'd be as enthusiastic about the softer GS or GLS Accents, but the SE tickles our automotive enjoyment centers without creating an achy wallet.
All photos Copyright ©2008 Dan Roth / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
Compact-car room at a subcompact price.
The Hyundai Accent is roomy, comfortable, well-appointed and practical. We find it a viable alternative to the Toyota Yaris, Scion xD, Honda Fit, and Nissan Versa. The Accent offers more interior volume than Yaris, Fit, and xD subcompacts, as well as the Corolla and Civic compact cars.
Power for the Accent comes from a clean and sophisticated 1.6-liter double overhead-cam engine, featuring variable valve timing and delivering slightly more power than the Yaris or Fit. The environmentally friendly Accent is an Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle, or ULEV, and rates 33 mpg in the latest, 2008 EPA Highway tests. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) has recognized the Hyundai Accent as one of the top 12 'greenest' vehicles you can buy.
What's more, this emphasis on economy and environment does not come at the expense of safety; in fact, Accent offers a generous list of safety features. Six airbags (front, seat-mounted side-impact, and side-curtain) are standard on all models; antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution are optional on the sedan and standard on the sporty SE coupe. The Accent and the related Kia Rio are among the least expensive cars on the market with these important safety features.
Hyundai last redesigned the Accent sedan for 2006, and released the latest coupe that spring. While the sedan brings some suave to the entry-level family segment, the coupe is clearly seeking street cred, offering hip accessories ranging from a strut-tower brace to faux carbon-fiber trim.
New for 2008, all audio systems include XM Satellite Radio with a three-month subscription, and an auxiliary audio input jack. There's a new instrument cluster available, and a new alloy wheel design for sedans. 2008 Accent SE coupes come with a B&M sport shifter, plus a rear center armrest with cupholders, and coupes are now available in Mellow Yellow.
We think people in the market for small, practical, but hardly Spartan car should consider the Hyundai Accent alongside the best from the Japanese name brands. A generous five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty with roadside assistance and a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty make the Accent a particularly good deal for anyone who does not want to buy a used car and intends to keep the vehicle for an extended period of time.
The 2008 Hyundai Accent is available in two body styles and three levels of trim: a basic GS coupe, a nicer GLS four-door sedan, and a sporty SE coupe. A 110-hp 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine powers all models. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, a four-speed automatic transmission is optional.
The Accent GS coupe ($10,775) comes with cloth upholstery, eight-way adjustable driver's seat, fold-down driver's armrest, center console with two cupholders, a recline feature for its split-folding (60/40) rear seat, a tilting steering column, tachometer, digital clock, two 12-volt power outlets, cabin air filtration, two-speed plus variable-intermittent windshield wipers, rear-window defroster, power steering, and P175/70TR14 tires on steel wheels. There's no radio, but GS does come with four speakers, so installing an aftermarket unit is relatively easy.
Air conditioning is not standard, but it is part of a Popular Equipment Package ($1,350) that includes a six-speaker, 172-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with an auxiliary input jack. A Premium Package ($1,850) combines the Popular Package with power windows, power body-color mirrors, power door locks with remote keyless entry, body-color door handles, and an alarm with panic feature.
The Accent GLS sedan ($12,925) comes with air conditioning and the six-speaker, 172-watt stereo, along with illuminated vanity mirrors and 185/65HR14 tires on 14-inch steel wheels. The sedan's Popular Equipment Package ($950) adds anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, power windows with driver's express-down, power mirrors, power door locks, remote keyless entry, and an alarm with panic alert. The Premium Package ($1,350) combines all of the above with 195/55VR15 tires on 15-inch aluminum wheels.
The Accent SE coupe ($14,575) comes with a sport-tuned suspension, ABS with EBD, rear spoiler and wiper/washer, and P205/45VR16 tires on five-spoke aluminum wheels. The SE also comes with all Premium Package features, plus fog lights, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, metallic interior accents, express-down for the driver's-side window, seat-back pockets, and illuminated vanity mirrors. Manual-transmission models now come with a B&M sport shifter. A power sunroof is optional ($900).
No other factory options are listed, but Hyundai offers more than 35 port or dealer-installed accessories for the coupes, including a DC Sports front strut tower brace, AEM short ram intake, 570-watt Kenwood AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with Kenwood speakers and subwoofer, aluminum door sills, carbon fiber B-pillar applique, ground effects kit, and an alloy fuel door.
Safety features for all Accents include front seatbelt pre-tensioners along with six airbags: dual frontal, front-seat side-impact, and full-coverage side curtain. Head restraints are adjustable at all five seating positions, unusual for this price class. New for 2008 is a tire-pressure monitor system that comes standard.
Far from cheap or plain, the Hyundai Accent looks elegant and substantial. The look starts at the front with integrated 5-mph bumpers and large aerodynamic headlight enclosures that wrap around the front fenders. Accent has a high roofline defined on either side by black rubber rain gutters, while the windshield blends into the front of the roof without any visible trim. A sharp character line originates just behind the front wheel opening and slashes boldly across the doors, fading again just short of the taillights.
The back of the sedan roof sweeps toward the trailing edge of the trunk lid, giving it almost a coupe-like appearance. Unlike many modern cars, Accent has a generous greenhouse with big windows; blacked-out trim both defines and unifies the side-window opening. This, coupled with a long wheelbase and relatively short overhangs, makes the sedan appear a tad bigger than it actually is.
The Accent sedan is more buttoned-down conservative than the more youthful Kia Rio, with which it shares its basic construction. We see a hint of Volvo in Accent's nose and maybe a dash of Honda in its rear three-quarter view.
The Accent coupe has a look all its own, though it shares its front fenders and defining character line with the sedan. The differences begin with a more aggressive two-slot air opening that replaces the sedan's fine-lined horizontal grille, and ends with a rounded tail that takes the tentative reverse curve at the base of the sedan's roof, boldly widens it, and fuses it with the horizontally curving quarter panel. The two-door Accent is unashamedly a hatchback, and makes no pretense to a separate trunk lid.
Not surprisingly, then, the coupe is as tall and wide as the sedan, and shares the sedan's 98.4-inch wheelbase, but at 159.3 inches overall it dispenses with a significant 9.2 inches of the sedan's rear overhang. The result is one of the cutest little rears we've seen anywhere lately, and a short, sassy profile that looks like it should cost more than it does.
On both coupe and sedan, a roof-mounted micro-antenna is aerodynamic, flexible, and said to improve signal strength.
One of the things we like best about the Accent is its interior. Not only do those big windows provide a great view, but the hip point of the driver's seat is two inches higher than in pre-2006 Accents, for a truly commanding perspective. Accent cabins feature a conservative two-tone color scheme reminiscent of larger cars, and are trimmed out quite nicely, helping avoid the feeling of an econobox.
The dashboard wraps around to the door panels, and the center stack is nicely integrated, with large, well-positioned climate control knobs. The big speedometer and tachometer are located in a nicely contoured instrument pod in front of the steering wheel. Smaller fuel and coolant temperature gauges are set inside, along with a small LCD readout for the odometer and trip meter as well as gear-selection indicator for automatics. Gauges on GLS and SE have been redesigned for improved readability.
The new auxiliary input jack (in Accents built December 2007 or later) allows iPods and other portable MP3 players to be connected directly into the vehicle's audio system.
The seats are contoured and finished in a classy cloth material that feels high quality. The driver's seat is eight-way adjustable on all models.
We noticed several nice touches that kept our test sedan from feeling like a cheap econobox. Among them: dampened grab handles, a thick roof lining, center folding front and rear armrests, a tilt steering wheel, a micro roof-mounted antenna, driver and passenger side-illuminated vanity mirrors, cabin air filtration, remote trunk and fuel cap releases, and a windshield shade band. There are decent-size pockets with a cup holder in each door. In addition, there are other storage places and a big glovebox.
The rear seat splits 60/40 for additional storage capacity. For better rearward visibility, the three rear-seat headrests slide down shingle-style into the seatback when not needed. A fold out center armrest with two cupholders is provided for rear-seat passengers.
Rear-seat leg room and headroom is not too bad unless the car is full of six-footers. Getting into the back seats is made easier by locating the rear wheels farther back, so the wheelwell does not intrude into the sedan's door opening as much.
Compared to the sedan, the coupe surrenders less than a half inch of hip room up front, and less than an inch in the rear; otherwise its passenger-comfort dimensions are identical to those of the sedan. Both models qualify as compact cars by government interior-volume standards, while the competing Toyota Yaris and Scion xD are classified as subcompacts.
Trunk volume in the sedan is a very respectable 12.4 cubic feet. Despite its shorter length, the hatchback coupe expands this to 15.9 cubic feet with the rear seats in place. Folding the back seats flat in either car greatly increases the total cargo volume and makes room for long and bulky items.
Nobody buying a Hyundai Accent will expect sizzling performance, yet the 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine is surprisingly snappy, even with the automatic transmission. An Accent GLS automatic has no problem keeping up with traffic as long as you stomp on the gas pedal, and it's more than happy cruising at speed on the freeway. We have not had a chance to check out an Accent with a manual transmission but expect it to be more fun to drive.
Hyundai's 1.6-liter four-cylinder is a modern, sophisticated engine with dual overhead camshafts and continuously variable valve timing. This DOHC/CVVT combination helps give the engine a broad power band with high fuel efficiency and low emissions. The engine produces 110 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 106 pound-feet of torque at 4500 rpm.
The EPA's latest City/Highway fuel economy estimates are 27/32 mpg for the manual, 24/33 mpg for the automatic. When making comparisons, remember that 2008 figures are generally lower (poorer) than in previous years because of new test procedures designed to better reflect real-world driving. The automatic does slightly better than the manual because its overall top gear ratio is a low 2.77:1, versus 3.39:1 for the manual. In exchange, the stick-shift Accent should deliver snappier throttle response from cruising speeds.
The sedan's ride is on the soft side, softer than the Kia Rio, which gets sportier settings. The power assisted rack-and-pinion steering provides reasonable feedback and the handling proved to be acceptable on some winding mountain roads near San Diego. Our GLS automatic had the optional 15-inch alloy wheels with the sportier P195/55VR15 tires. We did not try a base model with the skinny 14-inch tires and steel wheels, but suspect it would not handle as well. Overall, the driving characteristics and performance make this a commuter car rather than a long distance cruiser.
The SE coupe is more stiffly sprung than the GS coupe or GLS sedan (by 24 percent up front and 11 percent in the rear). Its suspension struts are valved tighter, and its front anti-roll bar is beefed up to 24 mm, vs. the 21 mm bar on the GS/GLS. And the SE's V-rated tires have stiffer sidewalls and wider treads, which makes for a firmer ride. The steering ratio is the same (15.5:1) in all three models, but Hyundai says all three racks are tuned differently for different levels of sporty feel, while the SE's suspension upgrades make it 70 percent more resistant to body roll so it leans less in corners than the other models.
The SE's now-standard B&M Racing sport shifter decreases the distance the driver has to move the lever from one gear to the next, which should enhance the driving experience.
For 2008, the brakes were downgraded from four-wheel discs to ventilated discs in front and drum brakes in the rear. To be fair, a small, front-wheel-drive car relies more heavily on its front brakes anyway, so the change probably represents a bigger loss in bragging rights than in real-world safety. In theory, discs are better for their improved ability to dissipate heat, particularly when used repeatedly such as when hurtling down a steep mountain road.
The 2008 SE adds four-channel, four-sensor ABS with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD). This feature isn't even offered as an option on the GS coupe, and is optional on the sedan as part of the Popular Equipment Package. ABS allows the driver to maintain steering control in an emergency braking situation by preventing wheel lockup. EBD improves stability in hard braking situations by balancing brake force front to rear.
The Hyundai Accent is a competent subcompact car that's big inside and sprightly underway. It includes an impressive array of standard safety features and is certainly worthy of being considered alongside more expensive models from other manufacturers. The hatchback coupe adds a strong dose of sporty styling, plus more cargo-hauling versatility, with no significant loss of passenger space.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent John Rettie filed this report from San Diego.
Hyundai Accent GS coupe ($10,775), automatic ($11,775); GLS sedan ($12,925), automatic ($13,925); SE coupe ($14,575), automatic ($15,375).
Ulsan, South Korea.
Options As Tested
Premium Package ($1,350) includes ABS/EDB, power windows with driver's express-down, power mirrors, power door locks, remote keyless entry, alarm with panic alert, 195/55 VR15 tires on 15-inch aluminum wheels.
Hyundai Accent GLS automatic ($13,925).
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