2012 Hyundai Accent Review
Hyundai's economy car is improved, but can it face down improved competition?
- Excellent fuel economy
- Features for the dollar
- Not as nimble as new competitors
- Basic, plasticky interior
- Ride can get sloppy on bad roads
Many Americans think a car is just an appliance, something to get them from point A to point B. Price is very important to them and amenities such as air conditioning, a radio and power windows are simply nonessential luxuries. Hyundai specialized in catering to these truly frugal people when it first started selling cars in this country in the mid-1980s. However, Hyundai's version of an "appliance" wasn't so bare-bones. Its econoboxes came standard with amenities that most simply didn't, like power windows and air conditioning. Thus, Hyundai became known for offering exceptional value.
Over the years, however, the Korean company has gradually moved upmarket. Even so, it is still known for offering vehicles with exceptional value. But for 2012, the automaker is returning to its roots by redesigning a good old econobox, the Accent.
But now that there is a glut of well-equipped small cars available, can Hyundai once again make an impact the small-car market?
The 2012 Hyundai Accent is offered in two body styles — a 4-door hatchback and a 4-door sedan — and three trims: the GLS, GS and the SE.
The sedan is offered as a single trim dubbed the GLS, though equipment varies depending on which transmission is chosen. Order the $14,195 version with the 6-speed manual transmission and you get the stripper model with cloth upholstery, power locks, tilt steering wheel, interior air filter, height-adjustable driver's seat and a trip computer. Opt for the $15,195 version with the 6-speed automatic transmission and you add air conditioning, an AM/FM/CD stereo with satellite radio, auxiliary and USB ports, and power windows and mirrors. A Premium package adds remote keyless entry, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, a center console and fog lights.
The hatchback starts at $14,595 ($15,795 with automatic) for the GS trim. It is equipped like the automatic version of the sedan, and the $15,795 ($16,795 with automatic) SE hatch gets sport-tuned steering, cruise control, Bluetooth, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a center console, fog lights and rear spoiler.
Each offers a complete suite of standard safety equipment. These features consist of dual front airbags; front side airbags; curtain side airbags; tire-pressure monitor; active front head restraints; anti-lock 4-wheel disc brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist; traction control; and electronic stability control. The automatic transmission also comes with hill-start assist. Cars in this class often have rear drum brakes, and many lack active front head restraints.
Under the Hood
The 2012 Accent comes with only one engine: Hyundai's new Gamma 1.6-liter 4-cylinder that makes 138 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque. It's the most powerful engine in the class, besting the next closest competitor, the Ford Fiesta, by 18 horsepower and 11 lb-ft of torque. Transmission choices are a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic; no other car in the class offers two 6-speeds and some still have 4-speed automatics. The Accent also has class-leading fuel economy, at 30 mpg city/40 highway with either transmission.
Like most cars at this price point, the 2012 Accent isn't going to impress with its interior materials. Extensive use of hard plastic is expected, and the base trim is really base, lacking a radio and air conditioning. Higher-line Accents can impress with features, though. For a reasonable $15,195, you get air conditioning, satellite radio, a USB port, and power windows, mirrors and locks.
No matter which model is chosen, the control layout is simple, but attractive and effective. The knobs and dials are all within arm's reach and are easy to find. Hyundai also provides plenty of small-item storage space, with a big glove box, bottle holders in the doors, a large cubby at the base of the center stack and another smaller one behind the shifter, and, when ordered, a smallish center console.
Space inside is quite good for a small car. In fact, the Accent is qualified as a compact car, not a subcompact, by the Environmental Protection Agency because of its interior volume. Front seat occupants have plenty of room, though the seats aren't particularly comfortable and they don't have many adjustments. Rear seat riders will find the hatchback provides enough headroom and legroom. Rear headroom gets tight for taller occupants in the sedan.
The addition of the two extra doors on the hatchback is a wise move. It makes the car more useful and almost certainly more popular. Cargo space in the hatchback is a large 21.2 cubic feet with the rear seats up, and that expands to a very useful 47.5 cubic feet with the seats down. The load floor isn't flat, though, as the seats create a step up from the load floor when folded over. The sedan's trunk is big at 13.7 cubic feet, which is larger than the trunk in an Acura TL. The seats fold down in the sedan, too, but the load floor is still stepped.
On the Road
As basic transportation, the 2012 Hyundai Accent is anything but sporty. That may be a bit of an issue to some buyers, because the Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta and Mazda2 are well-controlled small cars, with handling and ride refinement unexpected in this class.
While the Accent's steering is predictable, it is also light, a little slow, and doesn't offer much road feel. The Accent leans in corners more than those aforementioned competitors. When pressed, it also plows through turns instead of rotating willingly, and the car doesn't react well to quick changes of direction, which is surprising given its svelte 2,400-pound curb weight. The ride is generally good, but it can feel a bit sloppy on broken pavement, and sharp bumps can cause more ruckus than they do in the Honda, Ford and Mazda rivals.
Though certainly lagging dynamically, the Accent excels in terms of power and efficiency. That's thanks in part to direct injection, which increases fuel economy while adding power. The willing little 1.6-liter engine pushes the car to zero-to-60-mph times in the mid-nine-second range. That's hardly quick, but the Accent is a second faster than most competitors. The car will get out ahead of traffic with ease and has enough in reserve for well-planned highway passing. It also delivers its power without making the annoying buzzing sounds often associated with small 4-cylinder cars. There's a degree of refinement here not matched by previous Hyundai models, and some competitors.
We found that both transmissions work quite well. The 6-speed automatic allows the engine to operate in its power band more often, and the extra gears also improve fuel economy. The 6-speed manual has an easy clutch action, and the shifter has a pleasing mechanical feel that you wouldn't expect in an economy car, or in a Hyundai. It all adds up to a subcompact that is quicker and more fuel-efficient than its competitors. The next-closest rival in terms of fuel economy is the Ford Fiesta, which is rated at 29/38 mpg with its 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission.
Right for You?
The 2012 Hyundai Accent delivers more power and better fuel economy than any car in its class. We're particularly fond of the hatchback body style, which offers lots of cargo capacity. Greater ride and handling refinement can be found in several competitors, but the Accent's price and features will override those concerns for buyers looking for a transportation appliance that will be cheap to buy and operate.
(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, Hyundai provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)
Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, and currently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.