We’ve gotten so accustomed to heaping praise upon new vehicles from Korea (from Hyundai and Kia, that is) that when one that’s only ordinary shows up, we don’t quite know what to do with it.
But after a few days in the saddle, it became clear. Yes, the car spoke to me.
First, it’s ordinary mostly because there’s just not much under the hood. These days, 138 horsepower and 123 pounds of torque just doesn’t ring the bell, much less chirp the tires.
This 5-door-model Accent is no “hot hatch,” nor does Hyundai offer a sporty upgrade. The standard manual gearbox has six speeds (plus reverse, of course) and it’s smooth to shift, but it’s not a fine instrument upon which to play stirring music. (A 6-speed automatic is an available option.)
Balancing engine revs against the clutch take-up requires a bit of finesse, to make the most of what torque can be found. Hustling the car down a twisty back road means working to keep the motor on the boil, while the rear end hops a bit in bumpy corners and any attempt to find semi-serious lateral grip is hampered by the flinty low-rolling-resistance tires. A steady 75 knots down the interstate is very do-able and not uncomfortable, but a tad buzzy.
Enough with the negatives. Here’s where the Accent can shine: Do you have a college student who excels? Dean’s list every semester, leads the debate team and the Latin club and stays on campus over holidays to volunteer at the shelter?
Makes you so proud that you want to reward her with a car? A BMW 3-Series, you say? Are you daft? She can buy her own when she gets out of law school. In the meantime, the Accent hatchback is your—and her—car.
For openers, it’s less than $15,000, which eases your pain. It’s also capable of 40 miles per gallon of unleaded, which is easier on her budget. It’s front-wheel-drive, which is always preferable for novices. (If her school is in the snow belt, spring for winter tires, too.
They’ll be cheap, because these wheels are just 14 or 16 inches in diameter.) Power mirrors and windows and air-conditioning are standard.
The gearbox will force her to learn to manage a clutch, which is a status symbol among kids and teaches a driver a lot about friction, slip and road feel.
It’s slow enough that if she loans it to her boyfriend, he’s unlikely to get in trouble with it. It’s small enough to make campus parking easier, but big enough to carry a dorm room’s worth of clothes, stuffed animals and bedding back and forth each year, plus a desk lamp and a stereo. (Fold down those rears seats; and put a ski rack on the roof for her.)
Despite its chipmunk footprint, Hyundai says that the 5-door Accent’s cargo volume rates it a Compact, not a Subcompact car.
Finally, it’s almost handsome, inside and out. A few crisp folds and a neatly tapering roof line make the hatchback much prettier than the Accent sedan.
The cabin is not low-rent as the price might indicate, either, as it’s done up in harmonious shapes and colors (gray and black) and made of plastics that look and feel at least mid-grade.
Front-seaters get the best of it, with even elbow room to spare and comfortable, supportive seats. The sound system has six speakers and can be had with satellite radio and a hands-free Bluetooth phone, plus iPod and USB ports.
The Premium Package also has audio and cruise controls built into the steering wheel. Still, decked out like a shopping-mall Christmas tree, the Accent lists for only $15,795. This may not be Hyundai’s most exciting product, but it hews true to the company’s goal of providing more for less.