Those Europeans with good memories may recall the Hyundai Accent, though I will wager that it is a long time since anyone last saw one. This was the name that the Korean giant attached to their range of small family cars back in 1994, when they replaced the second generation of their front wheel drive cars, variously known as the Pony, Pony X2 and Excel. The new car came in three and five door hatchback and four door saloon guises, and a choice of 1.3 and 1.5 litre engines. Although it was quite neatly styled, this was an era when Korean cars sold because of their value and reliability rather than for any form of driving flair or “want one” factor. As such, it would never have figured on any enthusiast’s radar, and whilst sales were steady, in Europe it never challenged any of the longer established brands. A second generation came along in 1999, following much the same formula, but with rather more squared-off styling. This was to be short-lived in Europe, though, as its place in the Hyundai range was taken by the slightly smaller Getz supermini in early 2002. But the Accent lived on in other markets, notably North America, where it acted as the entry level model in a range that was to explode in quantity, quality and desirability as the 21st Century progressed. Every five or so years, the model has been updated. The current car, the fourth generation to bear the name made its debut outside Korea at the 2011 North American Show in Detroit, as a swoopy four door saloon, looking very much like a slightly smaller Elantra, a new version of which had launched a few months earlier. A five door hatch model joined it, following an unveiling at the Montreal Auto Show later that year. Although not offered in Europe, it is sold in most other markets around the world, where it bears all manner of different names, including an i25 badge, which gives the clue that this model is larger than the i20 hatch but smaller than the i30 that constitute the Hyundai offerings to European customers. I’ve already driven the four door saloon version, so now it is the turn of the hatch to see how that compares with other cars which the rental car companies call “sub-compact” and which others will describe as “entry level”. Although most of the Hertz fleet these days is pretty new, I was a little surprised to find that the car allocated to me was a 2015 model year vehicle, with the sticker inside the door revealing that it was built in October 2014. As the model has changed little since then, my findings are just as representative of 2017 model year cars.
For the American market, all Accent models get the same engine, the 4 cylinder 1.6 litre “Gamma” unit, though other markets also have the option of a smaller 1.4 litre petrol and a couple of diesels. It develops 137 bhp, well above the class average, and in the test car was coupled to a six speed automatic transmission. This combination proves adequate for the job in hand, but – unsurprisingly – no more. In ordinary motoring in traffic and out on the open road, the Accent is well able to keep up with the traffic flow. The engine is willing, and quite refined, and the gearbox is well matched to the power delivery characteristics. Work the car hard, and it does get quite noisy, as I found when there were a couple of occasions where I had been baulked by traffic and needed a burst of acceleration. Unhesitatingly, the Accent went down a couple of gears, which had the desired effect, but it was far from quiet while it did it. Back at a steady speed on the freeway, which is where I was for most of the test mileage, and calm is restored. Indeed, it is road noise that is the most obvious source of disturbance, but this did seem to vary according to the surface type. Crossing a County boundary. and hence encountering a recently resurfaced part of the I10, suddenly things were much quieter and it was the trace of wind noise which now was most evident. Unlike economy cars of not that long ago, though, you could happily take this Accent on a long journey and not feel bad during or after it. Indeed, when you got to the fuel pump, you would probably feel good about things. I drove the car 301 miles (in a day), and it took 8.1 gallons of America’s finest 87 octane “regular” to fill it up. That computes to a spectacular 37.16 mpg US or 44.4 mpg Imperial, a very impressive figure indeed. In case you think this could be a one-off, I achieved a not dissimilar figure from the saloon model, which was subjected to lots of the canyon roads in the Los Angeles area.
Whilst the fuel economy figures will have impressed you, there won’t have been much fun en route. The Accent is not that sort of car. My notes refer to the car as being pleasant but unmemorable to drive. There’s nothing wrong with it. The steering is light, but it is positive and there is enough feel to remind you that this is no Toyota (!). It goes round corners neatly and tidily, with little roll until you push it hard at which point you will also find out, unsurprisingly, that it understeers, just as Hyundai and its customers would want, no doubt. It rides well, thanks to the all-round independent suspension, the relatively long wheelbase and the high profile 175/70 R14 tyres (which were an odd mix of makes on the test car, but at 37,000 miles showing on the odometer clearly at least some of them had been replaced). The brakes will give no cause for concern, either, with a nice weighting to the pedal. There is a pull-up handbrake between the front seats. No technology aids are provided to assist with positioning the Accent on the road, and to be honest, none are really needed. The hatch design means that the back of the car is easy to judge. There was a second piece of glass in the top corner of the driver’s door mirror, which helped to remove any blind spots.
The interior of this Accent was pretty much how I remembered the one from the Saloon car I sampled a couple of years ago to be. And a quick check with my photos from that car proved that it is indeed exactly the same, except whereas that car had an oatmeal colour to the seat trim and lower half of the dashboard, this one was a sort of mouse grey. Hyundai have clearly made an effort to make the Accent look pleasant inside, with a variety of materials, surface textures and colours used, but there is no getting away from the fact that this is an entry level model, built to a price point. Certainly the fit of the components together is very good, and despite having had 2 years and 37,000 miles of rental car abuse, the only evidence of this was some wear in the carpet where the driver’s right heel rests (floor mats would have lessened this!). The top of the dash uses a sort of stippled texture, and is black whilst the lower half is grey. The same combination is used on the door casings, which have a significant cloth insert in them, and look all the better for this fact. Gunmetal coloured inserts are used on the steering wheel spokes, and around the central part of the dash. You do get a plastic steering wheel, but it proved perfectly acceptable in use. The instrument pack is simple, presented under a single cowl. There are two traditional round dials for rev counter and speedo, with vertically stacked digital bar charts set between them for water temperature and fuel level, as well as the trip mileometer readings. Twin column stalks are used, with the left hand one controlling lights as well as indicators and front and rear wipers function from the right hand stalk. Buttons on the dash to the left of the wheel are for little used functions but do also include the Eco mode, which does what you might expect. The centre of the dash contains what would now be classed as an old-school audio unit. It covers the essentials, with AM, FM and (subscription expired) XM Satellite radio, and is operated using buttons and knobs that surround the unit in the way that car stereo systems used to be operated. Below are three rotary knobs for the air conditioning system. The optional cruise control is on a couple of buttons on the right hand spoke of the steering wheel. There are no audio repeater buttons here, though. And that is more or less it. Simple, easy to use and uncluttered looking.
All the basics are provided to make sure that driver and passenger get comfortable. The seats have manual adjustment, of course. The driver gets a height adjuster as well as fore/aft and backrest angle, but this is denied to the front passenger. The steering wheel goes up and down, but not in/out. Nevertheless, I was easily able to get the driving position I wanted. And the seat itself proved well shaped, as I found out when sitting on it for a long journey across the western side of Arizona from Phoenix to the photo locations.
The rental car companies may class the Accent as a sub-compact, and thus on a par with a Fiesta, Nissan Note and Chevrolet Sonic, but the reality is that this is larger than all of them, and that is most evident when you see the amount of space offered to rear seat passengers. Even with the front seats set well back, there is sufficient leg room. The rear seat backrest is that bit more upright than you might expect, and this probably helps to make the most of the available space. Thanks to a relatively flat roofline, there is no problem with head room. The car is wide enough that three adults could fit across the rear seat.
There is a decent sized boot, too, larger than that in the saloon model, even though this version is a full 10″ shorter overall. It is particularly deep, even though there is a well under the boot floor, which houses the tyre repair kit and offers a bit of space for a few odds and ends. Unusually for a rental car, this one had the parcel shelf left in it. If you do want more space, the rear seat backrests are asymmetrically split, and they drop down on the rear seat cushions, to provide a much longer load platform though it is not completely flat. Inside the cabin, space for oddments is reasonably well provided. There is a good sized glovebox, and a useful cubby area in front of the gear lever. A smaller recess as well as two cupholders are in the centre console between the seats. There is nothing under the armrest, though, as this is a drop down fixture, attached to the side of the driver’s seat. There are generous door bins on the front doors, shaped to take a bottle. Rear seat occupants get a net on the back of the front passenger seat, and that is it.
For North America, the Accent range is simple: just three versions are offered, the GS and Sport, which are Hatches and the GLS which is the Saloon, all of which come as standard with a 6 speed manual gearbox. The 6 speed automatic transmission costs an additional $1000. Standard specification of the base Accent GS model includes an AM/FM radio, a CD player, satellite radio, six speakers, USB and auxiliary audio inputs, air conditioning, all-round electric windows, remote central locking, heated side mirrors, keyless entry, and a 60/40-split folding rear seat. If you are looking for luxuries such as a leather-wrapped steering wheel, or alloy wheels, look away, as these are not included in the GS. The Accent Sport, also only offered as a hatchback, adds sport-tuned steering, cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls (tilt and telescoping adjustments), Bluetooth, premium cloth seats, a sliding armrest, rear disc brakes, a rear spoiler, projector headlights, and a driver’s side auto-up window. The Accent GLS, offered only as a four-door saloon, and slightly cheaper than the GS Hatch, features much of the same equipment as the GS hatchback. When new, two packages were available: the Popular Equipment Package and the Style Package. They added the same features as the Sport trim, minus the sport-tuned steering and rear spoiler. The trim versions were revised slightly for 2016 model year cars.
I have already used the phrase that sums up the Accent, earlier in this report: “Pleasant but Unmemorable”. At this price point in the market, customers are looking for a car which will do the job, with no fuss. Delivering products to that spec has been very successful for Toyota for years, but as the prices of Japanese products increased, this allowed the Koreans to enter the market and do the same sort of thing, but for less money, And they did it very well, for a number of years. To grow still further -and if you look at the growth rates of the Hyundai-Kia combine in recent years, you will see that they have done so, spectacularly – the auto-maker has realised that you need to offer more, though. Having got all the basics so that they did not score any own goals, the focus in recent years has been on the appearance, making the cars look better. And few can doubt that this has been achieved. The current Hyundai and Kia ranges are among the more interesting (without being all way-out and wacky, which is the direction the Japanese seem to be heading in) to look at. Next step will be to up the ante on the driving dynamics, and the launch of Hyundai’s N sub-division will surely see to that. It will take a generation or two to permeate all their products, for sure, so for now, know that the Accent is a good car. Not a great one, but a very acceptable one. As I said in my conclusion to the review of the 4 door model, if you are renting at the budget end of the cars on offered, this is one that you should look out for in favour of the Nissan Versa and the other cars that will be lined up.