2008 Hyundai Accent SE – Click above for high-res image gallery

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.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      Hyundai has made ESC standard across a lot of their models, but the Accent isn't one of them. ABS and EBD, yes... stability control, no.

      However Hyundais usually have some factory rebate that reduces the price from the MSRP. The '09 Accent is hot right now with the high gas prices, but the '08's had a $1,000 rebate.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I bet everybody at Autoblog is fighting for the keys of this puppy!! What a dog this is. You are losing precious bites with this. Get a Porsche or something, quick!!!
      • 7 Years Ago
      I've actually ridden in one, and I'm surprised to say that it's no penalty box. It's well maintained, the engine is peppy and has low NVH levels for a car in this class. If I were to recommend a small car under 15K, (Well, first I'd look at the new Fiesta) I'd choose this.

      BTW, great review. It's good to see reviews for cars that most consumers are in the market for.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I'm a Diehard Chevy man, but I agree. The Aveo is terrible. I would rather ride a Vespa rather than an Aveo. I know it's the cheapest car in America, but does it really have to look cheap? I mean, for 1-2K, you could have a much better Yaris, Accent, or Fit. Who knows? Maybe the 09 Aveo is better?..............

        ROFLMAO!!! As if.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I drove the 2007 4-door hatch (not the SE) from Adelaide to Melbourne with a lot of back-and-forth in between, and it was a great little car.

      By comparison, the Yaris (should *not* be taken on the highway) and Aveo are horrible; I can't compare to the Fit which is the obvious best alternative in class.

      The mpg number is puzzling -- I drive a 2001 Elantra GT 5-speed (which is heavier and with a 2.0-liter) and get 30-33 mpg mixed town and highway, and I'm by no means a hypermiler!
      • 7 Years Ago
      For all you ripping on Hyundai...

      Accent comes standard with ESC (Stability Control), EBD & Brake Assist along with TCS & ABS. Do Fit/Yaris/Versa come standard with these safety features? How much do they charge for these 'options'?

      In my neck of the woods, I see these small cars driven by teenagers for whom it is their first car. Considering how inexperienced these young drivers are, does it not make sense to have these safety features?

      Styling is not Accent's strength. But Hyundai adds these safety features standard AND provides almost double the warranty of other 'big' manufacturers.

      The least you guys could do is to commend Hyundai for being proactive on safety.
        • 7 Years Ago
        ESC with the Accent SE? Where are you located?
        In the U.S. all Accents do NOT feature Electronic Stability Control...not even as an option. I wish Hyundai WOULD offer ESC here, at least with the SE?

        Hyundai: WAKE UP!

        • 7 Years Ago
        Hyundai doesn't offer ESC on any Accents at all, I think what you meant was that it offered ABS standard, which is true. ESC isn't available until the Elantra SE
      • 7 Years Ago
      So it's more expensive and less impressive than the Fit? Lame.
        • 7 Years Ago
        No, because it comes completely loaded, unlike the Fit. Read the standard equipment lists.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I actually take a second glance at this car when I see it on the road-- I think it's attractive, and actually looks better than many cars costing tens of thousands more. Too bad it's not available as a 5-door.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I'll second that. Every time I see one, I take a second glance. It's a nice looking car.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I'd probably take a Fit over an Accent for handling, but I'd expect the ride would be better in the Accent. Plus fog lights, keyless entry and alarm... and the warranty. But then you could argue resale... yeah... I dunno.

      I assume they were refering to the Scion xD, which is ugly. The tC is nice.
      • 7 Years Ago
      How much did Hyundai pay Dan Roth to write this article? He manages to bash the Focus, Versa, xB, and tC - all of which are much better cars than the Accent is. I'm not quite sure what he meant by "hell-box interior" when speaking about the xB. I'm pretty confident the guy has never spent a considerable amount of time in an xB. Just for reference here are the 2008 Scion xB interior scores.

      Quietness 6/10
      Controls 6/10
      Details 6/10
      Room/Comfort/Driver Seating (front) 8/10
      Room/Comfort/Driver Seating (rear) 7/10
      Cargo 8/10

      This dude needs to stop bashing good cars in order to make a mediocre Korean car sound better than it really is.
        • 7 Years Ago
        In the end, I think the two cars will attract different buyers - the Accent is more on par with the xA, which it also beats in terms of driving dynamics and interior design/quality.

        It is my sincere hope that anyone reading the dreck I write use their own mind to form their own opinions.

        Scion owners, touchy bunch!
        • 7 Years Ago
        HAHAHA! Josh, I spent three weeks with the xB, and at no time in those 21 days did I develop an affinity for the vehicle. It's uncomfortable, the ergonomics are bad, it's not as fuel efficient or stylish as the first generation xB, and the interior materials are cheap.

        Where do you get your "scores" from (not that they amount to anything but random numbers)?

        I was paid nothing to come away from the Accent impressed - Hyundai makes a good car. If by "bash" you mean "point out aesthetic differences, the conclusion of which you may not agree with," then I guess I "bashed" other cars.

        We can disagree, that's okay, you know, even on the internet.

        • 7 Years Ago
        Those scores came from Consumer Guide. I forgot to say that. At no time in their review does the xB get a score lower than average and it usually exceeded the average. The xB is very comfortable for most people, the ergonomics are fine, the interior materials aren't cheaper than anything else in its price range, it doesn't get the same gas mileage as the original xB but most people would rather it average 27mpg and have 160hp than average 33 and have 110 hp. As far as it being less stylish, that's a matter of opinion. I wouldn't be caught dead driving the original xB, but I love the new one. Plus the new one has much better crash ratings.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Is it me or does the current generation of Accent hatchbacks look like the direct descendant of the 70s Honda Civic hatchback? If Honda were to do retro, it would be this car.
        • 7 Years Ago
        It's not just you. I've said this exact same thing since this car came out two years ago. I think they're cute little runabouts that can be lots of fun in the right hands. They're quite popular here.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Am I the only one that's wondered if this thing could have the potential to be a modern version of the Mini or CRX? I mean, I realize there's the MINI, but it doesn't occupy the same market the original one did, and it's marginally heavier than the Accent is.

      Something with roll up windows and manual locks, optional A/C and ABS (that don't come only in packages with a bunch of other crap that adds weight), and options-either factory built, factory supported or aftermarket-for a stiffer, lower suspension, stickier tires, and a bit more power (125-150hp, maybe)?

      It's not something I'd buy; I don't/won't "do" FWD, but it could be interesting, I think.
      • 7 Years Ago
      My first new car was a 92 Excel and I passed the car to my brother until he sold the car with a 130,000 miles. Most of the problems were fixed early under warranty. My wife and I saw the Genesis the other day and she still related the excel to the genesis so I am guessing the next generation of car buyers will have a better opinion of Hyundai that those that knows the brand from their early days.
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