Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Low prices and good equipment make this a value story.
Korea's largest automaker Hyundai concocts a bargain deal with its subcompact economy car, Accent, offering some of the lowest price points in the new car market.
With revamped models, Hyundai delivers a larger Accent for 2000 rigged with more interior room and more features plus refinements for its structure and powertrain.
Yet pricing for all versions has been confined to the level of last year's smaller Accent. And they're protected with the best warranty in the business. In effect, Hyundai found a way to build a far better car than the former Accent but market it for less bucks.
Accent comes in three-door hatchback and four-door sedan body styles. The same four-cylinder engine powers all models.
The base Accent L hatchback at $8,999 scores with one of the lowest prices on the market this year. The hatchback is also available as an up level GS version pegged at $9,599.
The sole sedan -- Accent GL -- starts at $9,699.
The new Accent measures longer and wider than its predecessor and shows a new shape and face outside that looks decidedly European in tone and style.
Designers at Hyundai's California styling studio contributed to the new appearance of Accent. As with other Hyundai products in recent revisions like the sporty Tiburon coupe and flagship Sonata sedan, they managed to integrate some forceful and edgy styling devices into the little car's shapely profile.
The overall form consists of a low-slung wedge marked by a steeply raked windshield and tall wrap of window glass, with a fast slope to the front hood and a brief back deck with blunt tail. Hard-edged lines on the hood sweep inward from thin windshield corner pillars to a bold horizontal grille with egg-crate segmentation and flanking clear-lens headlamps. A body-colored bumper underscores the prow design and fog lamps drill directly below headlamps on either side of a low front air dam. More sharp lines stretch from the front lamps to tail and form shoulders pitched above the relatively flat door panels, which are interrupted only by modest flared rings around wheelwells on front and back fenders. At the rear, corner tail lamps in oversized delta-shaped designs resemble designs common on current European touring sedans.
The Accent has grown. A wheelbase extended by 1.6 inches, the width stretched 1.9 inches and length from nose to tail more than 4 inches longer than the previous edition result in modest spatial improvements inside Accent's redesigned passenger compartment. There's more headroom for the front seats and slightly more legroom in back. Due to the tall ring of windows and larger new bucket seats separated by a multi-level console, riders up front do not feel squeezed together in a tiny cubbyhole as in some subcompact competitors.
Inside, the seats, instruments and all appointments have been redesigned to improve function and comfort, and the cabin contains new sound-abatement measures to stifle noise.
New form-fitting front bucket seats feel substantial and supportive. Packed with high-density foam, they feature swoopy indentations and firm side bolsters. These seats move in multiple ways to conform for leg length, seat height, lumbar back, seatback tilt and headrest position. Also, the driver's seat on GS and GL editions contains a right-side armrest that folds up and out of the way when not needed.
Three-point seatbelts adjust for shoulder height at pillar-mounted anchors on each side, as front door panels wiggle in wavy forms and include an integrated armrest and a generous map pocket located low near the floor.
The instrument panel orients around the driver with large gauges set immediately forward of the steering wheel. Analog gauges with white markings and red needle pointers over a dark gray field include a speedometer and tachometer, with flanking dials indicating fuel level and engine temperature.
Air vents stand at each side of the instrument panel, and at the middle of the dash a stack of controls for audio and climate systems provides large and easy-to-use rotary control knobs. Below the passenger-size airbag, an enormous glove box drops down in a bin-like compartment that resembles a junior ice chest big enough to hold a couple of six-packs of soda cans.
On the back bench are indented spaces for outboard riders and three-point seat belts plus a two-point belt on the center hump. The seatback splits in sections and folds to increase cargo capacity for the flat-floored trunk.
In this category of subcompact economy cars, constraints of cost and space typically displace considerations for comfort and performance. Driver and passengers often feel crammed in a minuscule package and buffeted when driving on public roads. You're sitting in what seems like a flimsy metal box while propelled at speed amid surrounding vehicles that appear larger and more substantial than your own.
However, that's not the way it works in Hyundai's new Accent. As driver, you sit in a comfortable seat that adjusts to fit even a tall frame. The seat level affords a high stance and provides excellent visibility through a tall ring of windows.
All controls, close at hand either left on the door, right on a console or forward on the instrument panel, stand in logical positions and operate easily. Surfaces of door and dash, coated in soft-touch synthetic material, feel refined, even sophisticated, which is unexpected for the class.
Also unexpected is the gutsy performance from what amounts to a modest engine. Accent's efficient four-cylinder engine was rebuilt and refined for these new models. It now produces best-in-class torque and delivers surprisingly lively performance through the lower gear ranges, as new hydraulic engine mounts work to damp vibrations. The engine produces only 92 horsepower, but generates powerful torque through lower gears. Although you must shift quickly out of the first gear, the second and third gears invite a long run-up to higher rpms, which sends the Accent into the fast lane.
Our introduction to this car occurred during the subcompact commuter's terror time of rush hour while entering a crowded multiple-lane freeway. In our case, it was the busy I-5 in San Diego. Traffic was thick, but we quickly merged into the flow, then cut from one lane to another to expedite a rush out of town. Distracted by the maze of so many larger vehicles, we were well beyond the Coronado Bridge exit before realizing that our little machine competed well against everything else on the freeway.
It was also relatively quiet inside the cabin, as the new stiffer structure of Accent worked in concert with more sound-deadening insulation and new double seals on doors to block out external noise from the motor and surrounding traffic.
Of course, the whole package weighs only 2240 pounds, which explains in part why Accent feels zippy. There's not much mass to move. That power to weight ratio is combined with low-resistance aerodynamics and maximum benefit of the engine's torque through good gear ratios. Like we said: zippy.
The rack-and-pinion steering system quickly interprets animated action from the steering wheel. The relatively long wheelbase and revised four-wheel independent suspension system with MacPherson struts up front creates a nimble and surprisingly smooth-riding platform. Geometry for the front suspension was optimized with a boost to the castor angle to reduce tendencies of the front end to lift when accelerating or dive during braking. The addition of a front stabilizer bar checks body roll from side to side when turning. A sophisticated new sub-frame mount for front suspension components -- rarely found in this price-conscious class -- tempers road noise.
Later in the drive as we worked through coastal peaks east of San Diego, our Accent revealed it could handle a series of mountain switchbacks with poise and an agility unexpected from such a low-rung economy car. The experience led to the realization that Hyundai's smallest product can actually be quite fun to drive, which is not an attribute of most of the other machines in this class.
To demonstrate its confidence in the new Accent, Hyundai supports it with a warranty that goes well beyond protection for other vehicles -- powertrain insured for 100,000 miles and a 60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper shield against defects plus five years of roadside assistance with lockout and emergency towing service. The warranty alone should put Accent on anyone's shopping list in the subcompact economy market, but this car's enhanced performance and competitive pricing make it an impressive value.
The Accent does not behave like the bottom-dollar economy car that its low price tag implies. It's much better than that. Now a larger package in stylish new dress, the Accent offers sophisticated mechanical equipment and comfortable amenities. When linked to an impressive long-term warranty program, this makes a compelling case for one of this year's best value stories.
L ($8,999); GS ($9,599); GL ($9,699).
Asan, South Korea.
Options As Tested
Option Package 3 ($1250) includes air conditioning, power front windows, power door locks, AM/FM/cassette stereo, dual power exterior mirrors.
Accent GL ($9,699).
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