2002 Hyundai Accent Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Low pricing with unexpected zippiness.
Hyundai hasn't raised the price of the base-level Accent since the end of the last century. Yet this handsome little car gets better every year.
Accent was thoroughly re-designed for model-year 2000 to provide more interior room, a smoother-running powertrain, and better isolation from whatever mechanical noise remained. 2001 brought a bigger, more sophisticated engine for GL and GS models. Horsepower rose 14 percent, and torque 9 percent. Now, for 2002, all GL and GS models come with air conditioning as standard equipment.
Hyundai Accent is protected by one of the best warranties in the business. If you're looking for a new-car experience at used-car prices, then the Accent may be right for you.
The Accent lineup begins with a three-door sedan available in L ($8,999) and GS ($10,249) trim levels. There's also a GL ($10,649) four-door sedan.
L models are powered by a 1.5-liter sohc inline four-cylinder engine with three valves per cylinder, rated 92 horsepower. A five-speed manual is the only transmission available with this engine.
GS and GL models upgrade to a 1.6-liter dohc four-cylinder, with four valves per cylinder and 105 horsepower. The five-speed is still standard, but a four-speed electronically controlled automatic is available for $600.
L buyers can add air conditioning for $750. A $400 option package for GS and GL adds a CD player plus power mirrors, locks, and front windows.
Although the Hyundai Accent was last re-styled in 2000, it still looks fresh and attractive, combining forceful and edgy design elements into a decidedly European look. Designers at Hyundai's California styling studio contributed to its appearance.
Accent's overall form consists of a low-slung wedge topped by a steeply raked windshield and a tall wrap of window glass, with a fast slope to the front hood and a brief back deck. Hard-edged lines on the hood sweep inward from thin windshield pillars to a bold eggcrate grille flanked by clear-lens headlamps. A body-colored bumper underscores the Accent's prow, and duct-like openings drill into the low front air dam, directly below the headlamps.
More sharp lines stretch from the headlamps to the blunt tail, itself flanked by beveled shoulders. Otherwise, Accent's slab sides and relatively flat doors are interrupted only by modest flared rings around wheel openings. At the rear, oversized delta-shaped taillights resemble forms common on current European brands.
The three-door model is shaped more like a sedan than a traditional hatchback.
When Hyundai redesigned the Accent for 2000, the wheelbase was stretched 1.6 inches, and the body grew 1.9 inches wider. This provided more headroom for the front seats and slightly more legroom in back. Combine this with Accents tall ring of windows, large bucket seats, and multi-level console; and front-seat riders do not feel squeezed into a tiny cubbyhole, as they do in some subcompact competitors.
Those form-fitting front bucket seats feel substantial and supportive. Packed with high-density foam, they feature swoopy indentations and firm side bolsters. They move in multiple ways to conform for leg length, seat height, lumbar curve, and 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 height. The curvaceous front door panels include an integrated armrest and a generous map pocket low near the floor.
The instrument panel orients the driver with large gauges set immediately forward of the steering wheel. These consist of a speedometer and tachometer, with flanking dials indicating fuel level and engine temperature. White markings and red pointers over a dark gray field assure both an attractive appearance and easy readability.
Air vents stand at each side of the instrument panel, and large and easy-to-use rotary knobs for the audio and climate systems are stacked at the middle of the dash. The glove box is an ice-chest-size bin that drops down from below the passenger-side airbag, looking as though it could swallow a couple of six-packs of soda.
The back bench provides three-point belts and bucket-style spaces for outboard riders, plus a two-point belt on the center hump. On GS and GL models, the seatback splits 60/40 and folds to increase the capacity of the flat-floored trunk.
The driver's seat is comfortable, and adjusts to fit even a tall frame. High off the floor, it also provides excellent visibility through tall windows all around.
All controls are close at hand, logical, and easy to operate. The surfaces of the doors and dash, coated in soft-touch synthetic material, feel refined, even sophisticated, which is unexpected for the class.
Clearly a small, inexpensive car requires some compromises; it simply can't be as roomy, powerful, or refined as a larger car and or one costing more money. But with the Accent, Hyundai has kept the compromise to a minimum.
Unexpected is the gutsy performance from the base-level engine. The 1.5-liter single-overhead-cam engine delivers surprisingly lively acceleration through the lower gears, thanks to an abundance of flexible torque. Although you must shift quickly out of first gear, second and third invite a long run up to higher rpms, scooting the Accent into the fast lane. Sophisticated hydraulic motor mounts filter out the harsh vibrations that plagued the first generation of Hyundai products.
The Accent easily keeps pace in heavy commuter traffic, such as I-5 in San Diego during morning rush hour.
We have not driven the Accent with the newer, 1.6-liter twin-cam engine, but we have every reason to expect that it would perform even better. Compared to the 1.5-liter's 92 horsepower at 5500 rpm, the bigger engine produces 105 horsepower at 5800. More important, the 1.6-liter generates 106 pounds-feet of torque, instead of 97 pounds-feet of torque for the 1.5-liter, but at the same usefully low 3000 rpm. That means a faster launch into traffic.
Our little 1.5-liter Accent was also relatively quiet inside, as the stiff structure of the body, plenty of sound-deadening insulation, and double door seals all worked to block out noise from the motor and surrounding traffic.
Of course, the whole package weighs only 2255 pounds, which explains in part why the Accent feels zippy. Cars are getting heavier and heavier these days, but apparently Hyundai didn't get the memo. That's a good thing, as weight is bad for acceleration performance, stopping distances, handling, and fuel economy. The Accent's favorable power-to-weight ratio is combined with slippery aerodynamics and well-selected gear ratios that make the most of the engine's torque. Like we said: zippy.
The Accent handles mountain switchbacks with a poise and 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.
Accent's relatively long-wheelbase chassis and all-independent suspension provide a smooth-riding platform that nonetheless responds quickly to the driver's demands. Steering geometry is optimized with a high caster angle, to reduce front-end lift when accelerating, or nose-dive during braking. A front stabilizer (anti-roll) bar reduces body lean when cornering. To isolate noise and vibration, all of the front end's mechanical parts are attached via a sub-frame. That kind of sophisticated engineering is rarely found in this price-conscious class, and it helps to temper the road noise.
Hyundai Accent does not behave like the bottom-dollar economy car that its low price tag implies. It's much better than that, with sophisticated mechanical equipment and comfortable amenities.
To demonstrate its confidence in the Accent, Hyundai supports it with a warranty that goes well beyond the competition. A 60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty shields the owner against problems. (Accent's powertrain is warranted for 100,000 miles.) There's even five years of roadside assistance with lockout and emergency towing service. The warranty alone should put Accent on anyone's shopping list.
Add strong performance and nimble handling, and the Hyundai Accent's competitive pricing makes it an impressive value.
L ($8,999); GS ($10,249); GL ($10,649).
Asan, South Korea.
Options As Tested
air conditioning ($750).
Accent L ($8,999).
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