LAS VEGAS — As the spiritual successor to the Korean automaker's original mega-seller — the Hyundai Pony — the entry-level Accent has been a best seller in its class, based mainly on its super-low pricing.
In fact, just few years ago, you could have purchased a brand new subcompact Accent for under $10,000 — or about the price of a four-year-old compact.
Although a new model is being introduced for 2012, don't panic: While the new Accent four-door sedan and hatchback models are roomier, offer more power, better fuel economy, more safety kit and overall driving refinement than the cars they are replacing, like the recently launched Sonata, Tucson and Elantra, they still won't cost you an arm or a leg.
Related: Are today's 'subcompacts' yesterday's 'compacts'?
Related: 'Motor Trend' names Elantra new compact sedan king
For example, starting at $13,199, the 2012 Accent sedan splits the difference between the $12,999 Ford Fiesta sedan and the $14,990 Toyota Yaris. Arguably, the new four-door Accent hatchback (that replaces the two-door) is an even better buy.
While Ford is adding a $4,500 premium for its hatchback Fiesta, Hyundai is only asking for an additional $400 through three trim levels for the more practical Accent hatch, which is still starting less than a $14,480 Honda Fit, $15,350 Yaris four-door hatch or the $18,195 Mazda2.
And while the last Accent was your basic “stripper,” the new base model comes with such niceties as a six-way adjustable driver's seat, six-speed manual gearbox, power door locks, AM/FM/CD audio system with iPod/USB/AUX ports and standard safety kit like disc-brakes all around (a class exclusive) and six airbags.
Even loaded (automatic transmission, 16-inch alloys, cruise control, upgraded audio with Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and steering wheel audio controls, air conditioning, leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated front seats, power sunroof, etc.), top line Accent sedans and hatches are only $17,1999 and $18,399 — still thousands less than their fully loaded rivals.
Backing up its competitive pricing, the new Accent can also boast best-in-class fuel economy as well.
Hyundai has also hit a home run with the Accent's interior space. Like its Elantra, and other so-called “compacts” that offer mid-size car interior room, the subcompact Accent offers what most buyers would normally expect in a compact.
Unlike the overly styled Fiesta, the Accent's controls for its audio HVAC are simple and straightforward. The build quality is first rate. Much better than what you'll find in Yaris. Most of the hard plastics have some kind of texture applied, at least. And for passengers up front, the Accent's front seats are relatively firm and offer a reasonable amount of lateral support
For many of the buyers in the Accent's entry-level class, feel free to put down your calculators now.
The new Hyundai's excellent cost-of-ownership numbers, compact car-like interior room, comfort and features more than likely have you sold.
But for those who appreciate the finer qualities of how a car drives, keep reading.
I spent the majority of my morning's drive behind the wheel of a topline 2012 Accent GLS hatchback. The only option missing was the automatic tranny. And — surprisingly — despite its lower rung on the Hyundai hierarchy, the Accent offered a better overall driving experience than the larger Elantra.
With 138 hp and 123 lb.-ft. of torque available, combined with its relatively light weight, Hyundai can claim best-in-class power ratings and a power-to-weight ratio.
Although the 1.6 four needs to be revved past 3,500 rpm to feel likes it's earning its pay, it was always smooth — smoother than the Elantra's 1.8 unit. And the small four was well matched to the easy-to-shift manual's six ratios.
Wind and road noise are eerily absent for such a small car. This is a car where a day behind the wheel wouldn't leave you ragged, something that couldn't be said about the outgoing Accent.
My only complaint is that Hyundai may be well served to add a sportier Accent model with a bit more power and more aggressive suspension and tires. (Or maybe Kia will deliver that in the new Rio coming this fall that shares basic mechanicals with the Hyundai.)
A bottom-feeder no more, the new 2012 Accent delivers the best combination of power, fuel economy, handling, ride, room, interior space and overall refinement in its segment — and for a decent price.
In fact, unless you need the extra space, or such luxuries as leather seats and heated rear seats, I'd take the new Accent (especially the hatch) over the less fun-to-drive Elantra sedan.
So, here we go again. Yet another new, “excuse-free” Hyundai, that makes you sit back and ask: How come no one else in the car business can do this?
Travel for freelance writer John LeBlanc was provided by the automaker.
2012 Hyundai Accent Hatchback/Sedan
BASE PRICES: $13,199/$13,599
ENGINE: 1.6L I4
POWER/TORQUE: 138 hp/123 lbs.-ft.
FUEL ECONOMY: (L/100 km city, highway) 6M 6.7, 4.9; 6A 7.0, 4.8
COMPETITION: Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Kia Rio, Mazda2, Nissan Versa, Toyota Yaris
WHAT'S BEST: Roomy, quiet and refined interior, nice balance of ride and handling; fuel efficient yet powerful drive train; loads of standard safety kit.
WHAT'S WORST: Is there too much overlap with big brother Elantra?
WHAT'S INTERESTING: In 2010, more Canadians bought the outgoing Accent than any other car in its class.
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