Road test: 2012 Hyundai Accent GLS

Many manufacturers are in the midst of moving the entry-level car from basic transportation to a place that emphasizes style, content and value for money. The Accent is one of many making the move — Ford’s Fiesta, the Chevrolet Sonic and Kia Rio5 are other prime examples. The shift in focus is well timed. If gas prices keep rising the way they have been, there will be shoppers looking to get out of a mid-sized ride and move downward to cut operating expenses. The problem with this strategy in the past was that it meant giving up on practically all of life’s little luxuries. In far too many cases, it forced the driver to live with something that was truly cheap.

That is all changing very rapidly. Hyundai has done a very good job of styling the exterior to give the Accent an upscale air. Likewise, the interior is much nicer. The materials are vastly superior to the previous car’s, the seats bring better comfort and there is significantly more content. In fact, the GLS I tested brought everything from steering wheel-mounted audio controls and Bluetooth to heated seats, the usual power toys and a power sunroof. It all comes together very nicely and marks a welcome step forward.

The Accent hatchback also brings the desired flexibility and space — 21.2 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 47.5 cu. ft. with them down. Not is all is perfect, however. The seats do not fold flat to the floor, which leaves an annoying ridge, and the opening is pinched, which limits the size of the box that will slide in. The bigger issue is the rear wiper — it does not have an intermittent mode. As a result, the driver must constantly turn the darned thing on and off when there is just a light drizzle in the air. It is a tiny omission, but one that drove me to distraction.

The latest Accent arrives with a 1.6-litre in-line four that features direct injection. The advantage of direct injection is simple: It delivers more power and better fuel economy. In this case, the Accent’s little four pushes 138 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque. It is a pleasant little mill that does not mind revving to redline when required. The tester arrived with the base six-speed manual gearbox. It features a broad array of ratios that are well matched to the engine — the first four look after performance, while the top two are overdrives. The shifter has a slick gate and the clutch bites at the right point, which means the manual is easy to live with even in stop-and-go traffic.

The more popular transmission choice, however, is going to be the automatic, and for more than the obvious reason. You see, it arrives with Hyundai’s Active Eco system. When engaged, it softens the throttle and alters the shift points, which improves fuel economy by as much 7% — and that is over and above the posted numbers. Other fuel economy measures include the use of low-rolling-resistance tires and an electrically assisted steering setup. The latter cuts fuel consumption by a further 3%. All of this sees the Accent with the manual transmission boast a city fuel economy of 6.7 litres per 100 kilometres and a remarkable 4.9 L/100 km when out prowling the highway. Now that is exceptional economy by any standard.

The economy does come with a small penalty, however: With the manual aboard, the Accent takes 10.2 seconds to trot from rest to 100 km an hour and 7.4 seconds to mosey from 80 to 120 km/h. Neither time sets one’s heart aflutter.

The Accent rides on MacPherson struts up front and a twist beam in the rear. Certainly, there is some body roll when the Accent is pushed, but the setup does a pretty good job of soaking up the rigours of a rough road. The downside is the aforementioned electric steering — even in the sportier GLS, it felt overly boosted. The other nit has to do with those low-rolling-resistance tires — they tend to slip into understeer with very little provocation. I would gladly forego the fuel savings they bring and go with a set of tires that deliver better lateral grip.

The 2012 Accent is a very distant relative to the cheap and cheerless ride it was just a few years ago. Gone are the recycled plastics in favour of an interior that has both style and substance. Likewise, the new powertrain delivers excellent fuel economy, even if that does mean modest performance. The concern is with the Accent’s new pricing. A couple of years ago, one could get into a three-door Accent for a very affordable price: $9,995. Yes, it was very basic transportation, but for those shopping on a tight budget, it meant a new car with the benefits of a good warranty. While it is true the latest Accent is far more sophisticated in everything it does, it would behoove Hyundai to remember that it was the entry-level buyer that put the company where it is today.

Postmedia News

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Type of vehicle Front-wheel-drive

compact hatchback

Engine 1.6L direct-injected in-line four

Power 138 hp @ 6,300 rpm;

123 lb-ft of torque @ 4,300 rpm


Six-speed manual

Brakes Four-wheel disc with ABS

Tires P195/50R16

Price: base/as tested


Destination charge $1,495

Transport Canada fuel economy L/100 km

6.7 city, 4.9 hwy.

Standard features

Air conditioning, power locks, windows and heated mirrors, cruise control, heated front seats, height-adjustable driver’s seat, cloth upholstery, 172-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3/XM satellite radio

with iPod/USB inputs, six speakers and steering wheel-mounted controls, Bluetooth with voice

recognition, trip computer, keyless entry, rear wiper/washer, electronic stability control, six

air bags

Options None

Photo © Nina Shannon