Hyundai Accent Review

Craig Pitman
by Craig Pitman
hyundai accent review

The Yugo and Excel are automotive nameplates synonymous with pistonhead schadenfreude. Yet both models sold well (at least initially). Their success proves two things: 1) you can flog just about anything if the price is low enough and 2) building a car for the lowest possible price does nothing to elevate the automotive arts. While the Yugo has gone to the place where forgettable cars are eventually forgotten (save by those who endured them), Hyundai’s successor to the Excel, the Accent, still strives for, um, sales. After twenty years of evolution, is the Accent still a contender for a Forbes’ best product?

There are few visual cues that the Accent is a cut-rate ride. Black plastic bulges fill the spot “reserved” for fog lights. Tiny wheels with plastic hubcaps “fill” the wheel wells. The Accent’s wide-eyed mug and rounded haunches border on cute: a reflection of the current “let’s mask cheap with charm” routine. Although it errs on the side of inoffensiveness, the Accent’s free from the more blatant automotive plagiarism afflicting its stable mates. Strangely, Hyundai decided to go its own way with the door count. Offering a two door hatch in a market lousy with five door models hinders the wee beastie from the get-go.

Sitting in the Accent’s interior is like being trapped inside a die-cast model. From the high effort HVAC switches to the spindly turn signal, the Accent’s switchgear feels like it was bulk ordered from Corgi’s Chinese suppliers. Unless Goth floats your boat, the all-black color scheme is claustrophobic– although you need sunglasses to dim the glare reflected off the low grade plastics. Still, the dash design is simple and attractive; a mixture of organic curves that leaves all the major controls within easy reach (How great is that?). And unlike many cars in this class, slamming the glove box doesn’t send shudders through the dash.

The base Accent comes complete with an AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo. Literally. You want air conditioning, remote entry, power locks and power windows, you’re gonna have to pay. The front seats are roomy enough, with plenty of travel fore and “watch out for your feet back there” aft. While the Accent isn’t lacking in headroom, a little more height would make entry in the rear quarters easier, especially as the doors are short on length.

Due to these shrunken portholes, rear seat passengers must Pilates their way in and out of the designated compartment. Once there, the accommodations are suitable for two adults. For passengers worried about wearing an SUV as a hat, the space between the Accent’s rear seats and the hatch is generous for the class.

The Accent’s 1.6-liter inline four boasts the highest output of its peers: 110hp @ 6000rpm. Unfortunately, the manual windows have more twist. The engine’s 106 ft.-lbs. of torque (@ 4500 rpm) are pitted against one of the highest curb weights in its class. With 2500 pounds to schlep, the Accent’s little engine that could has trouble carrying anything heavier than a Playstation to the good little girls and boys on the other side of the mountain.

The hatchback’s acceleration redefines the word; zero to 60 times extend somewhere deep into the double-digits. The Alzheimer automatic doesn’t help; the transmission gets confused when you floor the throttle, pauses for what seems like an eternity and then finally drops down a gear. When it eventually finds a lower cog, the engine groans like an arthritic octogenarian reaching for a quarter.

The Accent’s ride is best described as plush, or, more accurately, nauseating. Bumps are greeted (and greeted and greeted) by endless rebound. When I drove the Accent over train tracks, the car crashed and wallowed like my old man’s old Buick. As speeds increase, the Accent’s body roll becomes, um, “exaggerated.” Hustling this little car is about as exciting as racing turtles, and a lot less safe. Twenty years of evolution have failed to elevate handling to anything above the automotive equivalent of your appendix.

Obviously, the Hyundai Accent is a less punishing econobox than the old Excel. While the overall experience puts the “base” in “basic,” there’s no question that the Accent will get from A to B without threatening an extended diversion to repair shop C or, for that matter, racing rust to the warranty’s expiration. If you take into account inflation, the Accent’s $10k sticker makes a mockery of the 1986 Excel’s $5k entry price. Equally important, the Accent offers exponentially better passive safety: side airbags (both front and rear), seatbelt pretensioners, ABS and enough structural rigidity to earn a five-star frontal crash protection.

Unfortunately for Hyundai, the Fit, Yaris and Versa have arrived to do battle at the bottom of the barrel. Aside from the warranty and a grand or so, the Accent can’t compete with it foes’ style, performance, comfort and practicality.

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  • JJ2955 JJ2955 on Jul 26, 2009

    All I can say is that I went through three GM vehicles since July of last year. It was two brand new 2008 Saturn Astra's that experienced complete transmission failures and then a 2009 Saturn Vue XR V6 with numerous serious fit and finish issues and every part was replaced in the front end from power steering rack to tie-rod and CV joints. I had enough and I ran(literally, the delaer wouldn't even give me a ride up the street after buying four brand new cars from them since 2004) to the Hyundai dealer after I won my lemon law case against GM. Losing over six grand in less than a year with GM's pretty looking but, mechanically challenged vehicles was enough for me! My 11K dollar accent gs manual tranny could teach a few things to GM. I hope to God that GM evolves into a more customer friendly and ethical institution. I used to be so pro-GM and my 2004 manual Saturn Vue was so much better than what they are making now. Now I am proudly driving my little accent and I dare anyone to be critical of it after everything I went through with GM. My three bad experiences in less than a year definately aged me and have soured me toward a company I used to believe in and trust. I wish that I could write these losses off as a theft on my taxes.

  • Dean Swiatek Dean Swiatek on Jan 25, 2011

    They call it the Hyundai accident for a reason. Do yourself a favor and buy used. A rusted out car from 1987 (even a Yugo most likely) will last you a lot more miles and still in its rusted out state be a much nicer car.

  • SCE to AUX I charge at home 99% of the time, on a Level 2 charger I installed myself in 2012 for my Leaf. My house is 1967, 150-Amp service, gas dryer and furnace; everything else is electric with no problems. I switched from gas HW to electric HW last year, when my 18-year-old tank finally failed.I charge at a for-pay station maybe a couple times a year.I don't travel more than an hour each way in my Ioniq 1 EV, so I don't deal much with public chargers. Despite a big electric rate increase this year, my car remains ridiculously cheap to operate.
  • ToolGuy 38:25 to 45:40 -- Let's all wait around for the stupid ugly helicopter. 😉The wheels and tires are cool, as in a) carbon fiber is a structural element not decoration and b) they have some sidewall.Also like the automatic fuel adjustment (gasoline vs. ethanol).(Anyone know why it's more powerful on E85? Huh? Huh?)
  • Ja-GTI So, seems like you have to own a house before you can own a BEV.
  • Kwik_Shift Good thing for fossil fuels to keep the EVs going.
  • Carlson Fan Meh, never cared for this car because I was never a big fan of the Gen 1 Camaro. The Gen 1 Firebird looked better inside and out and you could get it with the 400.The Gen 2 for my eyes was peak Camaro as far as styling w/those sexy split bumpers! They should have modeled the 6th Gen after that.