By on October 5, 2011

So, what’s your checklist? If you read this site regularly, you have one: the characteristics of your ideal next car. Perhaps more than one, if you have the need or desire for more than one type of car. One of my checklists concerns my ideal compact hatch. The latest contestant: the 2012 Hyundai Accent SE.

  1. Tasteful, subtly sporty exterior, with tight proportions and no extraneous details

The Mazda Protege5 that’s occupied my garage for the past eight years nailed this one. The Mazda3 that replaced it on dealer lots, not even close. The Accent SE doesn’t hook me like the P5 did, but it’s more attractive than the related sedan and, among the current small hatches, edges out the similarly-styled Ford Fiesta for the top spot thanks to crisper lines and a less swoopy, windowlette-free A-pillar. (The car does look better in person than in these photos.) Additional points to Hyundai for not overdoing the front end and designing the car to look its best without monster rims (the SE wears 16s). The exterior styling is far from stodgy, but it also works for those of us well out of our teens.

  1. The same inside the car, with solid construction and good ergonomics

I don’t want to drive an appliance, but I don’t want to inhabit a video game or science fiction fantasy, either. Looking at some key design element, I don’t want to constantly wonder, “What were they thinking?” This rules out the Civic, Mazda3, and MINI, among others. The Accent isn’t far off my ideal, but falls short thanks to the lingering econo-car mindset evident in the silver-painted trim on the doors and the thin, light gray (why?) fabric on the seats. Ford does much better with these bits, while also offering more solidly bolstered buckets. On the other hand, the Accent’s instrument panel is a keeper. The plastic is all the hard stuff, but it feels solid and doesn’t appear cheap. Unlike in a Fiesta or Focus, the center stack controls are easy to reach, understand, and operate.

  1. A driving position that encourages an intimate connection with the car

It’s easier to describe what my ideal driving position does not include: a distant windshield, thick pillars, or small, high-mounted windows. The Accent much better than the current norm on the first and okay on the other two (though the rear window is very small). You’ll find an airier cabin in a Mazda2, but other competitors tend to rank below the Hyundai. One minor negative: unlike in the Fiesta and new Chevrolet Sonic the steering wheel does not telescope.

  1. Adequate space for three pre-teen kids and a run to CostCo

The Accent’s rear seat and cargo area are no match for those of the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa, or any C-segment hatch, but are roomier than in the Fiesta. Good enough, The rear seat cushion is mounted a little too low for adult comfort, but I’d rarely have adults back there.

  1. A refined, willing, sweet-sounding engine

Hyundai’s new, direct-injected 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine twists out a segment-leading 138 horsepower at 6,300 rpm. There’s noticeably more oomph than with the 120-horsepower mill in the Fiesta, much less the asthmatic 100-horsepower lump in the Mazda2. But even when saddled with a reasonably light 2,400-pound curb weight we’re still talking about the difference between very slow, sorta slow, and a touch more than adequate. With a torque peak of 123 pound-feet at 4,850 rpm, you’ll have to rev the 1.6 in all but the most casual driving. Which is okay, as Hyundai’s latest four revs smoothly and quietly. If anything, I’d like to hear more of the right sort of noise over 4,000 rpm.

  1. A tight, slick, solid shifter

Unfortunately, exercising the four requires contact with the manual shifter, which avoids a failing grade thanks only to moderate throws and the ease of grabbing the desired gear. The shifter feels clunky and crunchy. It even sounds clunky and crunchy. Logitech makes better-feeling shifters—for your computer. Every car company has been engineering manual shifters since the day it was born. Tech doesn’t get any older. So why does getting the shifter right remain so hard for so many of them? Hyundai has employed a pretty good B&M unit in the Elantra Touring and the previous-generation Accent. Do the same with the new one.

On top of this, no points are awarded for fitting a six-speed transmission, even though most competitors make do with five-speeds. Here’s why:

1st 4.40 3.77
2nd 2.73 2.05
3rd 1.83 1.29
4th 1.39 1.04
5th 1.00 0.89
6th 0.77 0.77


See the nicely-spaced ratios in column A? You get them with the Accent’s six-speed slushbox. Column B is the manual. The top three gear ratios are so close together that fifth is pointless. Meanwhile, the first three gears are too far apart. Rev to the 6,300 rpm power peak in first, shift to second, and revs fall all the way to 3,400 rpm, well short of the torque peak. If this weren’t bad enough, the engine bogs momentarily following such aggressive shifts, especially if the finesse-free traction control detects a whiff of wheel slip. (There’s a solution for this last issue: turn the system off.) The power hole isn’t as deep or as broad as in the Mazda2, but only because you’ve got more engine to work with.

  1. Good fuel economy

Working from home, I don’t drive much, so a small car’s fuel economy doesn’t have to clear a high bar. Anything over 29 will do, though bigger numbers earn bonus points. Hyundai worked much harder to earn these bonus points than on shift feel, with EPA ratings of 30 city and 40 highway. In suburban driving the Accent’s trip computer reported numbers as high as 48, but more typically about 37, and as low as 30 with a heavier foot and more frequent stops.

One oddity not limited to Hyundai: all of the latest B-segment cars earn similar EPA numbers to their C-segment sibs despite lower curb weights and smaller engines. What’s the deal with this? If the Hyundai Elantra can manage 29/40, then why can’t the Accent achieve 32/44? Just curious personally, though other buyers less interested in handling will find the Bs pointless.

  1. Communicative steering and agile handling

For me, the primary strength of a B-segment car should be agile handling. If I wanted to feel like I was driving a big car, I’d buy a big car. (Okay, I did buy a big car, but not because I liked how it handled.)

The new Accent lacks the frisky chassis and quick, sharp, communicative steering of the Mazda2, but handles and steers better than other direct competitors with the partial exception of the Ford Fiesta. The Ford has a more solid, German-as-opposed-to-Asian feel, but softer suspension tuning. Both chassis are well-behaved, especially when hurried. Either car steers and handles better, and is much more fun to drive, than the soggy, bland appliances from Nissan and Toyota (2011 anyway; I haven’t yet driven the 2012 Yaris). The Honda Fit? While others sing its praises, I can’t get past the microvan driving position (see #3).

  1. A livable ride

I used to think I wanted a bare bones car. Then I drove a Lotus Elise. Immediately afterwards the Protege5 seemed as quiet and cushy as a Lincoln Navigator. But compared to just about anything else the Mazda is rough and noisy. Though I’m not seeking a cocoon, I’d prefer a car that didn’t beat me up or assault my eardrums. The Accent does well here, bettering the larger but bouncier Elantra and nearly matching the segment-best Fiesta.

  1. Good value

My wife thinks I’m cheap. But value is really my thing. I’m looking for the sweet spot in the amount of car delivered for the dollar. In contrast, B-segment buyers have traditionally been downright cheap. Seeking their nickles, the Hyundai Accent vied with the Nissan Versa for the title of America’s cheapest car.

The $9,990 special is gone, and then some, with the Accent’s redesign. The base sedan lists for $13,205, the base hatchback (now with four doors rather than two) for $13,455. And an SE like you see here? $16,555. Even with this, its most affordable model, Hyundai is now about value, not the lowest possible price.

Does the Accent deliver this value? The closest non-Korean competitor, the Ford Fiesta SE with SYNC and Sound and Sport Appearance Packages, lists for $16,990. Running both through TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool finds that the two are very closely matched in features, with a mere $15 adjustment in the Ford’s favor. So this decision is going to come down to something other than price. In the Ford’s favor we have a sportier, better-trimmed interior, a decent shifter, and a generally more upscale feel. But the Hyundai counters with a stronger engine, larger wheels (16s vs. 15s), tighter suspension tuning, and a more viable back seat. It’s a tough call that’ll come down to priorities until Hyundai fixes the shifter and interior trim (or the aftermarket does what it does best).

A Mazda2 Touring is also very close in price, listing for $125 less but ending up about $500 more after the feature-based adjustment. The Mazda is easily the best handler of the three, but is saddled with gearing that makes a weak engine feel even weaker and a more econo-car look and feel.

The problem with any of these small hatches: C-segment cars offer more power and nicer, roomier interiors with similar handling and fuel economy. A Ford Focus SE with Convenience and Sport Packages lists for $20,930. About $900 of the difference pays for additional features. The rest simply pays for more car. If you have the extra scratch, spend it. Don’t have it? See the previous paragraph.

Maybe in 2014? 

The new Hyundai Accent SE is a good car that’s painfully close to being a great one. The stuff that can’t be changed easily or cheaply is all here: tastefully attractive styling, good driving position, refined, relatively powerful engine, competent chassis. The interior trim and shifter need work, and the steering and transmission would also benefit from additional development. As-is, it seems that a light gray interior aficionado was working off a spec sheet without really understanding or caring about the goal of a driver-oriented car. The days when “GT” meant standard leather inside your Elantra aren’t quite past us. Someone who truly loves driving small hatches needs to tweak this one to look and feel more overtly sporty, communicative, and engaging (without going over the top). In Hyundai parlance, the Accent hatch needs and deserves the R-Spec treatment. Hyundai has proven itself willing and able to make improvements as quickly as the second model year. They can start here.

Hyundai provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

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81 Comments on “Review: 2012 Hyundai Accent SE...”

  • avatar

    Proof that a hatch/wagon/5 door/sport wagon, or whatever you want to call it always looks better than the sedan version.

    It’s also amazing how swoopy designs have become in the last 10 years. The Protoge, which I used to think was one of the nicest looking wagons ever, really looks dated next to the Accent.

    Nice review.

  • avatar

    Another nice report, MK.

    Unlike grzydj, I find the latest crop of hatches very unattractive, and strangely prefer the 4-door versions of all these cars much more. I just don’t like tail lights that crawl all the way to the roofline.

  • avatar

    “One oddity not limited to Hyundai: all of the latest B-segment cars earn similar EPA numbers to their C-segment sibs despite lower curb weights and smaller engines. What’s the deal with this?”

    – It has to do largely with air flow/resistance – which is why one will usually see a marginal improvement for city MPG but none for highway miles.

    • 0 avatar

      My take is that the C cars don’t really get to 40 mpg in the real world, while the B cars can beat the 40 mpg – as you found out.

    • 0 avatar

      “If the Hyundai Elantra can manage 29/40, then why can’t the Accent achieve 32/44”. Well if you compare apples to apples, Hyundai’s C Segment hatch, the Elantra Touring, only gets 23/31 mpg. There is still a lack of compelling C Segment hatches/wagons here in the U.S. Hopefully that will change soon.

      • 0 avatar

        Thats not apples-to-apples… the Elantra Touring is built on the old chassis with the old non-DI engine, and gets pretty much the same mileage ratings as the old Elantra sedans. But I agree, they really need to update thier C-segment hatch/wagon.

    • 0 avatar

      It has to do even more largely with the EPA procedure being a 35 year old kludge of what was originally intended to be a smog test.

      CR tests mileage driving actual cars on actual roads with wildly differing results.

    • 0 avatar

      A coworker of mine recently bought a new Accent for his wife and an Elantra for himself. According to him, it’s tough to get the Elantra to return EPA estimates while doing the same in the Accent is trivial.

      • 0 avatar

        The Elantra is overrated and the Accent is underrated. No way around it.

      • 0 avatar

        My very limited experience with the Elantra does not match. I had one as a rental with approx 14k miles on it, drove from LAX to Pomona to the border and back with two friends. It was mostly highway miles, but a good portion of that stretch involved speeds between 80-100mph (I know, I really was being an ass). That just about used up a full tank, and, calculating the mileage, I actually got just a hair under 40mpg. I was very pleasantly surprised.

    • 0 avatar

      My question is, because I have no experience with B segment, is why some D segment cars achieve the same, or similar, MPG as their C segment cousins (I know EPA tests are a bit…wonky…).

      Forte, sorry this is the only one with which I have personal knowledge, manual: 25/34

      Optima, manual: 24/35

      Is it getting to the point where you’re pretty buying space over mileage anymore?

      • 0 avatar

        One, that’s highway mileage. City mileage is different.

        Highway is determined, mostly, by throttle, gearing, aero and parasitic loads like the PS pump and such; city is by weight.

        It’s very easy to tweak a D-segment car or truck to get good miles, especially on the EPA cycle, by screwing around with the throttle, using EPS and having a transmission that locks up if you look at it funny and goes for the high gears at every chance, and once you’re moving weight isn’t as much of a factor.

        You cannot do any of that in city driving, and you have to deal with that mass at every stop, and all the transmission and throttle trickery in the world can’t help you get four thousand pounds moving, not versus a car that weight slightly more than half.

      • 0 avatar


        You’re probably very right. I make no bones about being somewhat mechanically illiterate, right now, and continue to work on learning how things work and why engineers might do things the way they do them.

        For me the most important number has always been the “combined” number given by the EPA. I can usually match that or beat it. I’ll never have a complete city tank, and I’ll never have a complete highway tank so those numbers are nice to compare, but I’ll pay more attention to combined. Manual Forte and auto Forte have different ratings for both city and highway, but the “combined” rating is the same.

        Last time I filled up, I got just under 32mpg. I was pretty please since I wasn’t really driving for optimal economy, and still over-rev the engine once in awhile.

  • avatar

    That last photo is priceless. Why the disdain for rear windows these days? Is it a plot to force us all to buy backup cameras?

    Great review as always, I hope you find a worthy replacement for the Protege someday.

    • 0 avatar

      This tiny back window is the only serious flaw in the Accent SE’s design. It looks even worse from the inside!

    • 0 avatar

      Last I checked, steel was much better at protecting occupants in a collision than glass. Not like we have a decent, enforceable rear-impact standard here in America though.

      I’ve driven the 2012 hatch and found rear visibility to be fine, but I’m exactly 6′. My wife, who is a half-foot shorter, couldn’t see anything out the back window and found the side mirrors barely adequate.

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, but it’s not the steel-versus-glass area of doors and hatches that protects you. Raising the beltline is a stylistic choice: designers like the look and (some) people like the pillbox feeling, hence we’re all stuck with it.

        Blaming safety when many utilitarian vehicles still have thin pillars and decent sightlines is a total cop-out.

        In a few years we might swing back to 14″ wheels on full-size cars and huge greenhouses. After all, if legwarmers, big sunglasses and fedoras can come back, why not automotive styles of the eighties?

    • 0 avatar

      ya rear window is a joke. too small. i wont consider this car for that reason alone.

  • avatar

    Regarding the rear window: I’ve seen bigger windows on pillbox bunkers. Ridiculous.

  • avatar

    Nice review Michael. I’ve been helping friends navigate the commuter car market recently and your observation sums it up perfectly:

    “The problem with any of these small hatches: C-segment cars offer more power and nicer, roomier interiors with similar handling and fuel economy.”

    I suspect that these smaller cars are an advantage if you live in large cities (or Europe) but for most Americans the C-segment cars offer much better utility with similar economy for only little extra cost.

  • avatar

    I consider the view *through* a car a big safety feature (and a reason why I never liked SUVs in the first place). As if the raising side windows aren’t bad enough the mailbox slot of a rear window is a part of everything I find wrong with modern cars in general and Hyundai’s designs in particular since they seem to always have the smallest rear windows.

    Just look at how much of the SUV parked in front of it can be seen through the Protege. And that’s before we start to look at visibility for the person driving the car.

    • 0 avatar

      The Protege5 looks like it was designed by someone who has actually driven a car.

      • 0 avatar

        I owned a Protege5, and it was a nice car in a lot of ways, but it had a pretty rough ride, lots of noise, a reluctant engine, a voracious appetite for brake discs, a tendency to wheel-hop if it lost traction and a pretty bad (though not Hyundai-bad) shifter.

        Lots of fun to drive, though.

      • 0 avatar

        @psar, I have to disagree with many of your points there… my P5 was a tad noisy on the highway due to the gearing, the engine simply revved too high, but that also helped with the throttle response. But I had no issues with the ride, to me it was tuned perfectly, soft enough to handle rough pavement but still offered excellent feedback and feel in the twisties. My current GTI rides rougher. The engine didnt have a lot of power, no doubt, but it was adequate, and most importantly, it FELT fast, it was very willing to rev, I loved to blip the throttle, made the car very fun at less illegal speeds. The disk brakes did seem to wear out fast, especially in back, but no worse than any other sporty car, and they were cheap and easy to replace pads. I never experienced any wheel-hop so I cant speak to that, but I had 17″ rims and stickier tires so maybe that helped. Most glaringly though, the shifter was pretty good IMO. The gearing for the lower 4 gears was great, the linkage felt very good, not quite Miata or Civic Si, but definitely better than anything else in the compact market, just the throws were a bit long. I would put it equal to the standard Civic, which is right about where it should have been for the market anyway. The Mazdaspeed Protege had a short shift kit (aftermarket), I put one in my car and for $50 and an hour in the garage fixed the throw issue and feel completely.

        Sorry, I just really liked that car and really regret selling it!! It was a lot of fun for the price, and thats the key. My GTI is fun, I smile when I drive it, but it costs significantly more that the P5 did. Mazda put together the right combination of parts to make an inexpensive enthusiast vehicle, and no one really does that anymore. Michael will be very hard pressed to find a car that delivers the same kind of fun for the price target he has.

        MK — Keep the P5 and fix the problems!! They are nearly impossible to find used, for a reason… no one sells them!

  • avatar

    Great review Michael. I like how you highlighted your own personal checklist for a compact hatch.

    In the B-segment, I think the Accent hatch has the most attractive proportions, and exterior detailing. It’s unfortunate the interior doesn’t match up. I think making the seats black would go a long way to making the interior look more upscale. I’m also impressed with the amount of legroom in the back.

    I don’t think you’ll ever find a car like the Protege again. The combination of utility, driver involvement, and value is such a hard one to nail down as it is. Throw in things like fuel efficiency and safety, and you’re bound to have to compromise on several things.

    • 0 avatar

      Black is the other interior color option. But nothing with any warmth or sportiness to it like you’ll find in the Fiesta and some others.

      The Accent is actually about 300 pounds lighter than the Protege, so curb weight isn’t the issue, at least not in this case.

  • avatar

    How much difference (beyond styling) do you suppose the Accent 5 door and Rio5 will have? They present the same drivetrain, but different sytling approaches (I kind of like the fact that the Rio has some “Audi” blood in it)…

  • avatar

    Is a review of the new and related Kia Rio on its way?

    I will probably be shopping cars in this price range within the next year or two (note: I didn’t say subcompact, because my search will probably encompass used cars, too).

    I know neither the Accent nor the Rio did that well in the latest “Honda and Driver”, I mean “Car and Driver” comparison test, but I’ve learned that a car winning or losing a comparison test doesn’t necessarily make it a better or worse car. Lots of things are subjective.

    (i.e. Lots of people find Toyota Corollas comfortable, but I can’t sit in one for more than 20 minutes without my back going crazy. Likewise, a car’s ride might be “taut” to some and “harsh” to others, and what is “cushy” to some might be “nauseating” to others.)

    • 0 avatar

      I got the same C&D in the mail today, right after posting this review.

      I have yet to see a new Rio in the metal, much less drive one. I’ll review one as soon as I can. In the past the two cars have shared shift mechanisms, so odds are this won’t be better in the Kia. I’m also not holding out much hope for the steering. There might be some suspension tuning differences, but overall I expect the Rio to drive similarly. So the choice between them will likely come down to styling.

      • 0 avatar

        Actually, the new 2012 Kia Rio 5 looks like a great competitor to the Accent. Sure – they share a platform and mechanicals, but the new Rio offers more (and better) options than the Accent. These include a backup camera even on mid-trim levels, and SX model has a different steering rack, suspension, and bigger wheels. Personally I also prefer the Rio’s pseudo-VW exterior design, as well as it’s more restrained interior. (I can’t stand the “dynamic” swoopy center stacks…)

        As far as I can tell, the New Kia Rio has but one flaw, and it’s fatal: The manual 6-speed transmission is only available in the base stripper model. No cruise control. No alloy wheels. no sporting suspension. No leather option. No bluetooth/radio options. Hell, you can’t even get a manual transmission Kia Rio with power windows…

      • 0 avatar

        Damn, I hadn’t realized that. Strike that one off my list.

      • 0 avatar

        Yea I just saw the same thing… no stick on any model but the stripper base model. Too bad because it looks like a better looking design than the Accent, at least in pictures. In person I think the Accent hatch is a bit awkward.

        And I just checked the web site, the Forte 5-door is auto-only too! Whats up with Kia and autos?? I saw a Forte hatch today on the road, it was a really nice looking car, but no stick, no sale. Even the Elantra Touring can be had with a stick… I hope the new ET doesn’t go auto only too.

      • 0 avatar

        Yup. As a matter of fact – Michael – I do believe that TTAC would be the perfect outlet to write up a little exposé on the matter. (hint hint, nudge nudge) Most automakers are missing the whole idea that some people choose to drive stick on purpose, and that many of those people also like (even basic) options.

        Although most automakers are complicit in only offering the manual with basic options – the Kia Rio SX makes a particularly glaring example of how they’ve got it wrong. What could be the ace of the segment, and a decent competitor to the VW Golf/GTI, is nixed from consideration (yours and mine anyway) by insipid transmission packaging. It’s basically a self-fulfilling prophecy: Automakers say consumers don’t want manual transmissions, and then package cars so that consumer’s are forced to buy automatics. This, of course reinforces their errant decision. (Ditto for those who price hatchbacks $2k more than the comparable sedan, then point to sales figures and say Americans don’t want hatchbacks…)

        Thus, for the love of three pedals, get TTAC on the case!

      • 0 avatar

        Not having a manual is not really a problem in most Hyundai and Kia (and Daewoo/GM-DAT, now that I recall) models, chiefly because the shift quality is usually terrible.

        I haven’t tried the Sonata, but the Elantra, Accent, Soul and Rio are just awful. The ratios are wrong and the shifter is imprecise and unpleasant.

        Honda may have it’s own issues, but why a decent shift linkage seems to elude everyone else but them is a mystery.

  • avatar

    One oddity not limited to Hyundai: all of the latest B-segment cars earn similar EPA numbers to their C-segment sibs despite lower curb weights and smaller engines. What’s the deal with this? If the Hyundai Elantra can manage 29/40, then why can’t the Accent achieve 32/44?

    Several factors like aerodynamics may play a role, but I believe you at least partially answered your own question:

    With a torque peak of 123 pound-feet at 4,850 rpm, you’ll have to rev the 1.6 in all but the most casual driving.

    Having to thrash a B-car’s tiny engine to get it to go anywhere is probably the main culprit. You’d have to shave hundreds of pounds out of the car to mitigate this, which means sacrificing comfort, safety, and solidity.

  • avatar

    One of my friend’s sisters drives an Accent and to my surprise, her sister survived an accident in it.

    I like this new model better and I wonder if she’ll trade up to it. I’d rather talk her into buying a loaded Veloster though. Or a Sonata.

  • avatar

    Michael, regarding #9 you characterize the Mazda as rough and noisy. Were you referring to the Mazda 2 or the Protege? I ask because this review makes the Mazda 2 sound pretty good other than its wheezy powertrain.

  • avatar

    Nice review.

    I have to say I disagree with you on one point here. (I am a biased observer here owning both an ’06 and ’10 Mazda 3- take my comments with a grain of salt.)

    The Mazda 3 that replaced the protege was a homerun in the subtly sporty looks department- making the protege before it look dated and generic without resorting to styling gimmicks.

    As for the current model, which replaced the model that replaced the protege, I would agree with your characterization. (I still bought one though…)

    • 0 avatar

      +1. The Protege cleaned up nicely in sporty wagon trim, but as a design it was still just a dressed-up genericar.

      The first-gen 3 on the other hand had distinctive styling that set it far apart from its competitors when it came out. The sedan had a bit of a mini-Alfa look about it, and while I’ll concede that the low-end 3 hatches sold in other markets looked a bit odd without a rear spoiler, the s hatch is a real looker (though I own one, so I’m a bit biased too).

      I’d also disagree about the Accent looking better than the Fiesta. Along with being the most blatant Fiesta copy legally possible outside of China, it’s not nearly as well-proportioned or considered in the details.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree. I’d like to hear more from Michael about what he didn’t like about the original Mazda3’s styling and/or proportions. BTW, the first gen Mazda3 suffers from the same 1-2 gear ratio issue. Plenty of power up to 7100 rpm redline in first, then nothing in second at 3800 rpm. Shift more conservatively at the 6500 rpm power peak and you’re down to 3500 rpm.

      As for the two cars in the review, I’d almost certainly take the P5 if I could have either car new for the same price. It looks better; has better visibility; likely better steering feel, handling, and shifting; and I wouldn’t have to turn any nannies off every time I start it. I don’t even have to drive the Accent to know that it can’t overcome those deficits by excelling in other areas, but I still would, of course, just to make sure. Oh well, at least the Accent looks relatively decent, as far as new cars go.

      Another great review, full of interesting details and critiques.

    • 0 avatar

      As a ’10 Mazda3 hatch owner (wife’s car) and having several friends who own the previous version (sedans) I have a different opinion, and a disagreement with Karesh as well.

      I definitely preferred the initial 3 to the protoge, it has a more upscale exterior, almost late-90s audi IMHO and is one of the best looking C segments out there. I wish I was in the market to purchase about 6 months later than I did on my last car, because I would have gotten a white speed3 without a second thought. Instead I ended up in a Acura RSX-S, which is a good car but i could have been happier with the limited slip and turbo if I do say so myself, they’re the only things I thought were missing from my car.

      I highly prefer the interior of the current-gen 3 to the last one. It just feels like a better car to me. More solid, better seats, Bluetooth, steering wheel buttons, etc. The radio button layout is a bit finicky, but I operate most of it from the steering wheel so it doesn’t bother me one bit. My beef with Karesh is what does he find so off-putting about the interior, which I find to be the best of any compact I’ve been in?

      I do understand the exterior is hit-or-miss with most people, but you would be surprised at the amount of “cool car” comments we get for it. Mostly guys in their 20s, but I’m a guy in my late 20s, so YMMV.

      • 0 avatar

        I think that all the things you mention as reasons why you prefer the 3 to the P5 is EXACTLY why I agree with MK and prefer the P5. I dont want a more upscale interior, I dont want the overstyled trim, the more luxurious feel, etc. Same with the exterior, the P5 had a very tight design, excellent lines, it reminded me an E30 BMW. Even today, I think that generation Protege sedan or P5 looks perfect. I loved my P5 for how simple and focused it was, it was very close to a Miata wagon IMO.

        And same thing with the new 3, the gadgets do nothing for me. I do agree they have better seats, the P5 had generic seats, they should have put the MSP seats in the P5. I dont agree that the new 3 is more solid though, my P5 was built extremely well inside, everything felt thicker and tougher. One of the reasons I didnt like the Mazdaspeed3 compared to the GTI was the console and switchgear felt a bit cheap. And yes, I have to mention it, that silly grin just ruined the outside for me as well. It was OK in black, hides it, but I didnt want a black car! Other than the grin, I think the styling looks great though, especially on the Speed3 with the hood scoop and flared fenders!!

        BTW, trade-in value is incredible on a RSX-S, and the MS3 is a bargain, they dont sell well… you could trade in…

    • 0 avatar

      We’re deep into subjective territory on this one. For me, the front end of the Mazda3 looked disproportionately large and the whole just didn’t flow. The reverse triangle rear window is now everywhere, including this new Accent, but on the original Mazda3 it seemed to be different for the sake of being different. It wasn’t quite innovative, either–the Vibe and Matrix had it a year earlier.

      This said, even the styling of the second-gen Mazda3 was growing on me after I’d had a MS3 for a week. I don’t think I’d ever love it, but I could live with it. The interior of the current Mazda3 is another matter. I despite the huge sweeping arc across the upper instrument panel, the left half of which serves absolutely no purpose. The entire interior isn’t nearly as well done as the first-gen Mazda3’s.

  • avatar

    Actually, it’s just not a good idea to take the EPA as gospel. Most other sources of MPG data (consumer reports, rag mag reviews, Fuelly) show the B-segment cars doing much better than their C-segment cousins.

    • 0 avatar

      Part of what you said is true. But there’s another factor here.

      I asked a GM rep about why the Sonic only got comparable MPG to the Cruze, since it was 400+ lbs lighter. The main reason is that on the smaller b-segment cars, you have a lot less to work with aerodynamically. You have a smaller form factor, so it is more difficult to have a streamlined body while still fitting in an engine and ample room for passengers. Furthermore, cost is a concern, so you might sacrifice special underbody aero as well as extensive wind tunnel testing in order to contain the price of the car.

  • avatar

    Thanks for reviewing this car! I’ve been considering one lately. We had one at work but I was unable to test it.

    Ours had a black interior, which looked phenomenal. I didn’t get much seat time in it, but I really, really liked the interior in the Accent. It was simple and clean, didn’t feel cheap. Almost like an early ’90s Accord. I’m a bit disappointed about the shifter though, as I’d get one in a 6-speed.

    R-spec? How sweet would that be?!
    I’m holding my breath for a Fiesta ST. I wanted the Focus ST, but realized that it doesn’t make sense next to a V6 Mustang.

  • avatar

    Good review, and I would just add:

    Damn, that’s a good looking P5. I’ve been seriously considering buying a red one if I can find a good deal.

    • 0 avatar

      I might sell mine next spring, but the body’s a bit rough at this point. Deserves a home where they don’t salt the roads.

      It’s getting a new timing belt today. Shop is complaining that it’s taking them far longer than the three hour book time.

  • avatar

    About noise. How does Accent compare? Road noise, wind noise, tire noise, rattles. How is it compared to other small cars? Versa 2011 and 2012, Focus, Fiesta, Elantra, Fit, Mazda2, Drove some of those around the block. Different blocks so not a good comparison. Fit rather noisy. Versa 2011, not so noisy. Thanks.

    • 0 avatar

      They’re all much quieter than my Protege on worn tires, so I’m probably not the best judge of this. My ears say that the Accent isn’t quite as quiet as the Fiesta or Versa, but it’s close. So probably a little quieter than the Mazda2. I haven’t driven a Fit recently.

      Looking at the comparison in the new C&D the Sonic, Fit, Accent, and Rio all tied for quietest at 70, while the Versa and Yaris were a tad noisier. But did they test on concrete or asphalt? I’ve found that some cars (and tires) deal with concrete much better than others.

  • avatar

    Accents for $29/month, $4,990 down advertised in Cleveland. It did show up in the acceleration test in C&D.

  • avatar

    A good review there Michael as I finally went to the website to see what it looked like.

    I have to agree, the interior looks good if a bit plain with either all gray or all black color scheme.

    One thing I noticed and that is the Accent looks much like the Fiesta/Focus in basic shape and noted the taillights look awfully close to the ones on the Focus.

    As far as noise is concerned, I find that some tires do better than others on some surfaces and that can create a drone when at cruising speed. I test drove the Fit and found it OK, though not overly sporty in feel. It didn’t help that I test drove the auto as at the time, I was thinking of going back to an automatic and the poor transmission had a slight delay before it would decide to drop down when I shoved the accelerator to the floor to see how it would respond, once the thing downshifted, the car took off, indicating it has the oomph but that delay was a deal breaker to me though. The Fiesta with auto responded almost instantaneously to my commands, which made it MUCH sportier than the Fit. The Fiesta was indeed quiet, the Fit, not quite as quiet, but it wasn’t too bad. Even the Fiat 500 is pretty quiet with it’s exhaust note barely discerned over the hushed interior at normal cruising speed.

    BTW, I’m sticking with a stick in my next car.

  • avatar

    Somebody needs to come out with a “Hot Hatch” in this segment. About 175 HP would do nicely.

    MK: You’re 8 year old P5 still looks great.

  • avatar

    So has anyone driven the automatic? My wife can’t drive a stick and this puts me in the position of checking out the auto side of the house. Are the “holes” in gear spacing sorted out with the better spacing of the automatic gear ratios? Sounds something like the Fit with radically different gearing between the manual and automatic transmissions. The Honda seems to have a different final drive ratio from what I’ve read since the auto is more relaxed when cruising…

    How does this car stack up in Automatic form?

    Thanks! I’ve been waiting to see a review of the SE hatch for a long time…

  • avatar

    Michael, concerning the Protege5:
    GREAT car, I work on them daily(30-year Mazda master tech), and every single customer I deal with with a P5 LOVES their car. There are 4 alone in my immediate family.
    About noise in the Prot5, and some tips:
    If your car is a manual trans, hit the salvage yards, find a ’93 or later Mazda 626 4-cylinder manual, remove the outer cover and take all the 5-th gear components. Swap them with what’s in your P5. result is a 500 rpm drop in 5th gear on the highway, silent running in 5th at highway speeds, and a 4+ mpg improvement with no loss of power. Ive done this mod several times on Proteges, MX-6s, and Probe GTs, including my own’93 PGT. Cost me less than $5 each time in parts from the U-wrench-it yards. Takes less than 15 minutes in the salvage yard, figure an hour or less to swap yours and get the cover sealed. Hammer, 3mm pin punch, 10mm, 27mm, 32mm sockets is all you need
    Front and rear sway bar links and saddle bushings transmit a lot of road noise into the car. The links get loose and rattle, and the bushings get dry and hard. If you replace the bushings, smear some lithium grease into them before you replace them-no more squeaks or rattles on stutter bumps.
    Check the valve clearances. Like the Miatas, NOBODY ever gets them checked, much less adjusted. They are usually loose, and adjusting them(shim-type) quiets the engine and really sharpens throttle response.

  • avatar

    Re: Protege5 noise

    Buy quiet tires. I went from the stockers to a set of Yokohama S-Drives and now a set of Continental ExtremeContact DWS’s. The DWS’s take tonnes of noise out of the car, at the expense of a little more mushiness on turn in.

    Also amazing: The P5 is (was?) a C-segment car, no? It looks at least a little smaller than the B-segment Accent in the photos. I parked my recently-acquired 1st gen MPV beside a Vibe today. Same size!

    • 0 avatar

      The tires (G-Force Sports) were quiet when new, but didn’t stay that way.

      The P5 is still eight inches longer than the new Accent, though this isn’t obvious in the photos. What you’re seeing is how much taller and bulkier the Accent’s body is–a common theme in auto design. In my recent Passat V6 review I included a photo of the new Passat parked in front of a circa-2000 BMW 7–the 7 looked really low and small in comparison.

      • 0 avatar

        I had an ’03 Protege ES sedan I bought new in April ’03. Funnest, best handling car i’ve ever owned; although the engine blew 1000mi out of warranty. Granted, I put on those miles in 1 1/2yrs and red-lined the piss out of it ALL the time, Mazda wouldn’t replace it (I was only 19 then mind you).

        In retrospect, I should’ve got the P5. The platform, VERY well built. Except that cursed 2.0l engine.

        A coworker of mine has had TWO MazdaSpeed 3’s (one of which he totaled-out on a Minneapolis freeway in the winter), and swears by them. Bought one exactly like it afterwards. As a result of my experience, i’ll never buy Mazda again, Honda or nothing now. ‘Cept possibly Hyundai…or a Panther :)

        Good article, Mr. Karesh.

      • 0 avatar

        The 2003 ES was identical to the P5 except for the strut tie bar the P5 included… so you didnt miss out on much, though I preferred the hatch styling, discreet body kit, etc of the P5.

        As for the “cursed 2.0L”, they are not known for reliability issues at all, if anything they tend to last a very long time, the engine is fairly bulletproof. Maybe being driven by a very enthusiastic 19yo was just too much for the poor thing??? Or maybe it was the timing belt, IIRC you were supposed to replace it at 60k (although I never changed mine and got rid of it at 85k without issue, and I revved the snot out of it too, plus I have heard of them going 100k+ without issue).

      • 0 avatar

        Timing belt is 105k. Just had mine done today, along with the various related bits. Turn the front rotors, replace the rears (for the second time), and the bill was just over a grand.

  • avatar

    As far as the Fit goes, I’ve driven a first gen one and I can see why it has been so highly ranked. Say what you will about Honda, but they definitely do know how to do drivetrains and the car’s rev happy, snarly engine, and perfect gearbox made it a quite enjoyable. That being said, it did feel underpowered, and like it would likely be tiring on a longer drive. The seating position didn’t bother me too much.

    So Michael, would you say that with the exception of the softer suspension, the Fiesta is a more fun car to drive? I saw that Ford Racing has a sports suspension available for the car, always wondered how it does and if it helps the Fiesta be more competitive in that department (hint hint TTAC). How would you ultimately rank these for an enthusiast on a budget? Fit and Mazda 2 seem best for around town depending on space needs, but too underpowered and spartan for longer drives and fast interstate travel. I think their fuel economy on the highway is also the lowest. Focus is the refinement champ. Rio is out due to unavailable stick. Is the Accent the happy middle? Where does the Veloster fit in to this?

    Sounds though like this car could use a nice after market air filter (re: K&N)…every car in our family, the Town Car, Camry, 328i, Miata, and I30 has one, and it made the biggest difference in the Town Car, who’s top end was lacking in both power and sound. Jalopnik talked about taking shrouding off their Veloster’s engine to make it louder, but engine here seems oddly and refreshingly exposed.

    Hyundai has pulled a similar stunt with the manual transmission on the Elantra. Recall that you can’t get a top of the line Elantra with a stick. Hyundai/Kia are the only ones doing this either. Ex Civics and (as we all know and hate) Titanium Focuses are automatic only. Very sad. I’d never consider a car like this with anything other than a stick.

    • 0 avatar

      *Hyundai/Kia are not the only ones doing this either.

    • 0 avatar

      It really is a tough call. Everything in the segment has its pros and cons. I found the Accent a little more fun to drive than the Fiesta, because the engine is more powerful and the suspension is a little tighter, but a sport suspension on the latter could tip the balance. I do wish the Mazda2 wasn’t so underpowered and fitted with such a basic interior. Easily the most enjoyable handling.

      • 0 avatar

        I dunno if you guys ever review cars with dealer-installed factory accessories, but Ford racing has a short throw shifter for $200, a sport exhaust for $900, a 17″ rim for $170 a piece, and the aforemention suspension is a pretty reasonable $300 (none of these prices including install). Reviews of the suspension on Fiesta forums have been positive, but of course, that’s relative to how the car was before, not the competition, and these guys obviously already were biased to the Fiesta, so I’d be like to see an outside review of it if you guys could get your hands on a car with this or any of the other parts. To my (admittedly limited) knowledge, the aftermarket support for Hyundai (factory or otherwise) isn’t as good as Ford’s, so my guess is you’d have less options for correcting the Accent’s shortcomings.

    • 0 avatar


      Veloster fits as follows:

      You can get a fully-loaded one with stick (i.e. w/Style and Tech Packages), and it’s an excellent stick/clutch combo. It is as good as Honda’s, in terms of effort, precision and clutch engagement (can’t speak to the gear ratios though). Even the feel of the knob in your hand is unlike anything I’ve ever used, and in a good way. It feels … expensive.

      The Veloster overall feels much more expensive than it is, both inside and out. Forget what you may or may not think from photos, in real life, it’s stunning. It’s not just my opinion, I have gotten more attention from drivers-by and passers-by alike since I got mine than I would with a 3 month old puppy. Everybody stares at it. At the car wash yesterday, the guy ahead of me, with a 2011 3-series asked me if it was my car, and then said, “wow…the pictures just don’t do it justice”.

      I don’t find it to be anemic at all either (not with the manual-transmission anyway). Will it win at the drag races? No, of course not, but it is engaging and fun to drive. I’m not kidding. I came from a MINI Cooper. I know from fun and engaging.

      The media package and nav are EXTREMELY advanced. The nav system rivals the best stand-alone units I’ve ever used and/or the Navigon App on my iPhone. The voice-recognition functionality and connectivity blows Sync away (it just “works”, to quote Apple) without any of Sync’s futziness, nannying or compatibility issues.

      I love the Veloster. I didn’t expect to like it as much as I do. The thing is built like a tank, and has zero squeaks or rattles. The cheaper surfaces do not look or feel cheap (maybe the back seat area a little bit, but nothing in the front-half does).

      The 28/40 mpg ratings are TRUE, too. I can vouch for it.

      It’s just such an amazing value proposition, in my opinion. I’m still looking for and waiting for “the catch”, but I’ve yet to find one.

  • avatar

    Michael, many thanks for the latest in an ever-lengthening series of solid reviews.

    I’m sure many here will agree when I say that I’ve come to appreciate your writing just as much as Jack Baruth’s, in an utterly dissimilar way. When I see a car’s been reviewed here that’s unglamorous, yet exactly the kind that thousands of real people actually need to investigate and/or own, I usually guess that you’re the one who took on the challenge of reviewing it. And usually you have, in your informative and thorough way.

  • avatar

    If you can´t afford several cars, and you need something versatile, this is the car.
    Winterkorn(and other executives like him) is sleepless in Wolfsburg over this car :)

    Maybe they have let the designers decide to much, but even average Joe wants some flair.

  • avatar

    Michael, when the timing belt was replaced that would have been the time to check/adjust the valves, as the valve cover has to come off anyway for either operation.
    Unless it was previously done, that would also have been to replace the water pump as the timing belt has to come off for that operation. It starts with a green drop of coolant hanging on the lower edge of the oil pan, and the residue trail is visible when the timing covers are removed.
    You’ve probably had your replaced by now, but take a good look at the intake air boot that runs from the air cleaner to the throttle body–they develop cracks in the folds, causes hesitation, lean codes, etc. Key thing here is that the engine wont hesitate in reverse, as the engine reverse torques to seal up that air boot.
    Better yet–bring it over, I’ll check it out and update your engine control unit…lol

  • avatar

    At first this sounded like me sort of car with an honest exterior, up-close driving position, and light weight.

    But then I saw the back end with its taillights which are bigger than the rear window.

    That and I can do without the wrinkles and curves everywhere on an otherwise simple body, I should be honest though in that I don’t mind “appliance” in my car as long as its well made, and this Hyndai is plenty alliance but the quality worries me.

  • avatar

    Feels like I already own a car very similiar to this. 138HP four-banger, fun to drive, tight in corners, quality interior materials, quiet ride with 17″ wheels, good looking and useful five door at low price. Oh yeah, the Opel/Saturn Astra XR. Unfortunately we’ll never get the opportunity to drive the new Astra, unless it comes to the States as a Buick.

  • avatar

    Fantastic review. I was looking forward to this one, and you didn’t disappoint. The Accent is one of the cars I’m considering for my next purchase (though not for a few years), and your review does a great job of highlighting the potential pitfalls. For me, the tiny rear window and the cheap seat fabrics are the primary turn-offs–not deal-breakers, but still disappointing.

    I’m very interested now to read TTAC’s take on the Kia Rio 5-door, particularly how it stacks up against the Accent.

  • avatar

    I guess I’m one who doesn’t praise the P5 as the engine was just anemic and did nothing special. I drove one brand new and it made my wife and I sick to our stomachs in a matter of minutes. We loved our Mazda6’s though and weren’t thrilled with my 04 Mazda3S 5 speed. Having said that, we recently test drove both the Accent sedan in GLS guise and the Accent SE, both with automatic transmissions as that’s all my wife will drive. I’m surprised you even found a manual transmission. Most folks under 30 have no idea how to drive one! I was pretty impressed with the Accent. Great interior design and quality and impressive power for it’s size. I will say the 6 speed auto seems to fall off after gear changes and required me to apply throttle after it changed gears to keep the same rate of acceleration. Just another reason I hate automatics. We plan to drive the Fit Sport automatic, but I think the difference in the price and supposedly better fuel mileage will make us lean towards the Accent. We also drove the Elantra in GLS trim and liked it, it definitely had better acceleration, so I don’t buy the EPA MPG estimates.
    The best driving car for me was the new Focus SE sport package with a manual. Loved it, but it was $19500. The Accent sedan was $17,300, the hatch SE was $17700.

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