2018 Hyundai Accent SE Review - Car, Distilled

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
Fast Facts

2018 Hyundai Accent SE

1.6-liter inline four, DOHC (130 hp @ 6300 rpm, 119 lb-ft @ 4850 rpm)
Six-speed manual transmission, front-wheel drive
28 city / 37 highway / 31 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
34.2 (observed mileage, MPG)
Base Price: $15,880 (USD)
As Tested: $16,005
Prices include $885 freight charge.
2018 hyundai accent se review car distilled

The marketing executives at Hyundai Motor America would likely prefer you forget about their first offering on these shores, the extraordinarily low-priced Excel. Introduced around the same time as the underwhelming Yugo GV née Fiat 127, contemporary news reports inextricably linked the two bargain hatchbacks, and thus the poor reputation of the Yugo stuck to the good-by-comparison Hyundai.

Frustrated by the acceptable-but-cheap label created by its early models, Hyundai progressively improved both the design of its cars and the overall quality. No longer the butt of jokes, Hyundai’s offerings are rightfully comparable to the leading models in whatever class they compete. So, when I was handed the keys to this 2018 Hyundai Accent SE, I was curious to see how the lineup’s bargain model improved over the decades, and whether the essence of the cheerful econobox was retained.

Take a glance at that trim level and the price — it’s not a misprint. It’s the base SE trim, and the only option on the window sticker are carpeted floor mats at $125. This is the unusual press loan vehicle that isn’t loaded well beyond what’s typically stocked on dealer lots.

The definition of a stripped vehicle has changed measurably since my mother bought her first car after the divorce. She bought a 1990 Toyota Corolla, outfitted with an AM/FM radio and air conditioning. Manual windows, a single drivers-side rear view mirror, no cruise control, and no clock.

Conversely, this basic Accent SE has nearly everything an entry-level buyer needs. Standard Bluetooth, power windows and door locks, air conditioning, cruise, USB charging, a rear-view camera, and traction control. Oddly, the feature this Accent didn’t have is the one I missed most — automatic headlamps, which seem to be fitted to every other new car I’ve driven over the past decade. Mercifully, I noticed the lack of light when driving on my slow suburban street, rather than on the interstate. It just took a bit of mental reprogramming.

Driving a small, low-priced car once also meant driving something that was incredibly slow. Thanks to efficiencies of production, modern manufacturers find no reason to build a tiny underpowered engine just for a low-profit subcompact car. Thus, this 2,502 lb Accent is powered by a 130 horsepower four-cylinder — more than enough power to get moving briskly.

It’s no sports car or hot-hatch, by any means, but the littlest Hyundai is surprisingly fun to row through the gears. The shift action is a bit rubbery, with somewhat long throws, but the clutch action is progressive and forgiving — perfect for drivers new to the pleasures of the traditional manual transmission.

That engine does create an audible ruckus when wound out, and there is a good amount of wind roar across the A-pillar. It’s no worse than anything you’d hear from other cars at this price point, however.

The suspension does transmit road noise from uneven pavement as well, but it’s not unbearable. The ride, however, is quite good for such a small car, helped no doubt by the sensibly-sized 15-inch steel wheels with 65-series tires, whose tall sidewalls help soak up those tarmac imperfections even if they somewhat amplify the noise.

Of course, you can always just turn up the stereo. While it’s not a powerful system designed to attract audiophiles, with just four speakers the sound quality from terrestrial radio or Bluetooth streaming is plenty good. I didn’t test the CD player — sorry, I honestly don’t know where any of my CDs are, and I’m not about to subject myself to whatever Kidz Bop disc my mother-in-law foisted upon the kids. MP3s from my phone worked just fine to drown out the road. The small 5-inch screen is a little tough to navigate for my fat fingers — My cell phone has a larger screen! — but it works in a straightforward manner, just like all Hyundai infotainment systems.

Styling inside and out is relatively anonymous, though the corporate Hyundai hexagonal grille is well integrated into the design of the subcompact sedan. The Olympus Silver finish on my tester seems custom-mixed to blend into traffic. I’d pick something a bit more lively — Admiral Blue is quite striking, and seems to show off the contours a bit more. Inside, it’s black hard plastics everywhere, with just a splash of matte silver surrounding the display, the vents, and the shifter. It’s completely functional, but boring.

I’d love to see an armrest fitted between the front seats, but it’s one of those bits that had to be chopped to get to a price point, I’m certain. Those front seats were surprisingly comfortable, fitted with hard-wearing fabric that seems easy to keep clean. The rear bench seat wasn’t quite as comfortable for adults — a lack of legroom is the big culprit, though a flat bench seat isn’t particularly plush — but the kids had no complaints sitting behind my wife and I.

I hate to sound like a marketingspeak copywriter, but the word that comes to mind when describing the Accent SE is value. A latte over sixteen grand is not a big ask for as much as you get, especially considering the 10-year warranty Hyundai offers. Add in the typical offers given by your local Hyundai retailer, and the Accent seems to be all the car one needs.

[Images: © 2018 Chris Tonn/TTAC]

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2 of 81 comments
  • PrincipalDan PrincipalDan on Jul 03, 2018

    "I’d love to see an armrest fitted between the front seats, but it’s one of those bits that had to be chopped to get to a price point, I’m certain." Keep both hands on the wheel until you need to change gears young man! ;-)

  • Cimarron typeR Cimarron typeR on Jul 03, 2018

    This is a great review, actually the best one on this site in a month. The car itself reminds of the NUMMI Geo Prisms of the early 90s.They were fairly peppy in a manual transmission car and seemingly well built. The Chevy store I used to lot boy as a teen moved quite a few of these.Corolla reliability at Chevy pricing.They never seemed to come in for warranty work.

  • Tassos Your title says FORD to offer blah blah, but on the photo there is a DAMNED KIA instead What gives?
  • Dukeisduke There were aftermarket ac/c systems for these - they used a plastic duct with vents that sat atop the transmission tunnel.
  • GrumpyOldMan I had a '73 for around 18 years. It had a foot operated windshield washer pump, four grease fittings (one on each each door hinge), and coil spring rear/transverse leaf front suspension. No trunk, but a good size luggage area behind the seats. Almost made it to 200K miles, but the tin worm got it.
  • Dukeisduke As far as I'm concerned, the jury's still out on the new Tacoma. I've read about too many new Tundras with mechanical problems like failed wastegates. I'm not confident these won't have similar teething problems. Toyota should just stay away from turbos.
  • TheDrake I owned a ‘69 GT back in the mid seventies and it was a great little car. The 1.9 liter engine in a rwd car that weighed around 2,000 lbs made for a fun ride. Maybe the best handling car I ever drove, felt like it was on rails.