Car reviews - Hyundai - Accent - 1.6 3-dr hatch
Style, performance, cabin presentation, handling, improvements over old Accent
Room for improvement
Expensive, middling effort dynamically, ride deteriorates with load, still some refinement issues
27 Oct 2006
HYUNDAI is pitching its Accent against the Honda Jazz, Ford Fiesta and Suzuki Swift, as the company tries to distance the one-time driveaway darling from the $13,990 cheapies.
To this, after a spell in the least expensive three-door hatchback version costing $15,990, we say to the optimistic good people at Hyundai: "Good luck!"
The South Korean company are also expecting a big male demographic, leaving the neater Getz as the girly car in its complicated light-car line-up.
A completely new from-the-ground-up design, the fifth-generation Accent hatchback has finally ditched the model’s signature bustle-back styling for a somewhat fussy but more modern-looking two-box device.
The pointy nose design has a hint of Fiat Punto about it, and is meant to be pedestrian friendly, while a Honda Civic-esque posterior gives us some insight into where Hyundai’s aspirations lie for its colourful littlie.
The interior is one of the best yet for Hyundai, with a solidness and quality hitherto alien to anything wearing an Accent or (especially) Excel badge.
Worthy of note are the starkly attractive dials surrounded by smart metallic rings, well-sited audio controls and ventilation outlets, and simple circular ventilation knobs.
A nice chunky steering wheel, ample storage facilities and a fine driving position are also likely to please the punters at this end of the price spectrum, while vision out is not so bad for a modern car.
Equipment levels are also impressive, and include four-wheel disc brakes, dual front airbags, remote central locking, power windows, electric and demisting mirrors, pollen-filter air-conditioning, CD/MP3/WMA/radio audio, a tilt-adjustable leather-trimmed steering wheel with remote audio controls, and an alarm/immobiliser.
There’s also worthwhile stuff like front seatbelt pretensioners and load-limiters, anti-submarining front seats, three rear-seat headrests that sit flush when not used for better vision, three child-seat anchor points mounted behind the seatbacks to eliminate cargo-space intrusion, and a full-sized spare wheel.
By the time you read this anti-whiplash ‘active’ front-seat headrests will also be part of the package.
However, it appears that Hyundai has overlooked some of the tinier details that can make or break your experience in any car.
Undermining the very big strides the company has made in cabin quality and presentation, the middle-console fascia scuffs way-too-easily, even by a flailing fingernail.
The front seats feel a little flat and, annoyingly, won’t return to their original position when folded forward for back-seat entry or egress.
Meanwhile, like many three-door hatchbacks these days, the rear side windows back there don’t open, while there is too much road and tyre noise rumbling through for comfort.
Wind intrusion was detected through one of the left-hand side door seals, and we also found that – with more than two people on board – the ride quality seemed to deteriorate rapidly, with a knocking noise coming into play from somewhere underneath the car.
This is at odds to the general calm experienced by just having the driver present.
All in all, however, the Accent’s interior is good enough to pass the grade, and a giant leap forward from its awful predecessor’s efforts.
Hyundai has also worked hard to improve the five-speed manual gearbox’s shift quality, so while it isn’t in the same league as the Ford Fiestas, at least now it won’t have you wishing you bought an automatic.
Driving the front wheels is a Hyundai’s evergreen Alpha series 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine first slotted underneath the Getz Series II last year.
In this application power and torque outputs are 82kW at 6000rpm (up 4kW from the old Accent) and 145Nm at 4500rpm (a 2Nm rise) respectively, aided by Hyundai’s CVVT variable-valve timing technology.
Outright performance, then, is strong, particularly when accelerating through the gears. Our example was still quite green too, so we expect even more oomph with a few more kilometres under its belt.
As it stands, the Accent will keep accelerating strongly right up to its 7000rpm redline, although the engine does become quite raucous and unpleasant at these altitudes.
In the interest of maintaining the Hyundai’s honourable fuel consumption figure – 7L/100km for the manual, 7.3L/100km for the four-speed automatic – there is just no point going there.
This torquey Accent is also quite a spry handler, erring on the safe side and springing no unpleasant surprises at normal speeds mid-corner.
Hyundai’s engineers conjured up a platform – also shared with the latest, JB Kia Rio – with a wheelbase that is 60mm-longer in wheelbase and 35mm-wider in track, underpinning a body that is almost 40 per cent stiffer in bending resistance, than before.
Plus it’s beefier all round, so we expect better dynamics than before.
However, while the roadholding is fine, the front-end grip from the Kumho tyres is marginal at best when launching from standstill, even on dry roads, or when attempting to negotiate quick, tight turns.
Tyres screech, wheels spin and passers by look in disdain as you try to accelerate briskly without looking like a hoon.
The real letdown with the Accent’s driving behaviour is its lack of finesse.
While the old cars were rough, raw and completely unpleasant in the way they responded to power or steering inputs, the MC model is much more civilised, but still by no means precise.
It feels like you can drive this car with gardener’s gloves on and still have the same amount of feedback and reaction in return.
Yet the new MC Accent doesn’t really do anything wrong. It starts, goes and stops with a professionalism no previous iteration ever dared hope to match.
Hyundai also needs to be more realistic about the pricing.
Light cars are moving forward very quickly, as the Toyota Yaris and Swift have recently demonstrated.
So while the Accent really is a better vehicle than any of its rival compatriots – the Rio and Holden’s Barina – we are not sure it is a better car than its Getz sibling, although it is a far-more accommodating one for back-seat occupants, and rides more nicely too.
Hyundai’s Accent is simply not quite baked enough to compete against such tasty competition. Maybe at $14,990, it may have an easier time of it.
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