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Car reviews - Hyundai - Accent - Active CRDi 5-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Performance, fuel economy, value, manual gearbox/clutch, boot size, back-seat accommodation, five-star safety, five-year warranty, well-programmed ESC
Room for improvement
Narrow power-band, no cruise control, poor reversing visibility, dead steering feel, no steering wheel reach adjustment

9 Mar 2012

HYUNDAI has come a long way since the Accent nameplate first appeared in 2000 to replace the Excel, which subsequently seems to have become the car of choice for 18 year-old first-time Aussie drivers.

Over the last decade, the Korean brand has largely eradicated its former cheap-and-cheerful reputation and is now rightly regarded as a viable alternative to the more up-market Japanese brands, with a reputation for quality and dependability that is underlined by the company being prepared to offer a standard five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.

It’s hardly surprising that Hyundai is on the march in Australia, having moved up to fifth place in the rankings of automotive brands last year, hard on the heels of Mazda and Ford.

The new-generation Accent was launched in petrol form in August last year, bringing a thoroughly modern style in keeping with the handsome Hyundai range, but world demand for the diesel-engined model globally kept it from local release until January.

But the Accent Active CRDi – otherwise known as the Accent Diesel – was worth the wait.

The Accent Diesel is priced from $19,490 plus on-road costs, but unless you want your car to be refrigerator-white – the only base colour on offer – you will have to fork out another $375 for one of the seven much-nicer mica or metallic colours.

But you will still be way ahead of the game because the nearest diesel challenger is the Ford Fiesta LX TDCi at $21,490, which has the same low (4.4 litres per 100km) fuel economy rating but only offers a five-speed (rather than six-speed) gearbox and is way less powerful, giving away some 28kW of power and 65Nm of torque to the Hyundai.

An extra gearbox cog is not normally a major consideration with a diesel because they generally pull so well from low revs you can even skip gears, but it is quite useful in the Accent. That’s because the long-stroke 1.6-litre engine – while pulling smoothly and strongly up to 4000rpm – has a surprisingly narrow power-band and offers almost nothing below 1500rpm.

Press the throttle with less than 1500rpm on the tacho and not only will the engine labour noisily, but forward motion will be snail-like. Above that, however, it leaps into action like we’ve come to expect from modern turbo-diesels.

That low-revs labouring is most critical when cruising because it means you need to stay in fourth gear driving around town at 60km/h, which must affect the fuel consumption, although we still managed an average of 6.0L/100km despite a week of relentless peak-hour commuting.

But you simply can’t cruise comfortably in fifth gear unless you are going at least 70km/h, which in most places around town is speed-camera fodder.

With no cruise control available even as an option – a major shortcoming in this country – the powerful Accent shapes as a potential licence threat.

Of course, the Accent is surely bought mostly by women who will go for the $2000 automatic transmission option – even though its an outmoded four-speed unit that we’ve criticised previously for falling well short of rival five-speed units, let alone the Fiesta’s slick six-speed unit and VW’s seven-speeder in the Polo.

Thankfully for us, the test car was fitted with the manual and it’s an absolute gem. In fact, it’s one of the best manual gearbox/clutch combinations we’ve had the pleasure of driving – beaten only by the same unit in Hyundai’s larger Elantra petrol that we drove the previous week.

This manual is so smooth, light and easy that even manual novices will be hard-pressed making bad changes. It also has a really nice reverse lock-out ring that is so light and intuitive you do it instantly with only a finger or two.

So full marks, Hyundai. Perhaps they can teach the Japanese a thing or two after all.

Step into the Accent’s driver seat and it’s all happening in front of you, with a typically busy Hyundai steering wheel (even though it only has audio and phone controls), plenty of vents, carbon-look dash and a glitzy Asian-style centre stack that nevertheless functions very well with quality controls.

The seats are comfortable, while those in the back are not only comfortable but surprisingly roomy for a light car like this, providing reasonable leg and headroom for this six-footer with the front seat set for myself.

An auxiliary jack and USB port are conveniently located just ahead of the gearshift, along with a handy compartment for the iPod, although it is open for passers-by to see.

The 94kW/260Nm direct-injection diesel is a bit noisy from the outside, but not at all bad inside, and the competent sound system takes care of any residual clatter entering the cabin, unless you give it a hard rev.

If you do give it a bootfull, there’s good news from the standard electronic stability control because it does not suffer the overly nannying electronics that drive us mad in so many other cars, even from brands that should know better like Mazda and Volkswagen.

In the Accent, you can confidently boot it to get across an intersection or into the flow of traffic, even getting a bit of tyre chirp, without the ESC ‘brain’ shutting everything down and leaving you limping along with an angry pack bearing down until it sorts everything out before overcompensating with a mighty roar. More points to Hyundai.

We liked the overall ride with the standard 14-steel wheels, although the front felt more compliant than the back, and the handling is good, with plenty of grip available.

However, while the steering is light at parking speeds and acceptable in city driving, it feels really dead at even moderate up to highway speeds, which would be very tiring on a long trip. It also lacks reach adjustment for the steering wheel, which compromises driving comfort.

The hatchback’s boot is impressively deep and, while it is not very long, the rear seats have a 60-40 split-fold function that provides lots more load flexibility.

However, the rising waist-line, narrow hatch glass, large D-pillars and tiny rear three-quarter windows really combine for poor visibility when reversing. Unfortunately, the Diesel’s Active spec does not include the rear-view camera and parking sensors that come with the Premium variants.

Overall, though, the Accent Diesel is well-equipped and comes with almost everything you need, including auto up/down driver window, hands-free Bluetooth connectivity and safety equipment that helps provide a comforting five-star crash rating – ESC, ABS brakes with EBD and six airbags.

It feels like a solid and well-made car that is very competent if unadventurous, on which people can rely. If that sounds like a Korean version of Toyota, then that’s not a bad thing at all, but Hyundai is more stylish than that. This car still has character.

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