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Car reviews - Hyundai - Accent - hatch range

Our Opinion

We like
Neat styling, big safety inclusions, comfort and refinement qualities, user-friendly and easy to drive, sporty engine, warranty
Room for improvement
Accent’s carryover baggage and reputation, pricey sedan, no five-door hatch alternative

Hyundai logo12 May 2006

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

ANOTHER all-new Hyundai – and another step forward in quality, driveability and refinement.

The passing of the old LC Accent – good riddance, we say! – leaves just the XD Elantra as the last of the old school, cheapie-feel Hyundais that you’d only really buy for its low, low, price or long, long warranty.

And while nobody is expecting Hyundai to pull a Honda Jazz or Mazda3-sized rabbit out of the hat marked ‘Accent’, the freshly minted MC model is a smallish small (or largish light) contender that you – or rather its maker – need no longer make any apologies for.

Now you may already know that it shares plenty of hidden hardware with sister-company Kia’s second-generation JB Rio, but it really looks and feels as if the longer gestation period that the Accent enjoyed has meant a more mature product in the long run.

In fact you could say that it is a Rio but with the rough edges mostly rubbed out.

Stylistically the previous Accent’s flab and gawkiness have been banished, for a slightly anonymous yet not-unattractive three-door hatchback with big hints of latter-‘90s Honda EK Civic about its hindquarters.

Meanwhile the pleasantly modish four-door sedan is much prettier in the flesh than it is in pictures. If anything its compact boot alludes to a bustle-back look, so maybe the ghost of Accent/Excel past still lingered in the designers’ minds.

Hyundai has nailed the intricacies of proportions and surfacing for its latest baby car, with an interesting quasi-Maserati-meets-current-Corolla-like nose to boot. You might even buy one for its pert little looks alone.

Plus the company has travelled light years forward in its quest to present a better quality and more attractive cabin, with the result being a kind of mini-Sonata inside.

A pleasing symmetry – finished in distinctive two-tone hues in the sedan – summarises the dashboard, with ample ventilation, an easy audio sound system and clear instrumentation living in the upper divide, and nicely tactile heater/air-con controls dominating the lower console area.

As first seen in the 2002 Getz, Hyundai works hard on details – ably supported by a (tilt-only) wheel that’s invitingly chunky, plenty of handy storage areas, and a fit and finish that is – unbelievably – seemingly as good as anything out of Japan these days.

High praise indeed for a company that once produced interiors as toxic as the Excel’s, and a considerable advance over some of the other Korean-sourced cars that are currently available.

There’s more. For a $17,490 sedan (the only variant sampled on the drive day), comfort, equipment, refinement and ride-quality levels all appeared to pass the grade – with only some engine noise at speed becoming apparent.

However, a much longer time inside the MC Accent is needed – on local roads, not in New Zealand – to ascertain if the car is as roomy and refined as it seemed.

If you’re surprised (or horrified – as a rival car-maker) then the fact that the newest Accent is actually not dreary to drive enthusiastically, even fun to fling through corners, and fairly well-composed on rougher roads will come as nothing less than a shock.

Okay, the Hyundai isn’t in the Ford Fiesta, Suzuki Swift, Mazda2 or Toyota Yaris league. With steering as light, feel-free and as occasionally prone to a little rack-rattle as this, how could it possibly ever be?

But the MC sedan isn’t the horrible tiring drag the outgoing Accent is.

The four-speed automatic is adequately smooth and responsive, the five-speed manual shift – although slightly notchy – is still light enough for it not to be too big a bother, and the whole driver-car relationship and interface appears to be well though out and executed.

And here’s another thing. Although the new Accent’s pricing places it squarely against the larger 1.8-litre Holden Viva, the 82kW/circa-1200kg Hyundai sedan revs more sweetly, feels punchier and sounds a whole lot more refined doing it. In a nutshell, the Accent delivers a better drive.

While the outgoing LC is an automotive anathema to driving pleasure, some qualification is needed before a final MC Accent verdict can be concluded.

No hatch was sampled, so the sedan’s surprising refinement and supple ride attributes don’t apply until we drive that one as well.

And the sedans that were driven weren’t so on Australian roads (although they were of local specification), so variations can occur here too.

But one thing is clear – forget what you ever thought you knew about this particular line of little car.

It’s one small step for Hyundai – and many giant steps in the right direction for Accent. So much so that maybe the name should have also been changed.

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