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Car reviews - Hyundai - Accent - sedan and hatch range

Our Opinion

We like
Space, back seat accommodation, easy entry/egress, massive boot, peppy 1.6 engine, slick manual gearchange, big for a so-called baby car, long warranty
Room for improvement
Lifeless steering, hard ride on 16-inch tyres, Hyundai-anonymous styling, four-speed auto off the pace, road noise, surprising cabin rattle, big for a baby car

Hyundai logo9 Aug 2011

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

HYUNDAI is a gargantuan car-maker of vast resources and almost limitless aspiration. For proof, look no further than the all-new Accent.

This is the light car that traces its ancestry right back to the 1975 Pony. Huh? Okay, how about something that you might actually recall, like the 1986 Excel – you know, the neatly styled sedan and hatchback that trailblazed Korea’s entry into the Australian new-car market in the 1980s?

Follow that first Excel’s progression and you find the 1990 X2 Excel, 1994 X3 Excel/Accent, 2000 LC Accent, 2006 MC Accent and now the 2011 RB Accent. It’s a lineage as traceable as the 45-year-old Toyota Corolla’s.

And just as surely, the Pony/Excel/Accent has become a byword for affordability, space, and unpretentious value for money. Some observers might say bargain-basement transport aimed at the middle of the road. Either way, these were bread and butter models for the company.

But Hyundai is now so big and so determined to be a global superstar that – since the now dearly departed Getz of 2002 – it has set up an ‘alternate universe’ of vehicles that are a little less cheap and cheerful and a bit more Euro-chic.

In the underrated i20, the i30cw sportswagon and the upcoming i40 you will discover models that – to borrow a Kia-ism, ironically enough – really do have the power to surprise.

Frankly, however, Hyundai’s seventh-generation B-segment contender/sixth-gen front-drive light car/fourth-gen Accent/third-gen Accent-branded model for Oz is more old-school than alt-timeline Hyundai – offering great showroom gloss in a spacious, capable but uninspiring package.

Plus points first.

Expensive on initial acquaintance at $16,990, the RB begins to shape up as exceptional value when you factor in the Accent’s next-class-up sizing, five-star ANCAP crash-test rating, five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, and every convenience you might want (air-con, power steering, electric windows/mirrors, remote central locking).

Only cruise control availability is AWOL. That’s coming soon, Hyundai promises, but there's more.

The styling might be utterly non-descript (a mishmash of i30 and Elantra in the hatch and watered-down mini-Elantra for the sedan), but the latter is better integrated than most light-car sedans like Ford's oddball Fiesta four-door.

And the doors open wide into an utterly professionally designed and executed interior.

Kudos too to the smart instruments, attractively presented upper centre console with its big logical buttons, ample storage areas, fine driving position (made possible despite the wheel being a tilt-only affair), and upbeat trim. This cabin is a classy place to behold.

We have no complaints about the front seats either, but the rear bench really shines due to the sheer space on offer – even taller passengers should find enough room for their heads, knees, feet and shoulders.

Better still, both the hatch and the bootlid open up wide to reveal a generous amount of cargo space, complete with its own full-size spare.

You can see why the Accent will draw people in even before a wheel is turned. Or jacked up and replaced.

Initial strong impressions continue thanks to lively acceleration over a wide rev band. This 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol engine is no slouch if you are willing to use the light ‘n' easy five-speed shifter that forever buries those bad old notchy Hyundai manuals of not so long ago.

But the four-speed auto feels well off the pace by comparison (Honda's Jazz has five speeds, the Fiesta’s Powershift dual-clutcher has six, and the VW Polo's DSG offers seven), forcing the 1.6 to suffer sudden and intrusively loud downshifts, ruining refinement in the process.

More disappointment awaits in the steering, handling and ride departments. Hyundai says that over several weeks and thousands of kilometres the Accent copped a local dynamic shakedown, but the steering – though sufficiently sharp – is a feel-free experience that can seem unnatural at times, divorcing the driver from the action.

That would be okay if the ride wasn’t so sudden in the up-spec 16-inch Kuhmo-tyred Premium model, crashing over bumps and jittering on Sydney’s uneven surfaces. And you would never call the dull roar coming from beneath pleasing.

That’s why we preferred the base Active’s 15-inch Kuhmo set-up, even if our particular example suffered from some uneven build quality and a persistent rattle. More compliancy and less road noise, without compromising too much steering response, makes the cheapest Accent a more pleasant drive than its exxier brethren.

No, we cannot help thinking that, more than anything, the newest Accent subscribes to Hyundai’s original recipe despite of outstanding value for money, despite its vastly attractive interior space, safety and ownership pluses.

If you don’t care about steering feel (except that it remains permanently light) or dynamic finesse, and can live with a bit of road noise, you should consider the latest Accent. You won’t find a roomier alternative.

But we prefer the cheaper i20 1.4 Active hatch as an overall package, or even the pricier yet only slightly larger new Elantra 1.8 Active sedan.

Outside the Hyundai’s stable, the formidable Fiesta, Polo, Suzuki Swift, Mazda2 and Jazz are all stars in their own bright, shiny ways.

In the battle for the hearts and minds of compact car buyers, there's also stiff Korean competition in the form of a new Holden Barina and Kia Rio, not to mention Toyota's redesigned Yaris.

For a company with the aspirations and resources of Hyundai, we expected its latest and greatest light-car star to be more than just average-competent.

Maybe the next-gen i20 will be the one to really blow us away. Accent isn’t it.

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