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First drive: Hyundai broadens its (new) Accent

New baby: Redesigned Accent is available in three-door hatch and four-door sedan bodystyles - but there's no five-door.

Better, stronger, safer: Hyundai’s new Accent aims at older buyers and Gen Yers

12 May 2006

HYUNDAI Motor Company Australia (HMCA) is using a two-pronged marketing strategy with its new-generation Accent light car.

An all-new design offering more space, strength and safety, the 2006 MC series is released this week in hatchback and sedan guises, replacing the six-year old LC Accent range.

With styling that Hyundai says should have a "... similar appeal to young buyers as did Excel", the hatchback – in three-door guise only – breaks clear of the extended-boot theme first seen in the 1994 X3 Excel, resulting in a 155mm-shorter car.

A five-door hatchback MC variant won’t be made available.

For now that job falls to the popular TB Getz version, which – as before – slots below the new Accent, while the upcoming new-generation Elantra small car will sit above it.

Meanwhile, a four-door Accent sedan returns after a three-and-a-half-year absence, and is aimed at "... small families, and older or more conservative buyers", according to HMCA director of sales and marketing, Theo van Doore.

With the new Toyota Yaris, Holden TK Barina, Holden JF Viva and Kia JB Rio sedans set firmly in its sights, the smallest Hyundai sedan is 45mm longer overall than the last one.

A single-bar grille most readily differentiates the hatch from the sedan, which employs a four-bar chromed variety instead.

The single-specification hatch is priced at $15,990, $1500 below the sedan’s $17,490 ask, and significantly clear of the $13,990 Getz 1.4 opener.

Significantly it demonstrates a confidence HMCA has in the former pile-'em high/sell-'em cheap driveaway special that the South Korean-factory owned importer inherited – and promptly abolished – from previous importer HADA – Hyundai Automotive Distribution Australia – in late 2003.

Reflecting this is the Accent’s rise from the outgoing LC’s ‘light-car’ segment status to ‘small-car’ contender.

Building on the $14,990 Getz 1.6’s standard anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, all MC Accents all 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.

While the upgraded brakes helps the Accent to decelerate from 100km/h to standstill in 41.7 metres, there is no sign of the stability control option that Hyundai laudably offers in the Getz 1.6 – although HMCA says that it is "working on it" for the MC.

Structurally the new model’s nose is safer for striking pedestrians with, while all occupants benefit from a stiffer cabin cell structure protected by controlled-collapsible front and rear crumple zones, lap-sash seatbelts, front seatbelt pretensioners and load-limiters.

Anti-submarining front seats, uprated side-impact beams and door apertures, three rear-seat headrests that sit flush when not used for better vision, and three easier-to-use child-seat anchor points mounted behind the seatbacks to eliminate cargo-space intrusion further contribute to the Accent’s safety tally.

By the last quarter of this year anti-whiplash ‘active’ front-seat headrests will also be part of the package.

There are an abundance of storage receptacles peppered throughout the car, the sedan’s 390-litre boot is augmented by a split-fold rear seat, while the hatchback’s rear cushions tilt forward for a lower load area when the seatbacks are folded. A full-sized spare wheel is standard.

Much of the MC Accent’s platform has already been seen underneath the second-generation JB Rio released locally in September last year.

It boasts a 60mm-longer wheelbase and 35mm wider track that, combined with 15mm wider body that’s also 75mm taller than before, delivers increased occupant space dividends.

Plus, add the MC’s 39 per cent stiffer body-bending properties, uprated front-end perimeter subframe and beefier floorpan and firewall, and you’re left with a more comfortable ride and better handling attributes than any previous Accent, according to Hyundai.

The highly conventional suspension retains the previous model’s McPherson strut front (complete with an anti-roll bar), and a new coupled torsion beam, coil spring and gas shock dampers rear suspension, set-up.

Driving the front wheels is a revised version of the 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 LC Accent) and 145Nm at 4500rpm (a 2Nm rise) respectively, aided by Hyundai’s CVVT variable-valve timing technology.

Shorter gear ratios incorporated into a redesigned five-speed manual gearbox promise smoother as well as sprightlier shifting, supported in Hyundai’s 0-100km/h sprint-time of 10.2 seconds (12 seconds flat for the auto).

1 center imageYet although power, performance, size and weight have all risen (the latter up around 100kg from before) the new Accent’s ADR 81/01 fuel consumption average has dropped to 7.0L/100km in the hatch (7.3 with automatic, which now shifts more slickly), while the slightly lighter sedan delivers 6.8 and 7.0 figures respectively.

The outgoing Accent hatch’s averages were 7.8 for the manual and 8.7 for the auto.

Improved aerodynamics contributes to this, as well as a quieter cabin. To this end the aforementioned body and platform upgrades, extra insulation padding and hydraulic powertrain mounts also banish noise pathways.

The cabin’s architecture is modern and conservative, with analogue instrumentation positioned ahead of the driver instead of being "... distractingly offset to the centre of the dashboard" – a clear dig at Toyota.

Quality look and perception rises markedly, with a two-tone effect, while the hatch has darker hues aimed at luring younger buyers.

Future Accent variations are also either on their way or under serious consideration.

These include a sub-$18,000 1.5-litre CRDi turbo-diesel (a decision is due sometime around the introduction of Euro IV-compliant diesel in the third quarter of this year), a sporty SXi model – complete with alloy wheels, racier trim and a bodykit – and a turbocharged SR, a $25,000 range-topper with rorty hot-hatch performance and significant handling and visual enhancements.

Look to the Accent SR concept car from the last Melbourne and Sydney motor shows for clues here, since HMCA was surprised by the "unbelievable" response this car attracted.

Its dealers, apparently, are crying out for such a thing.

HMCA is confident that the new Accent will attract more retail buyers than the old car, which sold about half its volume to rental-car fleets. A 60:40 split is envisaged.

Around 480 to 500 Accents should find buyers each month, with 65 to 70 per cent of these going the hatchback’s way.

And male buyers should make up the bulk of Accent – in vivid contrast to the female-skewed Getz demographic.

"It puts us back into a boy’s car," enthused Mr van Doore, pointing to the popularity of the 1990s Excel model with (mostly male) tuners and converters.

In fact, HMCA has struck an Accent supply deal with Foxtel cable television’s MTV music channel, which also includes a competition involving the popular vehicle customisation program "Pimp My Ride."This means that Hyundai isn’t worried about the possibility of the new Accent cannibalising Getz sales.

"There is little to no erosion to Getz because of the different type of (gender) demographics (that they appeal to)," Mr van Doore added.

Lost in translation
The MC Accent is Hyundai’s sixth-generation small-cum-light car.

The 1975 original, known as the Pony, was a simple rear-wheel drive model loosely based on the blueprint of the 1970s Morris Marina, although it shared nothing with this undisputed icon of British motoring mediocrity.

At the time Hyundai was just beginning its reliance on Mitsubishi componentry that lingered on well into the 1990s, after using reconstituted Ford MkII Cortina parts since its 1967 inception as a car-maker.

Although the Pony was the first Hyundai earmarked for export – it sold exceptionally well in Canada in the early-to-mid 1980s – Australians had to wait until Western Australian tycoon Alan Bond introduced the X1 Excel – the company’s first front-wheel drive car – in early 1986, under the now-defunct Bond Motor Corporation banner.

The Excel’s small-car size at a light-car price (a familiar catchcry Hyundai is again employing for the "happy medium" light/small MC Accent) gained it wide acceptance almost immediately.

Hyundai continued to grow with the X2 Excel of 1990 – a larger and (slightly) more refined version of the old car, but it wasn’t until the redesigned X3 of late 1994 that Australian buyers went ballistic for the car – fuelled by attractively modish styling, a lusty 1.5 and cut-throat pricing.

Meanwhile, Hyundai had switched to the Accent moniker for the X3 in most other markets, although it wasn’t until quality questions prompted the model’s local importers – Astre Automotive – to ditch ‘Excel’ for the new name when the fourth-generation LC edition came on stream in mid-2000.

At the time of its release, the LC’s progress over the ailing Excel seemed profound.

But light-car buyers didn’t really warm to the awkward styling, while competition from newer and better rivals – namely Toyota’s Echo and the Holden XC Barina – soon had people deserting the smallest Hyundai in big numbers.

Of course the company switched to its landmark TB Getz from late 2002, turning Hyundai’s reputation around and giving the firm a far-more effective baby combatant.

Against this however the LC Accent languished as a sales also-ran, despite 2003’s smoother and punchier makeover, prompting the re-think that has led to the latest MC edition’s launch this week.

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