New models - Hyundai - Accent
First drive: A familiar Accent
With the return of Accent, Hyundai is now offering three choices under $20,000
4 Mar 2003
By BRUCE NEWTON
WALK into a Hyundai showroom and you'll have so much small car choice you won't need to shop anywhere else - or at least that is what the local distributor would like you to do.
In one corner there's the Getz, the funky new mini that went on sale late last year, in the other corner the Elantra hatch and sedan.
And now squeezed into the middle is a returning favourite, the Accent. It is redressed, re-specced and rationalised, but it is also undoubtedly the car that was Hyundai's biggest seller in Australia between its launch in 2000 and its quiet phasing out by late 2002.
Hyundai Automotive Distributors Australia dropped the Accent to make room for the Getz and said at the time it would assess sales trends before re-introducing the nameplate.
While Getz has sold okay it has not done anywhere near the numbers of Accent, which means there has been a fairly dramatic fall-off in the South Korean brand's performance in Australia in recent times.
So no argument then. The Accent returns to bolster Hyundai's stocks.
It is not exactly the same of course. It has gone through a mid-life styling update that smooths the edginess from the front and replaces it with a hood sculpture reminiscent of the Tiburon sports car, bigger and rounder headlights and a black egg-crate grille.
Down the back there is now a pronounced lip on the upper trailing boot lid edge, jewelled lens tail-lights and a simple bumper which does away with the six underside ribs on the previous model.
Nothing stunning then - standard midlife makeover stuff. The effect is conservatively pleasing, maybe a bit 1970s Americana up-front, but the side profile remains the same cab-back style as the original.
Curiously though, the only model we will see is the three-door hatchback - bar a few five-doors primarily for the fleet market - priced at $14,990 for the five-speed manual and $16,853 for the four-speed auto.
While HADA proudly points out that price is the same as when the Accent originally arrived in Australia and that it does include air-conditioning, it does seem to intrude on the Getz's territory pretty noticeably.
But the company has made some space for itself by announcing a new, cheaper 1.3-litre version of the Getz at $13,490 with air-conditoning called the XL, slotting in $500 under the cheapest 1.5 Getz three-door and $2500 under the cheapest Getz five-door.
To make the fit a little more harmonious with Getz, the Accent has also been boosted by 104cc to a 1.6-litre 16-valve version of Hyundai's Alpha engine, compared to the 1.5 it used to have - and the engine most Getz models have. That means two more kilowatts (now 78kW at 5800rpm) and a more significant 10Nm of torque (now 143Nm at 3000rpm).
There are other technical changes too, including:
Hyundai hopes its rationalised Accent line-up will attract 400 sales a month, on top of the 1000-1200 for the Getz with XL added to the range.
Even combined, that figure is a far cry from the 2000-plus Accents which used to roll out of the showrooms every month, and no doubt HADA did not even want to remember the halcyon days of the late 1990s when the Excel, the predecessor to the Accent, averaged between 3000 and 4000 sales per month in the days of $13,990 driveaway.
Ah, those were the days.
Hyundai Accent 3-door manual $14,990
Hyundai Accent 3-door auto $16,853
DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:THE Excel may have outsold the Accent easily, but the latter is the better car. In fact, in our eyes it was a key model for South Korea's largest car manufacture when first launched, because its attractions were not solely its price.
It was an entirely competent little car, nothing too flash but certainly not embarrassed by the company it kept in the class.
Push on from June 2000 to March 2003 and time has not stood still - but the Accent has. The light car class is splitting into a series of categories, from cheapies at the bottom through mid-rangers like the Holden Barina to the premium lights like the Peugeot 206 and Renault Clio.
Those cars expose the Accent a bit. In this age it feels a bit flimsy, a bit raw and a bit under-engineered.
For the same money - approximately - its own relation the Getz is a better car - which makes sense considering the latter is another developmental generation along the way.
But the Accent has its positives. It is big for the class, with acceptable rear legroom and a sizeable boot.
And that engine is a good size for the price, although we would have to drive it back-to-back with the 1.5 to detect any performance improvement. It was certainly as spritely as its predecessor and enthusiastic, but also coarse and buzzy when revved out towards its 6500rpm redline.
The manual gearbox continues to feel loose and long throw, while the auto rarely jars but it does unsurprisingly tend to take the edge off performance despite the change in ratios.
In this day it would be nice if the auto were a teensy-bit adaptive too, as a lift in the throttle means it dives straight for the highest gear available - although top can be locked out by a button on the gearshift.
The heavier steering at speed is certainly noticeable and not unpleasant, but the steering wheel itself could come down a little in circumference. The ride is also up to the job on most surfaces, only losing its composure on the worst of the rough stuff.
If that sounds familiar, you are right. There is a lot of the old Accent mixed in with the new, which is no bad thing.
The 1.6-litre Accent is not a great leap up the scale, but the asking price isn't either.
And at this end of the market that counts for a lot.
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