When we first laid our eyes on the initial spec sheet for the all-new 2012 Hyundai Accent a few months back, it listed a segment first direct-injection inline-four cylinder engine, six-speed transmission (automatic or manual) and 30/40 city/highway mpg. At the time, we wondered if the Accent would match the fun-to-drive factor of competitors like the Ford Fiesta or Honda Fit.
After spending a day driving the Accent in and around Sin City, with some freeway driving to Hoover Dam and ending out in beautiful Loewe Lake, in a word, no, it doesn't match its rivals as a sport compact -- but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
In fact, Hyundai itself isn't all that worried about the Accent being thought of as sporty. According to IHS Global Insight, the top three reasons shoppers buy in the subcompact segment are (in order): fuel economy, versatility, and design, and the Accent hits the mark in all those areas.
During the drive, we found the base Accent GLS' six-speed auto shifted smoothly; we barely felt the gear changes even under hard acceleration. Hyundai states the Accent's 1.6-liter four-banger generates 133 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque and can scoot from 0 to 60 mph in 9 seconds based on internal testing, competitive for the segment. Engine noise was noticeable under hard acceleration, however, especially during climbs, as we discovered on one stretch of Nevada highway.
When you want more frugality from the Accent, you can press its "Active ECO System," which is designed to improve fuel economy by up to seven percent. It accomplishes this feat by flattening, or smoothing gear shifts especially during acceleration from a stop or up steep inclines. The system also cuts fuel supply in certain instances, mostly when decelerating. With the ECO system on, we encountered some additional engine noise and vibration when major acceleration was needed. We found the system least intrusive on flat surfaces and during highway cruising.
Manually-equipped Accents get an "EcoShift" indicator to let the driver know when to row the gears for maximum fuel savings. According to Hyundai, the Accent's MPG figures do not include driving with either system being turned on; in fact, Hyundai states the mode is off by default. The new Accent achieves its 18 percent greater fuel efficiency over the prior generation model by improvements including the new engine (6.1%); electric steering (4.1%); alternator management system (2.47%); low rolling resistance tires (2.1%); and lower coefficient of drag (2.1%). The six-speed manual transmission adds an additional one percent to the figure.
Enough about MPGs, how does the Accent handle? Pretty good, all things considered. Suspension and steering are tuned to the comfort side of equation, though not to the point where you couldn't feel the road beneath you. Interestingly, the electric steering in the GLS trim feels even more firm than its larger Elantra sibling, with only a slight numbness at the center during some sharp turns. We actually had to make a few U-turns after overshooting our destinations and found the Accent, with a turning radius of 34.1 feet, to be competitive with the rest of the segment. (The Nissan Versa checks in at 34.2, the Ford Fiesta at 34.4 feet, and the Honda Fit at 34.4 feet.)
Interior noise, or lack of, is competitive in this segment, with most of it coming from the road. We had no problems hearing each other while speaking in normal tones or to listen to the music playing in the background. Engine noise was only a concern during acceleration.
Seat comfort was decent, though flat, with side bolsters nearly non-existent even in the sportier SE trim. Interior materials, though not class-leading, scored high marks among the assembled media. Of special interest were the glossy piano-finish inserts around the center stack and shifter. Whenn combined with the chrome accents lent the interior a richer look than expected in this class. Same with the textured cloth seats, which are highlighted by a "wave" pattern. Both are offered as optional features.
The 2012 Hyundai Accent is based off a new chassis. (As an aside, the staff dodged direct questions if any other vehicle in the Hyundai -- or even Kia -- lineup shared it.) The Accent is 3.5 inches longer than its predecessor, with the wheelbase stretched by 2.8 inches. According to Hyundai, the Accent is now classified as a "compact" car by the Environmental Protection Agency. Only the Nissan Versa sedan and hatchback are larger than the Accent in the class.
Hyundai states it dropped the prior generation 3-door model because consumers found the 5-door easier to enter/exit, which is not necessarily true with all the competition's offerings. Interestingly, unlike its larger Elantra and even Sonata siblings, the taller members of our group found decent headroom in the Accent sedan's second row (which also has 60/40 split fold-down seating standard).
As expected in Hyundai vehicles, the Accent is chock full of standard features especially at this price point. Besides the engine and either the (standard) six speed manual or automatic transmission, both models continue Hyundai's "fluidic sculpture" design with the hexagonal front fascia, wraparound headlamps and taillights, and upward sweeping side crease.
Safety-wise, all Accents are equipped with standard electronic stability control (ESC), six airbags, as well as four-wheel disc brakes, an unusual feature in this segment. Same with the tire pressure monitoring system. The front active head restraints, which bring the headrests forward to cushion the driver and front passenger's head in the event of a collision, are also standard. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not yet issued safety ratings on either model at the time of this review; Hyundai, however, is expecting the highest marks.
Optional features available for the Accent include remote keyless entry, Bluetooth, power windows and mirrors, and a sliding armrest/storage box combo for the front row.
Overall, the 2012 Hyundai Accent, with its powerful engine, transmissions, and sedan and hatchback offerings, has plenty to offer to those in the market for a Fiesta, Fit and Mazda2, even if it may not quite match up as a pure driver's car. But Hyundai decided that those same features, tuned right, can appeal to average car buyers looking fuel economy and versatility wrapped up in an affordable package.