2012 Hyundai Accent Hatchback Road Test

Not the econobox of yore, the new Accent is neither sub nor too compact.

What It Is/Who It's For
Hyundai's smallest and least-expensive car is ideal for those just in or out of college, and those who appreciate a great value.

Best Thing
The 2012 Hyundai Accent offers good fuel economy, sure, but it also looks good inside and out.

Worst Thing
Hard plastics in the cabin remind you that yes, you're in an entry-level car.

Snap Judgment
The 2012 Hyundai Accent is an appealing choice, offering ample flair and a thoughtfully designed cabin to pair with the practicality.


Petite filet when you're expecting flank -- this is Hyundai's proposition. It was not so long ago the Korean automaker was synonymous with cars that were a little embarrassing to drive, but those days are gone and replaced with a Korean renaissance, one in which dealers are continually short on supply. The formula is simple enough. Take the key elements modern consumers are looking for in any given segment, and then focus, hone in, and deliver what are often best-in-class results. The 2012 Hyundai Accent is a good representation of the formula come to fruition.

Subcompacts have traditionally delivered great fuel economy, so any attempt at making a dent in this segment has to place a premium on efficiency. For its latest Accent, Hyundai uses direct injection, a process that applies just the right amount of gasoline mixed with oxygen needed directly into the engine's cylinders, allowing for greater fuel efficiency. The Accent gets a best-in-class EPA estimated 30 mpg city and 40 mpg highway, numbers it shares only with its mechanically identical Korean sibling, the Kia Rio.

But great fuel economy isn't enough anymore. These days the market for small cars is greater than ever, and automakers have drastically improved the field with the newest offerings, so it should come as little surprise that good gas mileage alone won't get many cars rolling off the lots. Previous generations of subcompacts were lackluster econoboxes, with features pared down to a minimum, and comfort and styling were little more than an afterthought. The Accent was as guilty of this as any, but how times have changed.

Today's Accent features Hyundai's new "fluidic sculpture" design language, lending swoopy lines and a more aggressive stance that give the illusion of motion even when the car is at rest. Generally automakers save their visual drama for pricier sports cars, but there's no reason economy cars should maintain the bland aesthetics that have defined the class for a generation. Make people want to get in the car, and once they're in, make sure they don't want to flee; inside of the 2012 Accent is pretty nice, too. And roomy, which is not something you expect when stepping into a car in this class. The cabin is simple, but thoughtfully designed. Seats are comfy, the SE hatchback we drove had a beautiful piano blank center console, and the buttons and controls appear modern and fresh, not legacy parts leftover from the automaker's models of past generations. Oh, and the car can scoot.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

The 2012 Hyundai Accent features a 1.6-liter engine capable of producing 138 horsepower, easily outshining its competition, in a segment where engine and horsepower figures are tucked away neatly with other specs, not the primary selling point. Again, defy expectations. The Accent does have some faults -- hard plastics on the dash and doors scream entry-level, but to its credit they're still stylish and work with the cabin's design. While the engine has plenty of power for the class, the car isn't especially engaging or sporty. And although most of our driving was in the city -- with LA traffic being less than ideal for fuel economy -- we fell short of EPA city mpg.

What We Drove

For 2012 the Accent is available as a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback, and is available in three trims. The GLS sedan, the GS hatchback, and the top of the line SE hatchback. The GLS is priced at $14,125, and the SE starts at $15,795. Our SE hatchback was priced just above that, at $15,925 and came with the goods: 16-inch steel wheels (entry-level models get 14-inch steel wheels); six-way adjustable driver's seat; tilt steering and a 60/40 split folding rear seats; automatic transmissions have a hillstart assist and an active ECO system that improves already good fuel economy, though we had the manual six-speed transmission. Our SE trim also included a rear spoiler, six-speaker stereo (all trims) with CD, XM radio, iPod cable, a rear wiper and front fog lights.

All trims get safety features not often found on cars priced in the mid-teens: features include electronic stability control with traction control; four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and brake assist; front, front side-impact and side curtain airbags; tire pressure monitoring, and active front head restraints. In IIHS crash test ratings, the 2012 Hyundai Accent received a "good" rating, the highest possible, in front-impact and roof strength tests, and an "acceptable" rating, the second highest, in side-impact crash testing.

The Commute

All of our editors had a chance to take the 2012 Accent home for a night or two, and the general consensus was Hyundai's subcompact was generally free of drama. The suspension was tuned for comfort, and the Accent deftly handled potholes and patches of rough road without complaint. In traffic the clutch is light and easy to use, but with little engagement feel; even manual lovers might prefer the automatic. The little engine and fuel-economy-tuned transmission garnered mid to upper 20s fuel economy on what was primarily city driving; frankly, we expected more.

The Bluetooth was able to sync to our phones instantly, allowing for easy traffic-tempering phone calls. The Accent doesn't have the large screen and Blue Links Telematics packages with navigation like many other Hyundai models, and even in this top-level model, they're not on the options list. Granted, it would drive up the price, but it should be noted that the Honda Fit and Kia Rio both offer navigation packages. However, we have no complaints about the car's six-speaker stereo, with its easy-to-use controls, and sound that was better than often found at this price point.

Hyundai's subcompact has comfortable seats for passengers of all sizes, though with taller passengers in front, expect back-seaters to be a little snug with foot and leg room. The pedals are well placed, though one of our editors believed them to be skewed to the right. Visibility is good overall, but the rear window is small, and while rear visibility isn't as poor as the Kia Rio, all of the swoopy lines and design that gives the Accent its distinct styling and small rear window, also take away from rear visibility.

The Grocery Run

Hyundai notes that according to IHS Global Insight, the top three attributes shoppers in this category are concerned with are fuel economy, versatility, and design. While design is apparent, and we recorded good fuel economy, what we were curious about was versatility.

Errand-running proved easy, and the Accent's fifth door made loading bags effortless. Cargo space was notably good for the class as well. Our hatchback model has 21.2 cu.-ft of room, which is about 7.5 cu.-ft more than the sedan, and this is all with the seats up. Folding the seats for a full 47.5 cu.-ft. of space is easy, and while they don't fold completely flat, you can still slide in long and awkward objects such as a snowboard, skis, or golf clubs. The trunk is also deep, making it even more useful. Another perk of having a car of this size is you can fit neatly into compact parking spaces. We did notice that the car lugs a bit in second gear when going around the parking lot, and is slow to react after initial gear changes, something that took a while to get used to.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

As for kid friendliness, there are pros and cons. On the pros side, the LATCH points are easy to reach on the seats, and the hatchback offers extra head room if you want to strap your kids in. There's ample space under the hatch for a stroller or other kid-rearing stuff, and younger kids will have no problem climbing inside and strapping themselves in. But like all subcompacts, there are other concerns. For example, there's not a lot of room between the rear glass and where heads rest in the rear seat, and anybody older than a second grader is going to feel cramped. For a family hauler, it's OK in a pinch, but you might want to consider moving up one size class for full-time duty.

The Weekend Fun

To our surprise the Accent was a smooth sailor on freeways and open road, almost as if it were built for longer drives at higher speeds. The jerkiness and lulls in the transmission experienced on the lower end were replaced with velvety shifts at higher speeds. The Accent took on bumps reasonably well. If your weekend journeys involve more two-lane roads than multi-lane Interstates, then you should know that the 2012 Hyundai Accent isn't particularly sporty. However, it's fun enough, and while it won't have you pining for your favorite mountain pass, it won't leave you complaining either. It's a victory for a car priced under $16,000, that looks good, and is fuel efficient. A far improvement from the previous generation, the new Accent is a car you certainly don't mind driving, and avoiding the valet for fear of snickering is no longer an issue.

Summary

If you're looking for a sound content-for-your-cash value, the 2012 Hyundai Accent is a major consideration. With many standard safety features, great fuel economy, ample power, sharp design inside and out, and unexpected roominess and cargo space, the Accent is a winner. If you're looking for a sport-tuned ride, or to haul more than four passengers, you're better off looking elsewhere. But if you're looking for the best all around package, one that combines value, practicality, fuel efficiency and style -- not to mention the industry's best warranty -- you could just be looking at it.

Spec Box

Price as tested: $15,925
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 30 mpg
EPA Highway: 40 mpg
EPA Combined: 34 mpg
Estimated Combined Range: 387.6 miles per tank
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Average

Notebook Quotes

"Inside and out, the 2012 Hyundai Accent bears a strong resemblance to the new Sonata and Elantra. This is a good thing, as the tasteful design, high-quality materials and excellent assembly quality of the Accent are especially welcome in such an inexpensive car." -Keith Buglewicz, News Director
"Overall, the 2012 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." -Joel Arellano, Assistant Editor
"Gearbox is extremely easy to use. This is good and bad: it has no engagement feel, no gear shift feel, and it isn't fun to drive hard. But, it's also harmless feeling, like it could take a beginner's beating." -Jason Davis, Associate Editor
"I like the interior, the materials on the dash, the steering wheel, and instrument cluster are fitting for the target audience." -Trevor Dorchies, Associate Editor
"Color me impressed. The headlights are bright. The gauges look premium. There's not much to dislike about it because you get a lot of car for the cash." -Jacob Brown, Associate Editor
"You have to give Hyundai credit: even after line after line of crappy Accent models, Hyundai still stuck with the same name for a car that's far improved." -Blake Z. Rong, Associate Editor

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