Need new wheels at a low price, but don’t want to look like you’re driving an econobox that could tip over in a heavy wind or snag a trophy at the ugliest car on the block contest?
Hyundai has an impressive answer for just such a buyer, it’s redesigned 2018 Accent sedan. This week I tested a “rental-car white” SE, the base model, with an automatic transmission. And get this, with delivery fee, the Accent was $16,985. That’s right, just under $17 grand and you have a new car with a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
It has been a while since I tested an entry-level model and boy, was I pleasantly surprised. The Accent doesn’t feel cheap or look it. This is not bare bones by any means. Hyundai gave the Accent crisp body styling and a large grille to reflect the rest of the sharp-looking Hyundai lineup. Most entry-level cars appear squished, too narrow, and top-heavy. Or they simply are truncated and look out of proportion.
So, right off the bat, the Accent makes you feel you’re driving something a notch up from the price point where it starts.
Power is good with 130 horses coming from its 1.6-liter I4 engine. That may not sound like a lot, but Accent weighs in at just 2,679 lbs. and does have a Sport mode button to boost acceleration when needed. I found the car got up to normal driving speeds fairly well without the Sport mode engaged, but getting on the freeway or blending into faster traffic I used it for a few seconds.
As with other electronically adjustable driving modes, this one pumps up the power by holding lower gears longer, maximizing torque. Sci-fi fans might think of this as going into hyper-drive mode to escape the dark side. However, if you leave Sport mode on for long periods the engine revs higher and gas mileage will suffer. Plus the engine drones noticeably at highway speeds if left in Sport. Once you’re up to speed it’s best to punch the button again to return to Normal mode.
The six-speed automatic on the test car worked well and used the car’s power efficiently. As you’d expect, gas mileage was good with this combo. I got 33.1 miles per gallon in about 60% city driving. The EPA rating here is 28 mpg city and 38 mpg highway. Only regular fuel is needed too. A manual transmission is available and saves you a grand up front. Still, considering the Accent’s price range the automatic is a solid bet.
Handling is OK too, not sporty, but only a bit of play in the steering wheel and overall a light, easy driving feel. There’s a touch of body lean in tight turns, but this is an entry-level vehicle, so one should not expect sports car finesse in the curves.
Ride is chattery on rough city streets. I wouldn’t say I felt punished by it, maybe just shaken, not stirred. Like other small entry-level cars, the wheelbase is fairly short at 101.6 inches. The longer a car’s wheelbase the better the ride, generally. Simply put, if you demand a smoother ride, in any car, you’ll need to pay substantially more.
Still, the Accent has safety and other equipment you’d more likely expect on costlier cars. It has stability and traction control, a tire pressure monitoring system and hillstart assist control to keep the car stationary when starting on an uphill grade. This is especially valuable if you buy an Accent with a manual transmission as you won’t roll backward as you clutch and shift while on a grade.
Inside, the test car featured an oatmeal (grayish tan) and black interior, the dash top being black. Seats are cloth and attractive and there’s satin silver trim around the air vents, central touchscreen and all buttons and knobs are likewise a satin finish. This looks pretty spiffy for a car costing less than $20 grand.
As alluded to above, the radio is controlled via a small 5-inch touchscreen. I would have expected either no screen or something less than a touchscreen at this price. It worked simply too, just a wee bit small. There also is a backup camera here, another welcome surprise at this price point.
This dash is wonderfully laid out too, simple to see and use and all the buttons and knobs are blue backlit so easy to view at night. Also there are hookups for Bluetooth, a USB port and auxiliary plug under the dash’s center stack. The Accent also has two 12-volt outlets.
Seating is sufficient for four adults, we proved that by taking a carload to dinner one night. Granted none of us are giants, but still, everyone was comfortable. There’s good head and legroom and the seats themselves are well shaped to provide top-notch hip and back support. These are manual seats, naturally, but include a pump handle on the driver’s seat to raise or lower it to a comfortable height.
The rear seats split and their backs fold down too, although even with them in place the Accent has a large trunk that would hold three to four suitcases and a few other odds and ends. Great trunk and rear seat for kids packing up to head off to college!
Accent is no dream car mind you. It’s simple. The SE comes with a keyed ignition. Remember those? This uses a switchblade-style key fob, but power door locks and mirrors. There’s a tilt steering column here too, but it does not telescope. You have to move up a trim level for that.
While there is that backup camera, there’s no cross-traffic alert and no blind-spot warning system on the SE either. Again though, this is the entry-level car that is meant to appeal to the cost-constrained buyer. For that, it excels and is nicely equipped.
If you happen to have a little more jingle in your pocket, there are two more trim levels, the SEL and upper-end Limited. All are sedans, a hatchback is only available now via Accent’s kissin’ cousin, the Kia Rio.
The Accent SEL starts at $18,035 and includes a 7-inch touchscreen, rear disc brakes (rear drums come on the SE), automatic lights, alloy wheels, a tilt/telescope steering wheel and heated outside mirrors. That last item is a plus in Wisconsin.
Moving to the Limited includes all of those SEL features, plus a sunroof, automatic climate control system, LED running lights and taillights, heated front seats (good in Wisconsin) a leather steering wheel cover and push-button start. The Limited starts at $19,585, including delivery.
Accent easily is among the top subcompacts on the market now, its main competition being Honda’s Fit, Ford’s Fiesta and Chevy’s Sonic. This is a classy subcompact that does everything a small car is expected to do and looks good while doing it, and at a price many can afford.
FAST STATS: 2018 Hyundai Accent SE A/T
Hits: Value priced, good gas mileage, and attractive enough to avoid being typical econobox. Good power (has Sport mode), OK handling, nice dash layout with blue-lit buttons and knobs, touchscreen, backup screen, seats four adults and has big trunk.
Misses: Chattery ride on rough city streets, no push-button start, no blind-spot warning or telescoping steering wheel on this trim level.
Made in: Nuevo Leon, Mexico
Engine: 1.6-liter GDi I4, 130 hp
Transmission: 6-speed automatic w/Shiftronic
Weight: 2,679 lbs.
Length: 172.6 in.
Wheelbase: 101.6 in.
MPG: 28/38 (EPA)
MPG: 33.1 (tested)
Cargo: 13.7 cu.ft.
Base Price: $16,985 (includes delivery)
Invoice: $16,586 (includes delivery)
Major Options: None
Test vehicle: $16,985
Sources: Hyundai, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage