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2007 Hyundai Accent Review: Dollar Store Queen or Something Better?

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2007 Hyundai Accent

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

SEE ALSO: Compare Models - Hyundai Buyers Guide

By Rex Roy
Contributing Editor
The Auto Channel

Chevette. Omni. Metro. Le Car. Colt. Vega. Pinto. Cricket. Storm. Escort. Horizon. Festiva. F-10. Justy.

What do these have in common?
They were sh*t boxes each and every one. Even esteemed names like "Civic" were crappy in their early iterations. Most of these cars could be observed rusting into oblivion and blowing clouds of oil smoke as they strained to achieve highway speeds before getting run over by semis and fuel-swilling V8-powered Detroit lead sleds. (Please save your indignantly rose-colored e-mails … these cars did offer, albeit rarely, new technologies and driving grins. The author put over 120,000 miles on an Omni GLH-S, so he knows.)

What we have for evaluation today is the 2007 Hyundai Accent SE. It is most certainly not a piece of junk. Our fresh example sported no rust and refused to blow any blue smoke. As a matter of fact, this little car pushed everything we knew about cheap cars right off the shelf and into the trash can. This is what to think about the inexpensive Accent SE: It's solid, eager, nicely equipped, cute, practical, and pretty sporty.

The basic package

Remember when cars didn't have standard power steering, power brakes, power windows, air conditioning, rear-window defrosters, power door locks, tilt steering columns and even FM radios? Generally speaking, economy cars into the late 1980s were so. My how things have changed. Our as-tested Accent SE offers all of the aforementioned as standard plus side airbags, side-curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, fog lights, illuminated vanity mirrors, heated outside mirrors, 172-watt AM/FM/CD audio system, cabin air filter, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. All of this stickers for just under $14,000.

Dimensionally, the Accent packs more interior room into its stubby 159.3-inch overall length than the much larger Chevrolet Cobalt or Ford Focus coupe models. There is nothing cramped about the interior, and even the rear seating area offers plenty of leg, head, and shoulder room.

While not impressive in the same sense as the hand-matched wood grain on the dash of a Rolls Royce, the interior of the Accent is impressive for what this car is. Materials feel durable and look good. In decades past, inexpensive cars were bastions of awful interior fabrics. (The author recalls a 1970's Dodge Colt he owned with hounds tooth fabric in red, white, black, and maroon. He also recalls the vehicle being delivered new with a bag of white rice in the glove box and a note of appreciation from the Mitsubishi plant in Japan.) The cloth covering the seats looked and felt good. Ditto for the door and dash panels. The silver accents helped, as did the leather on the steering wheel.

All, however, was not perfect, as interior panel fitment could have been better. As can be seen in our photo coverage of the car, the gap between the driver door panel and the dash was about half that of the opposite side. While an obvious shortcoming, this is not a deal breaker for a $14,000 car, just a reminder that it is a $14,000 car.

Power and performance

Power is a term used loosely with entry-level cars. Few of them are ever really powerful. The Accent's 1.6-liter 4-cylinder features double-overhead cams, the expected 16-valves that goes with two cams, and a form of variable valve timing. Horsepower tops at 110 at 6000 rpm and torque peaks at 106 ft-lbs at 4500 rpm.

Up to about 40 mph, the Accent feels pretty zippy. Short and closely spaced gears help that happen, but the pull to highway speeds reminds you that this is an economy car, not a performance car. Economy, by the way, comes in at 32 mpg city, 35 mpg highway.

The front strut/rear torsion beam suspension provides handling that goes with the power – it's zippy. Little cars like this are fun to toss around. There is truth to the axiom that it's more fun to drive a slow car quickly than a quick car slowly. The SE package is an option on top of the base Accent that include some good hardware including a larger front sway bar (24mm vs. 21mm), springs that are stiffer (24% stiffer in front, 11% stiffer in back), re-valved struts and shocks, and a unique steering gear. The sticky Kuhmo P205/45VR16 radials put down a big rubber footprint for a car that weighs only 400 pounds more than a ton.

While we didn't track test the Accent SE, its four-wheel disc brakes with ABS never gave us reason to doubt their capabilities for street driving.

The refinement and lack thereof

We wouldn't begin to infer that the Accent SE is a bucket of ill assembled bolts, because it's not. It's actually screwed together so solidly that during the hundreds of miles we accumulated that we couldn't coax (or beat) a rattle out of it. Doors close with a solid sound, and the exterior fit and finish easily meet the standards of the class.

However, a couple of areas of the Accent could benefit from some polish. Our biggest complaint is engine noise. This is most notable on the highway, where at 80 mph the thrumming from the little engine becomes way, way too loud. Add the sound of the A/C and blower fan, and it's hard to have a conversation.

An additional rough edge is the shift linkage. It's not so swell. Notchy is a kind descriptor. That said, we never missed a shift, but that's like saying the steering is OK because we never ran over a curb.

The Final Point
The manufacturer and their PR wonks must forgive this author's preexisting notion that inexpensive cars from Korea are junk. New junk, but junk none the less. The never lamented Pontiac Le Mans (the Daewoo version circa 1989) and early examples of Daewoo-branded, Kia, and Hyundai products provided the foundation for this opinion.

This opinion is now obsolete thanks to the thoroughly modern and competitive offerings such as the Accent SE. To quell reasonable fears about quality and reliability, the Hyundai backs the Accent with a 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty plus a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Hyundai wants you to compare their Accent to the Toyota Yaris, Scion xA, Honda Fit, and Chevrolet Aveo. After researching competitors, add the Chevrolet Cobalt and Ford Focus to that list. All of these cars offer solid transportation value at a Dollar General Store price.