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2012 Hyundai Accent SE Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO

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   • SEE ALSO: Hyundai Buyers Guide

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TWEET: The Auto Channel's Carey Russ says Hyundai Accent 2012: nice price, comfortable, fast ride, chiseled look. This stylish subcompact has moved to the head of its class!



THE Low Budget Pocket Rocket Sports Hatch

2012 Hyundai Accent SE 5-Door

There have been major changes to Hyundai's Accent for 2012, changes that move it from an afterthought straight toward the front of the subcompact pack. New "Fluidic Sculpture" styling brings it in line with other new Hyundais, a new engine gives it significantly more power and better fuel economy, and it offers the full complement of safety equipment, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, electronic stability control, brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution, and six airbags in every example. There's more interior space as well. It's still a car that's all about value, but "value" here is not a cynical synonym for "cheap", even though the price is commendably low.

Hyundai is offering the new, fourth-generation Accent in both sedan and hatchback body styles. As is the the norm now, the sedan is entry-level, available in base GLS trim only. The hatchback has gone from three doors (two doors and the hatch) to five and can be had in mid-level GS and sporty SE versions.

Watch TACH's exclusive Hyundai Accent promo video

Power for all is from Hyundai's new 1.6-liter "Gamma" four-cylinder engine, which uses direct fuel injection and a host of other internal features to make a maximum 138 horsepower, 28 more than the old engine, with an 18 percent improvement (manual transmission, 11 percent automatic) in fuel efficiency. Both the manual and automatic transmission are six-speeds, with wide ratios for an optimum combination of fuel efficiency and acceleration.

The new Accent's unibody structure uses more high-strength steel for improved rigidity. The wheelbase has increased by 2.8 inches, all the better for interior space -- which now puts it in the EPA compact, not subcompact, category. Although the GLS sedan is rather spartan in base form, especially with the manual transmission, there are option packages available to bring it up in amenity level, still at a reasonable price. The hatchbacks are much better-equipped in standard trim, and the SE is fully-equipped as delivered, with small, low-priced interior dealer-installed items like connector cables and upgraded floor mats the only options.

My week with an Accent SE was thoroughly enjoyable. With its energetic performance, especially when making maximum use of the engine, it could easily be thought of as a low-budget "pocket rocket" sports hatch. The suspension tuning is more comfort-oriented than that, which was appreciated on the many deferred-maintenance roads in my part of the world, and the wide-ratio transmission allows revs to drop more than optimum, indicating its design for optimum fuel efficiency. It's not a sports car -- Hyundai has the Veloster coupe for the front-wheel drive sporty coupe niche -- but it's also far more than merely an econobox commute module. Hyundai is rapidly becoming a force to be reckoned with in the auto industry, with good products at all levels.

APPEARANCE: Earlier small Hyundais were conservatively styled to the point of visual boredom. You can't say that anymore, as application of the company's current design language elevates the Accent from anonymity to interest. Its chiseled, angular lines are balanced by gentle curves at the corners and edges. The headlight shape is accented by a surrounding character line that then curves upward into the hood and runs to the windshield pillar. The chrome crossbar in the small, oval top grille is about the only resemblance to the previous Accent, but as in other new Hyundais, the grille and central bumper area is surrounded by a hexagonal shape to give the impression of a (currently trendy) large front intake. A sharply-delineated shoulder line rises to the rear for a sporty touch and strong shoulders. A small visor spoiler graces the trailing edge of the roof, and huge taillights define the rear. There is an amusing faux venturi panel in the lower part of the rear bumper fascia, but the exhaust is turned down behind it.

COMFORT: A small, inexpensive hatchback doesn't need to look or feel inexpensive inside. See the 2012 Hyundai Accent for details. Yes, materials are the class-typical hard plastics and synthetic cloth, but multiple textures and a design that echoes the exterior make it interesting and hospitable.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

My SE was basic black, with satin-silver trim on the doors and around the center stack. "Cramped" is not an appropriate adjective, except perhaps for the rear seat if occupied by an NBA first-round draft choice behind another just as tall. The front seats are moderately bolstered and more comfortable than expected for the class. Adjustment is manual, including driver's cushion height. Instruments are brightly backlit for easy visibility in all lighting, and a convenient display with mileage information is placed between the speedometer and tach. The SE's tilt-adjustable steering wheel has a leather rim and controls for audio, phone, and cruise systems. The audio system has AM, FM, and XM radio plus a CD changer; an auxiliary jack, USB port, and power point live at the juncture between the center stack and console, with space for a audio player. The glovebox is commendably large, as are the front door pockets. There is a small covered console box. HVAC controls are simple, and the system is quick and effective for heat or cool air. The rear seat is a contoured bench, with good accommodation for outboard passengers and somewhat less in the center, although a flat floor helps. The seatback is split 60/40 for extra cargo ability when needed -- which may be less than you think as there is plenty of space behind the seat, even with the cargo shade in place. There appears to be space for a space-saver spare under the load floor but my car had only a fix-a-flat kit.

SAFETY: A strong unibody structure made of high-tensile steel surrounds the Accent's passenger cabin. Front, front side, and side-curtain airbags add passive protection, while strong four-wheel antilock disc brakes with Brake Assist and Electronic Brake Force Distribution add active protection. As does the Vehicle Stability Management (VSM) system, comprised of electronic stability control and the electric power steering assist system, which can help the car react quicker in emergencies

RIDE AND HANDLING: No demerits to Hyundai for the comfort-oriented suspension as the Accent was never meant to be a sports hatchback. And the springs and shocks in the MacPherson strut front, torsion-beam rear design are tuned to work together, so response is good and the car is great fun to drive -- just be aware that it can "corner on its door handles" if pushed hard. When the road surface becomes more questionable, the wisdom of the soft tuning becomes more apparent. For everyday use, it's fine. And the interior noise level is lower than expected for the small car classes.

PERFORMANCE: Light weight and good power is a classic recipe for good performance -- and good fuel economy as well. The all-aluminum "Gamma" four-cylinder engine displaces 1.6 liters and uses direct fuel injection, continuously-variable cam phasing on intake and exhaust cams, variable induction, and high-tech low-friction coatings on critical internal parts to make 138 horsepower (at 6300 rpm) and 123 lb-ft of torque (at 4850 rpm). There is a reasonable amount of low-end torque, but best performance is found above 3000 rpm in lower gears and above 4000 in fourth and above. The six-speed manual gearbox in my test car shifted well, but does have long throws between gears and the gear ratio spacing is meant for economy, not maximum performance -- understandable given the Accent's mission in life. Still, those young in heart and wallet who want a little fun with their economy won't be disappointed. With little care for maximum economy I saw 28-30mpg around town and high 30s to low 40s on the highway. Backroad fun at higher revs? If you play, you're gonna pay, put it in the entertainment budget.

CONCLUSIONS: How far has Hyundai come over the years? Judging by its newest Accent, from the bottom to the top.


2012 Hyundai Accent SE 5-Door
Base Price $ 15,895
Price As Tested $ 16,705
Engine Type aluminum alloy DOHC 16-valve inline 4-cylinder with variable cam phasing on both camshafts
Engine Size 1.6 liters / 97 cu. in.
Horsepower 138 @ 6300 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 123 @ 4850 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length 101.2 in. / 162.0 in.
Curb Weight 2588 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 18.8
Fuel Capacity 11.4 gal.
Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires P195/50R16 83H Kumho Solus KH25
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, BA VSC standard
Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / semi-independent torsion beam axle
Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
city / highway / observed 30 / 40 / 32
0 to 60 mph 8.0 sec

iPodŽ cable $ 35
Inland freight and handling $ 775