Road Test

2012 Hyundai Accent aims for best-in-class

New Accent is larger, has more power, gets better fuel economy and offers more equipment

For any mainstream, volume car company the entry-level model is arguably the most important in the line. This is the point that attracts new and mostly young buyers. If they are pleased with the experience they are likely to return at the end of the lease term or purchase payments for another, to move up. It is a lot easier to sell to these consumers than it is to attract them from another company. The Accent is thus an important part of Hyundai’s strategy.

Hyundai has developed one of the most loyal customer bases in the industry. Its owners are more likely to buy another Hyundai than is the case in the rest of the industry, on average. So the arrival of a brand new Accent is a big deal. The fact it is larger, has more power, gets better fuel economy and offers more equipment should worry the competition. The new Accent is a game changer.

Hyundai has moved into third place in the industry in terms of both initial quality and long-term durability. It is regularly selling more vehicles than all but three or four manufacturers and when you exclude trucks and SUVs it sells more cars than anyone else in the country. Canadians purchased more than 31,000 Accents since it was introduced in 1994. Once word gets out about the new 2012 version that number will grow significantly.

The focus during development of the new Accent was on best-in-class on all fronts.

  • Fuel economy - It is rated at 4.8 litres/100 km on the highway, best in class

  • Power – A brand new engine develops 138 hp, most in class.

  • Technology – the first sub-compact with direct fuel injection.

  • Transmissions – Six speeds in either manual or automatic form. Some mainstream competitors are still stuck with antediluvian four-speeds.

  • Interior room – the 2012 Accent is rated by Transport Canada and the EPA as a compact, based on interior room, even thought it is marketed as and competing with sub-compacts

  • Weight – With its own steel plant, Hyundai is developing new strong, lightweight steels. The 2012 Accent is lightest in class yet 22% stronger than the old.    

  • Styling – A big part of the company’s success story. The new Accent stands out in a class dominated by dull.

Sub-compact cars are traditionally the least expensive in the market. Features are rare and base transportation the norm. Consumers are typically not looking for much beyond inexpensive, reliable transportation. The 2012 Accent, with its development theme of "a class above," will raise the bar on those expectations.

The first sign that this is a new car, one with higher aspirations than your normal sub-compact, comes when you drive off. The levels of noise and vibration are considerably lower than expected at this price point. Each door has dual seals and sound-absorbent materials have been injected into the pillars just like in big, expensive luxury cars.

The mirrors have been shaped in the wind tunnel to present minimum disturbance to the air as they pass through, the liners in the wheel wells have "stripe forms" to reduce road noise. These and numerous other details result in a much more refined small car than we’ve come to expect.

The new 1.6-litre Gamma engine has direct injection, an aluminum block and heads, variable valve timing, a maintenance-free timing chain, electronic throttle control and a variable induction system. It weighs 18-kg less than the engine it replaces while using 14% less fuel and producing 25% more power!

It is silky smooth, all but silent, and offers plenty of power from rest to illegal speeds. Whether you chose to shift for yourself or let the transmission do it for you the availability of six speeds keeps the engine in the heart of its power band for maximum punch and minimum fuel use.

The 2012 Accent’s impressive fuel economy rating was achieved without resorting to the ECO mode whereby a switch changes transmission and engine calibration for less aggressive performance and up to 7% better fuel economy. You do give up some responsiveness and performance, however.

The standard equipment list runs the range from safety to luxury: six air bags, electronic stability management, ABS, hill start assist, four wheel disc bakes, active front head restraints, six-way adjustable front seats, tilt wheel and iPod and aux input jacks on all radios.

The ride is decent for such a small light vehicle and the handling much more controlled than past Accents.

The 2012 Accent comes in L, GL and GLS trims in either four-door sedan or five-door hatchback. The five-door will set you back about $400 more. Starting at $13,199 the new Accent costs $1,100 less while adding $1,400 in additional equipment when compared to the outgoing version.

I’d pick the five-door in GL trim with the automatic. The GL gives a pretty impressive list of standard equipment, the automatic is better off the line, thanks to the torque converter, and you get most of the extra $1,200 back at trade-in time. The hatchback not only looks better to these eyes, it is much more practical when you have to carry large items.

It’s tough competing with Hyundai.

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