First Drive

2012 Hyundai Accent redefines small cars

The new Accent is the culmination of all the lessons Hyundai has learned and put into practice

2012 Hyundai Accent 5dr

LAS VEGAS, NV- The all-new 2012 Accent redefines what we can expect in small cars and what the competition is going to have to match. And it shows that Hyundai can produce an entirely new vehicle with class-leading interior space, performance, fuel economy, features and most importantly, refinement, at a more-than-competitive price.

That last accomplishment, refinement, is what defines this car for me. Cruising along at a 120 km/h the noise levels – road and wind – are worthy of a luxury car. The brand new engine and transmission work together seamlessly to provide segment-leading performance AND fuel economy. All this is accomplished within a spacious passenger compartment that is fitted and finished like a much more expensive vehicle.

Sub-compacts have traditionally been base modes of transportation, basic, no-frills vehicles with the lowest monthly price tag for consumers who do not expect much beyond inexpensive, reliable transportation.

No longer!

The new Accent is the culmination of all the lessons the company has learned and put into practice  engineering, design and manufacturing. The stylish body, efficient new engine/transmission, spacious interior and quiet operation are hallmarks of a company that can do it all. It is relatively easy to accomplish all this at high price points · much tougher and until now unheard of at this level.

Where to start?

First of all it is a looker, especially the five-door with a distinct family resemblance to the Elantra and Sonata. The fluidic "sculpture"design theme is evident from the creased hood and sides to the wrap-around taillights. The five-door also boasts a rising beltline that sets it apart from the pack. The four-door sedan may be more popular than the five-door hatchback in America, but that just proves Canadians have better taste.

The interior is similarly out of place in the econobox class, looking more like it belongs several rungs up the ladder. Stylish with impressive fit and finish even the lowest trim level, it has an upscale feel.

Hyundai has a stated policy of best-in-class· fuel economy with each new vehicle it introduces. It did that with the Tucson, Sonata and Elantra and now the Accent. And it does this without reverting to hybrids or special low-volume models with unique drivetrains or other tricks. Every version of the new Elantra is rated for an amazing 4.9 litres/100 km. And every version of the new Accent is rated for 4.8.

A number of factors contribute to this hybrid-like stinginess without the added cost: the brand new engine, a choice of six-speed transmissions, automatic or manual, aerodynamics, attention to weight and numerous smaller factors.

ENGINE - The new 1.6-litre, all-aluminum Gamma four-cylinder engine introduces Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) to the sub-compact segment. This costly high-pressure system has the ability to extract more power from less fuel while producing fewer emissions. The engine also features dual continuously variable valve timing, maintenance-free timing chain, electronic throttle control and a variable induction system.

TRANSMISSIONS - All 2012 Accents come with a six-speed transmission - manual or automatic. A class-leading feature. While they do not contribute to fuel mileage or performance, every Accent also gets four wheel disc brakes, another segment exclusive.

AERODYNAMICS - The new Accent boasts a 0.30 coefficient of drag, lower than the much smaller Honda Fit and Ford Fiesta. This was accomplished by the overall design, but also by careful attention to things like wheel wells and mirrors.

WEIGHT - The new engine is 18-kg lighter than the unit it replaces and Hyundai is one of very few, if any, auto companies with its own steel plant. That facility was completely gutted and rebuilt using state-of-the-art methods. For example, it generates 80% of the energy it uses through waste gases. More than 400 metallurgists and engineers work continuously developing proprietary new steels that are lighter yet stronger. The new Accent uses them extensively.

OTHER - A new alternator management system allows it to turn and draw power only when needed. Electric power steering means no belts or pumps to act as a drag on the engine.

SAFETY - All bases covered. Six airbags, electronic stability and traction control systems, ABS, active head restraints.

The theme during development of the new car was "a class above" and in addition to 25% more power and a 14% increase in fuel efficiency, the 2012 Accent boasts "class-above" interior space. The five-door offers more passenger and cargo space than Fiesta, Mazda2 and Yaris. The sedan has more than Fiesta and Yaris sedans. While it is being touted as a sub-compact, the interior space of both sedan and hatchback place the Accent in the larger Compact category according to Transport Canada.

As I said at the outset, the biggest single impression the new Accent left on me occurred at highway speeds where the lack of road and wind noise became the true indicator of how well this car had been, designed, developed and built. To me, quiet is an indicator of both luxury and quality. The dual door seals, sound absorbent roof, foam-filled pillars, anti-noise collectors on the side mirrors and special wheel well liners with ·stripe forms· obviously play a major role. But so does the silky new engine, six-speed transmission and rock-solid (22% stiffer) structure.

The 2012 Accent comes in L, GL and GLS trim levels with prices ranging from $13,199 for the L sedan with manual transmission to $18,399 for the GLS Five-door with automatic. Standard equipment on the base model includes: tilt wheel, height adjustable driver seat and power locks. A mid-level GL hatch with automatic ($16,599), expected to be the volume seller, adds air conditioning, remote keyless entry, cruise control, heated power mirrors, upgraded interior, power windows and steering wheel with audio controls. On average, the 2012 Accent has $1,400 in additional standard equipment compared to the outgoing version.

Steve Kelleher, President and CEO of Hyundai Auto Canada said here during the launch of the new Accent the days when Hyundai survived on value alone are long gone. "Our staff and dealers remember where we were and have no interest in going back," the industry veteran said. You only need to look at or drive the new Accent to know that is not going to happen.

Hyundai has made a habit of shaking up the status quo. Hang unto your seats, because here comes the biggest effort yet by the upstart company.

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