O.K., we’re getting spoiled. But not in a bad way. It used to be most carmakers’ entry-level models were real penalty boxes. You might end up driving one as a rental car, or if finances were tight, buying one. But they weren’t much to aspire to. (And yes, Ford actually made a subcompact called the Aspire at one time.)
But that has changed. Partly because today’s economics and high fuel costs have made the once humble entry-level car a balm for sore pocketbooks, but also because the cars populating this segment have become quite good.
Case in point is the 2012 Hyundai Accent. The Hyundai brand itself has had quite a turnaround in the past few years, and now their most affordable model has had a redo, and become one of the most attractive cars in its segment.
Let’s start with the wrapper. Our tester was an Accent GS 5-door hatchback. (A four-door model is available as well). It’s a crisp, modern design, with a strong accent slash that carries along the sides, and the familiar Hyundai corporate nose. It looks like the kind of small car you find zipping along most of Europe’s crowded cities.
Our tester was finished off in Cyclone Gray, which frankly is a little ho-hum. But no worries, as there’s a nice variety of colors on offer, including a bright Electrolyte Green, sporty Boston Red and handsome Marathon Blue.
There’s nothing ho-hum about the drive, though. The Accent’s 1.6-liter four-cylinder kicks out a respectable 138 hp, and even with our tester’s 6-speed automatic, scoots around surprisingly well. While you might not expect this kind of acceleration, you should expect thrifty mpg, and with an EPA city/highway of 30/40 respectively, the Accent does well. We averaged 32 mpg, in our typical lead-footed style. You won’t get bounced around either, as ride and handling are smooth and composed, even at freeway speeds.
Best of all, the Accent is a nice place to spend time. With more interior space than competitors like Fiesta, Mazda2 and Yaris, it’s quite roomy, and the rear seat can accommodate two 6-footers comfortably. (The raised center of the rear seat makes for an unhappy middle passenger for anything other than a short trip.) There’s also plenty of room for your gear, with best-in-class cargo space with the rear seat up.
The materials are a nice surprise too, with above-standard quality cloth and plastics, and even some aluminum-tone trim. The days of roll-down windows and a cassette player as a plus have long gone!
Hyundai has also been making a name for itself by offering a very well equipped car for the money. The 5-door GS starts at $14,795, and includes A/C, power windows and locks, trip computer, 172-watt, 6-speaker audio system with SiriusXM and iPod/USB input. Our tester, with automatic transmission, stickered at just under $16,000. Comparably-equipped, competitors like Mazda2 and Ford Fiesta run $1,500-$2,500 more.
At these prices, we’d be tempted to pop for the SE model, which adds 16” alloy wheels, fog lights, rear spoiler (handsome), a leather-wrapped wheel with remote audio controls (nice), Bluetooth (indispensible), and nicer cloth and Piano Black interior accents. Still a strong value at $16,095.
Oh, and we can’t forget Hyundai’s warranty that includes 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain coverage, 5-year/60 mile vehicle warranty and roadside assistance. In this segment, these are hard working little cars that often pile on the miles, so that extra protection comes in very handy.
So small car buyer, welcome out of the bargain basement, and into the bright sunshine. With the Hyundai Accent, you get a stylish, roomy, well-equipped little car that costs relatively little to buy and run. It’s a smart buy for today’s economic times, and should keep owners satisfied for a long time to come.