Cleared for Ascension
With all the adulation the automotive press has been heaping on the dashing new Hyundai Elantra and Sonata over the past year — including our recent crowning of the new 2012 Elantra as the compact segment’s crème de la crème — we bet some of you are thinking Hyundai is a tad bit overexposed lately. Jumped the shark, perhaps?
Better break out the water skis, Fonzie, because the all-new 2012 Hyundai Accent has landed. Hyundai’s economy car veteran has taken a couple of pages from the playbooks of its bigger brothers in hopes of more exposure and sales success: more “Fluidic Sculpture” sheetmetal, more features, more power, more miles per gallon. The entry price point goes up, too, but that’s the cost of staying competitive in the suddenly compelling subcompact field. The days of commonsensical transportation with a bit of flair are here.
Detroit editor Todd Lassa first got a taste of the Accent in Sin City, and we later requested one visit our headquarters back in Los Angeles. We asked for and received a comfortably equipped, automatic SE model. The five-door hatchback body style is specific to the SE trim and our $17,685 as-optioned tester includes carpeted floor mats ($95) and an iPod cable ($35).
Speaking of price, opting for the six-speed auto (a six-speed manual is standard) means you’ll need to pony up $1000. We’re certain you’ll be amazed at how quickly the transmission shifts. Mind you, we’re not talking about the actual gear change speed measured to the millisecond, but how hastily it’ll go through the ratios to keep the engine speed down. For better or worse, the Accent’s Active Eco system is partly to blame.
“Gamma,” Hyundai’s newest small-displacement engine, is a 1.6-liter inline-four rated for 138 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque. The output alone makes the Accent more powerful than its contemporary rivals (until the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic arrives) and it revs up as smoothly as any B-segment shopper could want. The engine alone contributes a 6.1-percent gain in fuel economy over the previous generation Alpha 1.6-liter iron block, a critical improvement in these CAFE-conscious times. We’ve witnessed the rise of the usual fuel-saving suspects: dual continuously variable valve timing, internal friction reduction, and homogenous direct injection. With stratified lean burn injection still left untapped (presumably for spark and cost-control purposes), there should be more MPGs to come.
Weighing in at 2562 pounds has its benefits. With barely a chirp from the front 195/50-16 Kumho Solus KH25 tires, the Accent SE took 9.2 seconds to mosey from 0-60 mph. Subsequent acceleration attempts revealed the quickest runs take off with the least audible drama. On the other hand, emergency braking turned a few heads as the rubber screeched in heated protest — activating the four-wheel disc brakes from 60 mph brings the little hatch to a standstill in a solid 128 feet.
Around town, we found the ride quality to be on the harder side, though what felt like under-damped shocks exposed themselves over some big dips — the suspension took its time composing itself after it began to cycle up and down. But around the figure-eight, the Accent charmed even our hardened test crew. The largely neutral handling balance was held back by the undefeatable stability control, all-season tires, and a transmission that shifted up even in manual mode, yet the Hyundai clicked off a time of 28.6 seconds with an average of 0.56 g. Not pace-setting by any means, but with descriptive qualities like “honest,” “surprising,” and “kind of fun” flowing from the staff, it’s worth at least a test drive.
The biggest delight of all lies right in our hands. Steering hasn’t historically been a Hyundai strong point but the lowly Accent may possess the best motor-driven electric steering in the lineup. Effort is low, but the weighting is cleaner and more consistent on- and off-center, especially when compared to the last Elantra we drove. Whoever did the calibration deserves a big gold star; however, the SE does receive unique tuning.
Holding the driver in place is a decently supportive premium cloth seat. Unlike some other B-sized contenders, there’s some semblance of legroom in the second row, but don’t expect much. Having an actual cargo hold with fold-down seats behind the rear hatch lid empowers wondrous feelings.
Here’s the tough part of the First Test. The EPA rates the new Accent at 30 city/40 highway mpg, and we can report that it’s not impossible to hit the 33 combined mpg. The modest 11.4-gallon gas tank should alleviate price shock at the pumps, even as a gallon of 87-octane dips below $4 here in California. But the more pressing concern comes from in-house, specifically that lauded Elantra. It’s slightly quicker (0.2 second faster from 0-60 mph), scrubs speed more urgently (needs 8 fewer feet from 60-0 mph), offers a smidgen more interior space, and trumpets fuel economy of 29 city/40 highway mpg. So why pick the runt of the litter?
Well, the current Elantra Touring is still stuck in yesteryear. If you prefer a real sense of candor from your car (no factory navigation option or leather), the Accent is the way to go. It’ll be cheaper to acquire. And who doesn’t want to save a couple thousand bucks?
|2012 Hyundai Accent SE|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$17,685|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door hatchback|
|ENGINE||1.6L/138-hp/123-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||2562 lb (62/38%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||162.0 x 66.9 x 57.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||9.2 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||16.9 sec @ 82.0 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||128 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.79 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||28.6 sec @ 0.56 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||30/40 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||112/84 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.57 lb/mile|