The subcompact car grows up
Utter the words subcompact car and most visualize cheap, basic transportation, but there aren’t too many bare-bones vehicles left—compact cars are now available with features originally reserved for luxury vehicles, and subcompacts are following suit. Despite consumers moving more toward crossovers, there’s still room for affordable subcompact cars in a market whose thirst for vehicles with extra ride height seems unquenchable. The redesigned 2018 Hyundai Accent is out to prove that affordability doesn’t equal bare-bones transportation.
The 2018 Hyundai Accent follows the rest of Hyundai’s lineup in wearing the brand’s new cascading grille, which is said to be inspired by liquid metal being poured out. Its exterior is the latest take on Hyundai’s Fluidic Sculpture design language, and it works well despite the 2018 Accent’s small footprint. There are no odd angles and unfinished lines that give many subcompact sedans odd proportions. From hood to trunk, the silhouetted flows smoothly and without interruption. Its headlights sweep back and wraparound taillights, giving it the familiar Hyundai corporate look.
Hatchback buyers will be sad to know that the 2018 Accent will only come as a sedan. Mike Evanoff, product planner for small cars at Hyundai Motor America, revealed that 75 percent of Accent buyers bought the sedan and only 25 percent opted for the hatchback. As a result, only the sedan will be available in the North American market. Like the rest of the new Hyundai vehicles being introduced, the 2018 Accent’s body is composed mainly of high strength steel (54.5 percent), increasing its torsional rigidity by 32 percent. The updated suspension features rear dampers that have been moved closer to the wheel, and the subframe is stiffer and door seals are thicker for a quieter cabin.
A revised 1.6-liter I-4 rated at 130 hp and 119 lb-ft of torque mated to a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission is the only powertrain choice offered. The stick will only be available on the SE trim, and Hyundai expects a take rate of 5 percent. Power figures are down for the new generation because the engine has been retuned for improved responsiveness, more low and midrange torque, and fuel economy, which came at the cost of peak output. EPA fuel economy ratings are 28/38 mpg (8.4/6.2 L/100km) city/highway for the automatic and 28/37 mpg (8.4/6.4 L/100km) with the manual.
On the road, the 2018 Hyundai Accent drove home a point: subcompact cars are no longer penalty boxes. The small car drives in a way you don’t expect from a vehicle in its class. Getting out of Las Vegas and on the freeway toward the Valley of Fire State Park, the little 1.6-liter I-4 pulled well. It has plenty of low and midrange torque on tap, so it doesn’t feel lacking and had no trouble cruising at 75 mph even with three people. The six-speed automatic shifted smoothly and quickly, going about its business invisibly. When you drop the hammer, it downshifts immediately, putting you back into the engine’s powerband. Sport mode makes the throttle more responsive and causes the transmission to hold gears longer. However, forget that the manual mode on the automatic exists because it’s unresponsive and doesn’t improve the driving experience.
After exiting the freeway, we encountered some winding roads that are more ideal for a sport sedan; however, the 2018 Accent performed admirably. It’s no sport sedan, but it handles securely, thanks to well-controlled body motions, a well-tuned chassis, and Torque Vectoring Control, which applies the brakes on the inside wheel ever so slightly to mitigate understeer. The car’s steering is reasonably weighted but could use a little more feedback. Ride comfort, on the other hand, has been improved because of revised rear shock absorbers. However, because it retains the torsion beam out back, the rear end has a tendency to get unsettled and bounce around over less-than-perfect pavement. The optional 17-inch alloy wheels mean you’ll have less sidewall protecting you from road imperfections because it’s shod with 205/45/R17 tires.
The 2018 Accent has comfortable and supportive front seats and spacious rear accommodations that can easily fit two passengers on a long drive or five for a lunch run. It has a 13.7-cubic-foot trunk, which can be expanded via the standard 60/40 split-folding rear seats. Material quality is good, with padding strategically placed where your arms would fall; however, don’t expect much soft-touch plastics because the dash and the door panels are made of hard plastic. Thankfully, they feel solid and don’t sound brittle. Cabin sound insulation is good with minimal wind noise but there’s excessive road and tire noise on rough pavement and is especially apparent near the wheel wells.
A 7.0-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is standard on the SEL and Limited grades; however, there’s no available built-in navigation system. Hyundai’s integration of both apps is one of the best. Voice commands don’t require any specific phrases and are easily accessible via the voice command button on the steering wheel. The main touchscreen functions like a smartphone embedded into the car, with quick responses to inputs.
Key features on Android Auto include the ability to reply to messages via voice commands, and it helps that the app can easily understand basic speech so you don’t have to get too specific when you use speech to text. Google Maps is integrated beautifully on Android Auto and features everything from the app found on your laptop, tablet, or phone. Waze has been integrated into Android Auto as a separate app, giving you a second map app in addition to Google Maps.
Standard features included in the base SE trim are a 5.0-inch touchscreen, cloth upholstery, Bluetooth connectivity, 15-inch steel wheels, and a rearview camera. The SEL trim adds 15-inch alloy wheels, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a 7.0-inch touchscreen, rear disc brakes, and a second USB port as standard. Limited models gets LED taillights, LED daytime running lights, heated front seats, a 3.5-inch multi-information display, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, 17-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry/start, a sunroof, and automatic climate control.
With a generous list of standard features on each trim, the 2018 Hyundai Accent proves that buying a subcompact car doesn’t mean you’ll be driving something extremely basic. Sure, there’s still some road and tire noise, but it’s better than the old car and quieter than rivals such as the Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, and Ford Fiesta. The car’s exterior is stylish, and its driving dynamics have improved. With all of the improvements made to the new car as well as its long warranty, the 2018 Accent might just win over buyers who would otherwise only consider a used vehicle.