2016 Hyundai Accent Hatchback SE
One of the subcompact segment’s best values is also great fun to drive
Now in the fifth model year of its fourth generation, the 2016 Accent is deep within its product cycle with Hyundai planning a replacement sometime during the next calendar year. That’s a good, healthy run for any car, yet sales of the subcompact model are hardly slowing.
Last year the Accent found 63,309 U.S. buyers for both its four-door sedan and hatchback body style, and despite its aging design 2014 was one of only five 12-month periods that saw the model spike over the 60k threshold since well before I first reviewed one in the fall of 2002, while it looks as if Hyundai will repeat the feat for calendar year 2015. The Accent actually dates back to model year 1995 when it replaced for the much-maligned Excel that launched Hyundai into the U.S. market a decade before. That was when I was selling “competitive” Renault 5s and Alliances across the street from one of the first Hyundai stores to open in my area (I’d do just about anything to get close to cars back then), and I quickly experienced my leads walk across the road and vanish, never to be seen or heard from again. What soon happened with respect to Renault’s North American history is well known, the brand disappearing from this side of the Atlantic soon after I left them for better opportunities myself, while Hyundai’s popularity and credibility have grown to rival the biggest names in the global auto industry.
The Accent is an excellent example of doing things right, as even in this iteration’s waning years it remains highly competitive thanks to sportier than average styling (especially in hatchback form), an ultra-roomy interior (ditto re the hatch), loads of standard and optional features, superb performance, a much better than average warranty, and as always with Hyundai products, excellent value.
From a styling perspective there’s nothing other than trim that differentiates the base SE Hatchback I’m reviewing from the top-line Sport Hatchback, the pricier Sport getting fog lamps, projection headlamps with LED accents and welcome/escort functions, turn signals integrated into its mirror housings, and 16-inch alloy wheels. Such upgrades aside, all Accent hatchbacks wear Hyundai’s older hexagonal grille, which is more of a creased six-sided outline with a narrow opening up top and larger engine vent below, bisected by a body-color bumper cap in between, while my tester gets a set of faux brake ducts fitted to each corner where fog lamps would otherwise go on the higher trim, a creative addition that actually looks pretty sporty.
Even the base headlights that don’t get the upgrades I mentioned a moment ago are wonderfully detailed and only dwarfed in size by the car’s scythe-shaped vertical taillights, the latter finishing off an edgy rear end design that also gets rear fogs.
The overarching Accent Hatchback shape is much more interesting to look at than most others in this segment, with a go-fast profile featuring a near vertical backside. Standard body-color mirror housings and door handles make it look more upscale than some competitor’s matte black plastic detailing, while the base 14-inch steel wheels and covers do the job esthetically. They’re shod with 175/70R14s, ideal for comfort while providing decent road-holding, but then again most Hyundai dealers have reams of rims and tires to upgrade the look and performance while still keeping you on budget.
My tester was done out in Triathlon Gray, which is a nice medium gray metallic that really works well with the design, and while a number of additional shades and colors are available for conservative buyers, such as Ironman Silver, Century White, Ultra Black, and Pacific Blue, Hyundai offers up a couple of seriously flashy alternatives to make your Accent hatch stand out from the crowd, including Boston Red and Vitamin C (orange).
The interior is black no matter your exterior color choice, and while this cabin has been around the block a few times along with the rest of the car it still looks plenty fresh. The dash and door uppers aren’t soft to the touch, of course, but the textured matte composite material Hyundai uses appears quite upscale and offers a nice higher quality feel than the same surfaces on most competitive subcompacts.
The fit and finish of all the switchgear is excellent too, from the standard six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3/satellite display audio system interface with aux and USB connectivity, plus the power lock switches and sliding sunvisors to the air conditioning controls and heatable powered side mirror controller, these including an integrated driver’s blind spot mirror no less, and powered window toggles, it’s all a cut above. My SE’s fabric upholstery was great looking too, while an overhead console with a sunglasses holder is always a bonus in my books and the lidded vanity mirrors are critically important for my much better looking partner. Even the remote key fob feels well made while the standard 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks are easy to fold down, click into place solidly while making the car’s seating/cargo configuration a lot more flexible. All this, including tinted glass with windshield sunshade band, a six-way adjustable driver’s seat with height-adjustment, a driver’s seat armrest, front door map pockets, a front passenger seatback pocket, and a rear wiper/washer can be had for $14,995 plus freight and dealer prep with its base six-speed manual or $16,195 with the six-speed automatic.
Other than the usual dealer-installed accessories don’t even think about adding anything more than the automatic onto the SE as this is the way it comes, but you can go for the aforementioned Sport model if a ritzier compact is more to your liking. Additional features not yet mentioned with this upgraded model include rear disc brakes, piano black interior accents, telescopic function added to the steering column, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, one-touch auto-up for the driver’s side window and more.
In case you hadn’t noticed the “Auto” in the title’s trim designation, Hyundai’s optional six-speed automatic isn’t the usual fuel-economy at all costs gearbox. Along with the extra forward cog that allows it to eke out more mileage from trips down the highway than some competitors that only offer four- and five-speed autoboxes, those who like to have a little extra fun will enjoy its gear lever actuated manual shift mode, letting you hold a given gear through corners and downshift for more control while setting up a turn or braking. The way I’m going on you might think I’m talking about a Genesis Coupe, and while the Accent doesn’t hold its line as tightly as Hyundai’s very talented two-door 2+2 it’s plenty fun to fling through curves or haul around an autocross course, the little tot boasting one of the most powerful engines in its segment, a 16-valve, DOHC 1.6-liter four-cylinder with direct-injection and dual continuously variable valve timing that’s capable of 137 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque, numbers that make most rivals appear like they’re only about fuel economy.
If the Accent didn’t match some of the stingiest fuel misers in the class those subcompact opponents might have a point for going cheap on power, but its 27 mpg city, 38 highway and 31 combined EPA rating with the manual, or 26, 37 and 30 numbers with the as-tested automatic show that this sporty Korean isn’t all muscle and no brains. Incidentally, sequential manual mode is also good for saving fuel, letting you short shift to keep revs low, which might even help you get more out of an 11.4-gallon tank of fuel than its claimed rating.
As is usually the case in this small car segment the Accent rides on MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam setup in back for a good compromise between a comfortable ride and decent handling, not to mention a lower load floor for better cargo room (I’ll get back to that in a moment), while power steering duties come from a motor-driven rack and pinion design that responds well and feels pretty good for the class. The Accent’s standard front discs and rear drums do a decent job of braking, while standard ABS and electronic brake-force distribution take care of emergency duties. The stock safety suite also includes tire pressure monitoring, hill start assist, traction control, electronic stability control and vehicle stability management, as well as active front headrests, front seatbelt pretensioners, and dual front, front side-thorax, and front/rear side-curtain airbags.
While all of these attributes are impressive, and reason enough for the Accent’s continued sales success, a key reason for the hatchback’s popularity is interior spaciousness. Few will find the front seating area too small, while those in the rear will appreciate better than average head, shoulder, hip and legroom, but the Accent hatch’s biggest selling point might be its cargo capacity, a full 21.2 cubic feet of gear hauling volume behind its rear seats and an impressive 47.5 cubic feet when they’re laid (mostly) flat, making it perfect for people that have a lot going on in their lives.
One very good thing about buying a car that’s been around for a while is a better chance for all the bugs to have been ironed out. Case in point, the Accent was the highest ranked small car in the latest J.D. Power and Associates 2015 Initial Quality Study (IQS), while the Hyundai brand ranked fourth best out of 33 total auto brands available in North America. If that’s not enough to placate any brand-switching anxiety, Hyundai’s better than average five-year or 60,000 mile comprehensive warranty, and 10-year 100,000 mile powertrain warranty should do the trick-price out the extra two years of basic coverage and five years of powertrain coverage needed from an aftermarket warranty supplier if you go for most of the Accent’s competitors and you’ll see the value in this feature alone.
Yes, the Accent proves there are some very good benefits that come with aging, so whether you’re now entering adulthood and purchasing your first new car, hovering around 30-something with a new family and requirement for a little extra room from your ride, or doing your best to enjoy your retirement on a fixed income, Hyundai has a car that delivers good style, plenty of features, great performance, excellent fuel economy, superb reliability and an awesome warranty. Consider the Accent very seriously.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press; Copyright: American Auto Press.