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Hyundai Swings for the Fence with New Accent

The all new Hyundai Accent has just been introduced and it may be the final part of Hyundai’s grand slam in sedans. First the Genesis, winner of AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award (VSA) in each of its three years on the market. Then the all new 2011 Sonata that won the only President’s Award (highest VSA score ever) given by AutoPacific and then won best in class for the model year. The all new Hyundai Elantra won best in class among compact cars for the 2011 model year. Three out of three isn’t bad. The new Accent is certainly a contender.

Segment Leader? Hyundai, like Ford with its Fiesta, has taken the economy car up a notch. Recognizing that even buyers of the least expensive cars want to drive something they can be proud of and not be sentenced to a penalty box, Hyundai has launched a car you can be proud to drive.  Its styling goes from frumpy to sexy in one generation.  Accent wears Hyundai’s new styling cues very well.  At a glance, it looks like the more expensive Elantra.

Like Fiesta, the Accent is available in four-door sedan and five-door hatchback bodystyles.  Where Fiesta skimps on its size, especially in the rear seat, Accent does not.  It is a large small car.  It fact, in government size classes Accent is classified as a “compact” car rather than a “subcompact”.

This small car is substantial and quiet.  It’s interior materials are top notch for the class.  It looks premium for its segment with upscale textures that show thought was put into each and every component. The seats are comfortable and supportive.  Ergonomics are very good with the important stuff within reach.

Best In Class Powertrain – 6-speed Automatic Transmission: Accent is powered by a 1.6L Gamma 4-cylinder engine with gasoline direct injection.  It provides 138-horsepower; enough to give the car spritely performance and win the brochure war (best number) in its class.  The standard transmission is a 6-speed manual.  Optional is a 6-speed automatic.  Fuel economy is 30mpg in the city and 40mpg on the highway.  Hitting the 40mpg mark takes an optional package on some small cars (like Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus and Ford Fiesta) but it’s standard on the Accent (and its larger brethren – the Elantra).

Substantial Price Increase: All of this doesn’t come cheap.  The new Accent (base car – 4-door manual transmission GLS model) is priced over $13,000 with destination added.  This is a $2,500 increase over its predecessor, but still over a $1,000 price advantage over the Fiesta SFE (40mpg model) when comparably equipped.

One place Hyundai may have missed the boat… no available navigation system.  Of course, navigation systems are not part of the expected feature load of a small economy car, but the world is changing and buyers are expecting more advanced technology features on their cars.

Driving the Accent: Back in the good ol’ days, I drove one of the first Hyundai Excels to be sold in the USA.  It was a horrifying experience.  On the freeway the car was all over the road.  There was no such thing as a crisp lane change.  You just wallowed from lane to lane.  Sloppy was a good description of both the steering and suspension.  Lowest common denominator at the worst.  Of course, the car was very inexpensive.  It challenged the Yugo for lowest price car at the time.  Not to fear.  The 2012 Accent is a completely different animal.  It is substantial feeling and quiet on the road.  Hyundai has tamed both road noise and wind noise in their lowest price entry.  Performance is more than adequate and an automatic equipped Accent can be thought of as “pleasant” to drive.  Not exciting, mind you, but a perfectly satisfactory driving experience for all but the most sporting drivers.

Accent Sales Could More Than Double: Hyundai won’t readily admit it, but they have been growing so fast in the USA and worldwide that they are running out of capacity to build cars for this market.  The Hyundai plant in Alabama is full to overflowing and so is the new Kia plant in Georgia.  The Accent will be produced in Korea.  Will they be able to get enough of them?  Well, Hyundai sold over 50,000 of the predecessor model last year.  Without capacity constraints, the 2012 should do much better.  Double, anyone?

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