|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
The first-generation Accent was difficult to take seriously mainly because of its transmission. With a 5-speed manual as its solitary gearbox option, it required potential buyers to be comfortable in shifting gears themselves, effectively limiting its appeal to either fleet buyers or enthusiasts who were looking for an affordable but quick car. Of course, all that’s changed with the all-new, second-generation Accent which sees the powerful yet frugal diesel engine paired with a 4-speed automatic for the first time. But more on that later.
First up, there’s no denying that the new Accent is a head-turner. Despite becoming a regular sight on Philippine roads, thanks to “Fluidic Sculpture”, it still looks futuristic, dynamic, and sleek. Upfront, the Accent has the signature hexagonal grille and swept-back headlights giving it a compact and athletic face. Even the fog lamps, an often neglected feature, have been shaped to resemble a Nike “swoosh” by integrating a chrome highlight. At the side, a sharp crease running upward gives the Accent a sense of strength and motion, while the sleek side mirrors (seemingly shared with the Sonata) integrates an LED turn indicator. Because the Accent CRD is available solely as a hatchback, the rear terminates somewhat abruptly after the C-pillar. But Hyundai designers have cleverly hidden this by adding a standard roof spoiler as well as curvy, vertical tail lamps. Properly filling up the wheel wells are generous 16-inch alloys with 195/50R16 tires.
The Accent’s design is strong, especially compared side-by-side to the rest of the B-segment (sub-compact) cars. However, there are some minor details which are clearly the victims of “form over function” thinking. For instance, visibility is impaired, especially at the back. The sweeping side view mirrors and rear glass make maneuvering into parking spaces a bit more difficult compared to if Hyundai simply squared them off or at least made them larger. Next, the rear hatch opening is oddly-shaped because of the tail lamp cluster. Though the cargo area is cavernous, making large objects fit through the opening requires some careful placement.
Like the Accent’s head-turning exterior, Hyundai has worked hard to inject bags of style into the interior. Within the compact frame, the interior is roomy for four, but merely sufficient for five. Though the fabrics and plastics are done on a budget, everything exudes a solid feel from the steering wheel (which is covered in leather) to the switchgear. All the pieces are placed for ease of use, and nothing looks or feels cheap or flimsy. Together with generous use of curves and strong creases, the all-black treatment gives a dead-serious sporty look while the metallic trim smattered around adds some color.
The Accent also comes reasonably loaded with all the features you’ve come to expect in a top-of-the-line sub-compact and then some. Aside from the aforementioned leather covering on the wheel, it gets audio controls as well. The easy-to-read gauges are backlit in LED and come with a standard on-board computer with functions such as Average Fuel Consumption and Distance to Empty. The driver’s seat features height adjustment and the gated shifter has a +/- manual override. At the back, a 60/40 spit-folding rear seat and a tonneau cover for the cargo area are standard. In the safety aspect, the Accent features four-wheel disc brakes (a rarity in this segment), head rests for all occupants (including three at the back), anti-lock brakes, and get this: even ISOFIX child seat anchors.
Excellently finished and well-featured, there’s only one complaint you can level at the Accent’s interior and it’s not their fault: the 1-DIN JVC audio system. Though it gives a decent sound and offers an ample array of audio inputs including Apple iPod support and even Bluetooth hands-free, it looks cheap compared to the rest of the cabin. Plus, the display and buttons are all miniscule distracting drivers who should otherwise be concentrated on driving. Perhaps Hyundai should consider upgrading the audio unit to a factory-integrated unit instead.
The Accent offers delight in both its exterior and interior design, but the real treat is found under the hood. Where the small-displacement gasoline would normally reside, the Accent instead has a diesel. Nearly silent at idle and pleasantly whining in action, the new 1.6-liter engine is thoroughly modern thanks to a variable geometry turbo. It generates a peak power of 128 horsepower—enough to outmuscle the competition and then you add the killer blow: 260 Nm of torque. This enormous amount is a figure usually seen in larger displacement gasoline engine and for a vehicle that tops out at 1,240 kilograms, that’s a lot of force. Simply put, the Accent is the most affordable way to experience the rush of “pressed-to-your-seat” acceleration.
If you want to drive normally, be gentle on the throttle. With the ECO coaching light activated and a well-spaced gearbox, the Accent shifts just below 2,000 rpm delivering decent acceleration while sipping fuel parsimoniously (13.33 km/L in the city and a whopping 29.41 km/L on the highway). Then the devil whispers into your ear, and your right foot goes to the floor. Once the peak torque kicks in at 1,900 rpm, the Accent rockets forward and you have the comical effect of shooting past all other traffic ala The Looney Tunes’ Road Runner. The front tires will then squeal, fighting for grip, rocking the steering wheel violently left and right. Therefore, it’s best to modulate the throttle moderately. In-gear acceleration is superb, making short work of overtaking. This car can also easily climb up steep uphill grades whereas most competing vehicles will huff and puff their way forward.
The Accent reacts well to steering input, but there’s almost no feedback. The steering is light despite the fact that it’s a more traditional hydraulic power assist set-up. Employing this set-up may seem a step backward from the electric power assist of the previous model, but at least it makes the Accent stable even at triple digit speeds. It must be noted too that the turning radius of the Accent is better than some of its sportier rivals. The suspension is a tried-and-tested MacPherson Strut/Torsion Beam Axle set-up, but Hyundai decidedly tuned the ride to be on the softer, comfier ride. It’s still mighty precise through bends, but there’s some degree of understeer. The brakes stop the car efficiently, but there’s initial hesitation to its bite.
Undoubtedly, the best part about the Hyundai Accent is its price. At P 868,000 it’s still well within the top bracket of the sub-compact range. Yet, it has the features that you’ve come to expect and demand from a car in this price range. Indeed, there are a multitude of alternatives, but the Accent offers the diesel trump card, an interesting feature which others don’t have. Plus, it offers some styling pizzazz and truly useable space to go with it. Indeed, whether it’s the first-generation or the second-generation Accent, it offers a pleasantly big surprise.