2016 Hyundai Accent

2016 Hyundai Accent front view
2016 Hyundai Accent. Photo Aaron Gold

First, the Bottom Line

Hyundai made their name with small, inexpensive cars, but they’ve since moved on to bigger and better things—and if you haven’t been to a Hyundai showroom lately, you really ought to go for a visit. I’m sure you’ll be impressed. (Same for Hyundai’s sister brand, Kia.) But what about the inexpensive cars on which Hyundai cut their teeth? I spent a week with Hyundai’s entry-level Accent to see if they still make a decent cheap car.

Pros:

  • Attractive styling inside and out
  • User-friendly interior makes it easy to live with
  • Good value-for-money in higher end models

Cons:

  • Mediocre real-world fuel economy
  • Base model is sparsely equipped

 

Hyundai is a company that has undergone an amazing transition. Thirty years ago, they made their beachhead in the US with low-priced basic transportation. Today, they make some of the best cars in the industry—cars like the Sonata and Tucson, which rival the best sedans and SUVs from Japan, and the Genesis (soon to be part of its own sub-brand), arguably the best-value luxury car you can buy.

But what about the small, simple cars they started out with? Has Hyundai forgotten their roots? I spent a week with a 2016 Accent to find out.

The Accent made an excellent first impression. My test car was a handsome hatchback in Sport trim, and it had all the attributes that make cheap cars so endearing. The interior is great: It features simple controls and big windows that let in lots of light and give the cabin a light, airy feeling.

The front seats are comfy, and back seat space is okay—not best in class, but decent for occasional use. Cargo volume behind the rear seats is a healthy 21.2 cubic feet, more than the commodious Honda Fit (16.2).

With a 137-horsepower 1.6 liter engine under the hood, the Accent provided all the zip I needed.

My test car had a six-speed manual transmission, but with a light clutch and precise shifter, driving in traffic-choked Los Angeles didn't bother me one bit. The light steering was nice in city traffic, but I found that the Accent lacks the crisp handling response of more agile small cars like the Ford Fiesta and the Honda Fit.

After a few days of driving, however, I started to see cracks in the facade. With cloth-upholstered seats under my butt, I assumed I was driving a low- or mid-level accent, but I was surprised to learn that I was in the top-of-the-line Sport model. Many of the Accent's competitors offer leather (or at least a reasonable substitute) in their high-end trim levels, but the Accent comes with cloth upholstery across the board.

When talking about small cars, safety is important, and the Accent does… okay. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rates it Good (their highest rating—and seriously, IIHS, is “good” as good as it gets? Why not use “stupendous” or “brilliant” or at least “great”?) for their offset front crash and roof strength, but Average (second-highest) for side impact. And in the relatively-new small-overlap crash test—which has been kicking the butts of many vehicles—the Accent rates “Poor”, the lowest (and most aptly named) rating.

The current version of the Accent was designed in 2012, before the small-overlap crash test became a thing. Many automakers (including Hyundai) have been beefing up their cars to pass this tough new test, but so far the Accent has not received such treatment.

But the biggest disappointment was fuel economy. The Accent is rated at 27 MPG city/38 MPG highway/31 MPG combined with a manual transmission and 26 MPG city/37 MPG highway/30 MPG combined with an automatic transmission. Those numbers are nothing to write home about when you compare them to cars like the Honda Fit, rated at 33 MPG city/41 MPG highway/36 MPG combined with an automatic transmission, or the Chevrolet Spark, rated at 31 MPG city/41 MPG highway/35 MPG combined. Even the Honda Civic, a significantly larger car, is rated higher at 31 MPG city/41 MPG highway/35 MPG combined.

Unfortunately, real-world fuel economy isn’t much better. I usually wind up somewhere around the EPA combined figure (31 MPG for the manual Accent I was driving). But by the end of test week, I was only averaging 29.5 MPG—a figure that is borderline shameful for such a small car.

Though the Accent didn’t deliver the fuel economy I was looking for, I thought the value-for-money it offered was decent. The Accent Sport I tested was priced at $17,330 (including destination charge) and came with air conditioning, Bluetooth, alloy wheels, cruise control, and leather on the steering wheel and shifter. A comparably equipped Honda Fit (the EX model) lists for $1,305 more. A similarly-kitted-out Toyota Yaris (the LE model) lists for $17,755, though it does include an automatic transmission ($1,000 more on the Hyundai). If you’re worried about plummeting resale values compared to Japanese cars, keep in mind that Hyundais have had much better residuals in recent years.

That said, lower-spec Accents aren’t as good a value. The entry-level Accent SE sedan lists for $15,580 and is pretty meanly equipped. If you need a small car on a very tight budget, you’re better off with a Nissan Versa, which starts under $13k and can be nicely equipped for under $16,000.

Overall, I enjoyed my week with the Hyundai Accent. To me, it embodies most of the important attributes of a cheap car: It's good to drive, easy to live with, and, unlike Hyundai's earliest cars, it feels very well built—and Hyundai backs it with a 5 year/60,000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, which will give peace-of-mind to owners on a budget.

Would I recommend the Hyundai Accent? It's hard to endorse an economy car that gets such poor fuel economy, especially when there are so many good (and more fuel-efficient) competitors on the market. I spend a lot of time writing about small, inexpensive cars, and I definitely have my favorites: The Ford Fiesta for driving enjoyment, the Honda Fit for practicality and interior room, the Chevrolet Spark for safety, and the Nissan Versa for plain ol’ value for money.

So I can’t honestly say that the Accent is on the top of my recommendation list—but if someone told me they were buying an Accent, I certainly wouldn’t discourage them. ­– Aaron Gold

Details and specs:

  • Hyundai’s entry-level car has been largely unchanged since 2012
  • Price range: $15,580 - $18,330
  • Price as tested: $17,330
  • Powertrain: 1.6 liter four-cylinder/137 hp, 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic, front-wheel-drive
  • EPA fuel economy estimates: 27 MPG city/38 MPG highway/31 MPG combined (manual), 26 MPG city/37 MPG highway/30 MPG combined (automatic)
  • Observed fuel economy: 29.5 MPG
  • Where built: South Korea
  • Best rivals: Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, Chevrolet Spark