Hyundai's new Accent subcompacts come ashore with low prices
Date Posted: 5/10/2005
The pre-production version of Hyundai's new sedan, sized in midget scale and tinted to resemble a sherbert flavor, awaited me on Broadway in downtown Portland. A map in the door pocket displayed the route to Tillamook, 77 miles to the west on Oregon's rugged coast.
Set both side mirrors, shove the short stick into first gear, crank up that teeny engine, plug my radar detector into the lighter's socket, and then we were off, this Accent and I, heading south on Broadway for six blocks before hooking right to catch the freeway leading west on Route 26 up a steep slope past Washington Park.
Traffic seemed heavy, despite the late morning hour, and I cut from one lane to another to expedite my rush out of town, passing everything on the road.
Distracted by all that traffic, I was well beyond the exit to Beaverton before realizing what I was actually maneuvering from lane to lane.
This was a wee little Hyundai, I reminded myself, and its pint-sized engine produced less than 100 horsepower.
So why was I able to move so assuredly down the road?
I slowed to review the facts.
These new wheels I steered, wrapped in a cute little package with curvaceous corners and high wrap of window glass, contained Hyundai's new Alpha engine, a 4-in-line with aluminum cylinder heads, three valves in each cylinder and single cam on top, multi-point sequential electronic fuel injection and distributorless electronic ignition.
Output reaches only 92 hp at 5500 rpm, but there's juicy torque in lower gears and even some thrust remaining in fifth overdrive.
Of course, the whole package weights only 2,105 pounds.
So that's part of the reason why this little thing feels so zippy: There's not much mass to consider, and what there is cuts through thin air with low resistance, thanks to aerodynamic streamlining of the exterior design and maximizing of torque quotient and gear ratios.
Rack and pinion steering produces a lively feeling to the wheel, and a new 4-wheel independent suspension system with MacPherson struts up front creates a nimble and surprisingly smooth-riding platform.
The front geometry of this new suspension works to reduce tendencies to dive and squat when accelerating and braking, and the addition of a front stabilizer bar helps control body roll from side to side.
As I wound between coastal peaks in a series of switchbacks later that day, another realization surfaced.
This little car is actually quite fun to drive.
That's not a statement I could make about Accent's predecessor, Excel. As Hyundai's first subcompact in this country, Excel charged into our market in the mid-1980s, fueled by a price tag that dipped below $5,000. Several years later, though, sales fell as word spread from buyers about their dissatisfaction because Excel proved to be merely what it proclaimed -- a cheap set of wheels.
Eventually, Hyundai's marketeers realized that to compete in the United States, the company must not only provide inexpensive products but dependable ones too. Subsequent models like the subcompact Elantra sedan and sporty little Scoupe coupe addressed quality issues as the Hyundai brand earned new consumer confidence.
Now comes Accent to eradicate Excel with a new chassis that pushes wheels to the corners, the new engine with far more horsepower and torque than Accent's two closest competitors, a nice interior with room for up to five, plus safety systems which begin with dual airbags.
Accent will be offered as a 3-door hatchback in two trim levels, plus the 4-door sedan, with all models riding on the new chassis with a 94.5-inch wheelbase.
As I discovered, Accent feels peppy and is downright pleasant to drive, and it's a comfortable car too.
But here's the most important point: Hyundai has created a price structure for Accent's three models to position them below the price of rivals.
That makes Accent the lowest priced car in the country.
Measure it against others in this teeny class and Accent's bottom line undercuts by as much as $1,000.
Entry level begins with the Accent L 3-door hatchback, which from the outset is projected to capture the bulk of customers due to a low price and solid features.
The base Accent's amenities include full carpeting inside, front center console with cupholder, side window defoggers and electric rear window defroster, intermittent windshield wipers, front map pockets on the doors, reclining front bucket seats with adjustable headrests, passenger vanity mirror, folding rear seatback, and convenient lighting for the rear cargo bay.
Exterior styling lines for the 3-door Accent conceal the hatchback's lid in the shape of a slick little coupe.
Inside, legroom for front and rear seat riders measures as much as in the 4-door sedan's edition, and headroom in the front seat also stays the same.
A second hatchback, simply called Accent, adds perks like a digital quartz clock, remote release for rear decklid, exterior bodyside moldings and full wheel covers.
The single sedan edition, also labeled Accent, provides rear door child safety locks and roll-down rear windows.
A 1-piece instrument panel has white-on-black gauges, with various warning lights showing mechanical functions.
Accent options begin with a new electronically-controlled 4-speed automatic transmission. The hatchback version I tested was equipped with this new shift system and seemed extremely quiet and efficient. That fourth overdrive gear is a rarity in such a small car.
Other options range from air conditioning to a choice of sound packages including one with compact disc player, tinted glass, a manually-tilting moonroof, plus power assistance added to rack and pinion steering.
A 4-wheel anti-lock brake system is also optional.
From every angle, Accent looks good, and it definitely feels good to drive. As the lowest priced car in the country, that's one sweet deal.
| Vehicle Specifications:
| 1995 HYUNDAI ACCENT Specs
||Subcompact hatchback, sedan
| Model Options:
||Subcompact hatchback, sedan
| Overall Length:
||3-door: 161.5 inches
4-door: 162.1 inches
| Engine Size:
||SOHC 1.5-L I-4 12-v
| Gas Mileage:
||$ 8,200 to $ 12,000