An interesting question was posed by a fellow journalist the day after driving the 2012 Hyundai Accent: what is this going to do to sales of the white-hot 2011 Hyundai Elantra?
The Hyundai Elantra is the seventh-best selling sedan in the United States (just a couple spots behind its bigger sibling the Sonata). Its perch has to be threatened by the Hyundai Accent, which is arriving in four-door version in dealers and now soon to be followed by the five-door hatchback model.
After all, the four-door model starts at $12,445 with the five-door hatch being $14,595 (before the $760 delivery charge). Plus, the Accent is rated at 30 mpg city and 40 mpg highway. The only thing it really gives up to the Elantra, besides price, is 10 horsepower and four inches of wheelbase.
OK, that’s being a bit simplistic, there are lots of other differences between the two models. While I agree with the sentiment that the Accent could siphon off some Elantra sales, I think it’s going to do some real damage among the competition, which is chiefly defined as the Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris, Chevy Aveo (soon to be Sonic) and the Mazda2.
Of that group, Ford should be the most concerned because the Accent compares to it in looks, beats it in price, and wins the power game while providing better fuel economy. The Yaris, Mazda2 and Honda Fit will lose some customers, too, but the Fiesta will be most challenged because Hyundai, it is safe to say, now offers the best sub-compact in the United States. The Fiesta had that honor until now.
The model I drove during a media preview in Las Vegas was the five-door hatchback with six-speed manual transmission. Its shifter was seamless as it effortlessly clicked through the gears under brisk acceleration. A good manual transmission hits all the gears the first time out with little thought from the driver. You don’t want to distracted while hunting for gears.
It is powered by an all-aluminum 1.6-liter Gamma four-cylinder engine that produces a class-leading 138 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque. It uses gas direct injection, a first in the sub-compact class, which helps improve its fuel efficiency 18 percent overall from last year’s model. Just to keep piling on to the Fiesta, the Accent has 15 percent more horsepower while delivering roughly 3 percent better fuel economy. The next most powerful subcompact would be the Aveo and that’s a whopping 23 percent less powerful.
The strongest safety feature on the Accent is four disk brakes that provide strong stopping power of 138 feet from 60 mph. I tested the brakes twice while driving around Lake Mead in Nevada and both times stopping power instant and straight.
Typical with Hyundai’s commitment to safety in the last five years, the Accent has two front impact airbags, two front seat-mounted side impact airbags, and curtain side-impact airbags for front and rear passengers. Active head restraints are also standard, which Hyundai points out are not available on the Fiesta, Yaris, Aveo or Mazda2.
All this power, safety and fuel efficiency combines to create a car that is just fun to drive. It rides quietly for a vehicle in this price class. Is it Lexus quiet? No, but neither does engine noise invade the cabin except under the hardest of shifts. You can quietly zip around at speeds north of 80 mph in relative solitude.
The interior of the Hyundai Accent is surprisingly upscale for an entry-level vehicle. Its plastic interior is soft to the touch because of the integration of volcanic ash into its materials. It’s a little thing but the grain of the plastic flowed smoothly from door to dashboard with no discernible break.
Interior space is also good because the Accent is actually rated as a compact by the EPA. Shoulder room is more than ample. The space in the back would be tight for two six-footers with similar size passengers in the front but kids are going to find it more than spacious. Cargo space in the hatchback is also best in class.
OK, so what’s wrong with the Accent? For its starting price of $12,445? Nothing. There might be things you don’t like but now when you compare it against other vehicles in its price range. (For instance, the driver’s side window is automatic down but not up, which is useful when driving a standard.)
And, finally, here’s a little economics lesson for you. How can Hyundai sell such value packed cars at low prices? Apparently, the U.S. dollar is still strong against the Korean currency. Take advantage of that if you’re in the new car market. Plus, Korean supplies are strong.
(For the latest new car news, follow me on Twitter at aboutusedcars. You can also learn about buying and selling a used car at UsedCars.About.com.)
Wheelbase: 101.2 inches
Length: 162.0 inches
Width: 66.9 inches
Height: 57.1 inches
Curb weight: 2430 lbs.
Engine: 1.4-liter, four-cylinder
Horsepower: 138 @ 6,300 rpm
Torque: 123 lb-ft @ 4,850 rpm
EPA estimated mpg city/highway: 30/40
Base price: $14,595
As-tested price: $15,895
Also consider: (a comparative vehicle) Toyota Yaris, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Mazda Mazda2