Selling a car in the subcompact/compact classes is an exercise in balance.
For one thing, car buyers will no tolerate a penalty box, even at cheap price points (the Mitsubishi Mirage notwithstanding). Thereâ€™s a baseline of expectations thatâ€™s higher than it once was. Case in point: A previous-generation Hyundai Accent rental nearly drove one of our writers to tears on a recent vacation.
Enter the redesigned 2018 Hyundai Accent. Content matters now in this class, and two of the three trims offer the features most buyers have come to expect these days.
Hyundai keeps it simple with the new Accent. Thereâ€™s just three trims, one engine, and two transmissions. Options are grouped by trim level.
That one engine is a 1.6-liter four-cylinder that makes 130 horsepower and 119 lb-ft of torque, and it pairs with either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic.
Full disclosure: Hyundai invited Chicago-area media to their regional office and fed us a nice lunch as part of the drive event.
Before you get too excited about #savethemanuals, please note that the stick is only available on the base car, which is the SE trim. The other two available Accents are the mid-level SEL and top-trim Limited.
My drive was brief and consisted merely of suburban surface streets, and Hyundai didnâ€™t bring any SELs to the event. So I spent my time in the fully-equipped Limited and the stripped-down base model with the manual.
First up, the Limited. Hyundai equips this trim with fog lamps, LED headlights, hands-free remote trunk release, sunroof, heated front seats, push-button start, automatic climate control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and its BlueLink â€œtelematicsâ€� system. Those features are all not available on the SEL or base model. Oh, by the way, leather seats arenâ€™t available on any trim level.
Even when well-equipped with a lot of desirable content, the Accent has hard plastic trim everywhere, including at all the key touch points. That may be the biggest letdown here â€“ even at this price point, hard plastic where one rests his or her elbows makes for a major annoyance.
That aside, the Accent delivers on other fronts. By no means is it quick, but it keeps up with traffic well enough. Passing punch is lacking, but the engine is stout enough for standard commuting duty, and the six-speed auto was unobtrusive.
Hyundai has actually dialed in some feel to the steering â€“ itâ€™s engaging enough for this class, and not far off that of the Toyota Yaris iA (formerly Scion iA) or the Honda Fit. The ride can best be described as â€œcompetent.â€�
Shifting to the stick-shift base model (pun intended) was illustrative. The clutch is dialed-in nicely with a perfect take-up point, and the gearbox is satisfying to row, but the car is still not quick. Not to mention that the interior feels even cheaper. While you do get a USB port and Bluetooth, you get just a 5-inch screen in the center stack, as opposed to the 7-inch unit in the two upper trims. You do at least get air conditioning and power door locks, however.
The SEL may end up being the volume seller, pending pricing. While it comes with none of the specific Limited-only features mentioned a few paragraphs up, it still offers the 7-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and tilt and telescope steering wheel (the wheel in the base car tilts only). If you can forego a sunroof, heated seats, and automatic climate control, this could be the trim for you.
Other key features of note: The base car has rear drum brakes (yes, in 2017) and 15-inch steel wheels, while the SEL has 15-inch alloys and the Limited has 17-inch wheels. I didnâ€™t notice a big difference between the 15s and 17s, but again, the sample size was small.
Driverâ€™s assistance tech is limited to automatic emergency braking (only available on Limited), hill-start assist control, and a standard rearview camera. Of course, rearview cameras will become standard by government decree starting next calendar year.
From a looks perspective, the Accent is plain but handsome, with a nice stance and a roofline that flows nicely into the back deck. Thereâ€™s a hint of Ford Fiesta sedan in the way the body appears to rise from front to rear.
The interior is cleanly drawn and functional, with knobs and buttons where they should be. Hyundai kept it simple here, to its benefit. Yet attractiveness doesnâ€™t suffer for the sake of simplicity. The cabin is also spacious enough for most adults.
Road noise is an issue â€“ the Accent isnâ€™t quiet, especially when the engine is working hard. Thatâ€™s not unusual for the lower end of the price spectrum, but the noise is intrusive nonetheless.
The Accent, almost by default, is now one of the strongest buys in the class, along with the iA and Fit. But thereâ€™s a pricing problem â€“ the Accent costs a tad more than its Toyota brethren. It starts at $14,995, adding $1,000 for the automatic (SE models). The SEL comes in at $17,295 and the Limited at $18,895. Destination and delivery is $885.
So you have the iA and the Fiesta checking in for less money, and Hyundaiâ€™s own Elantra/Elantra GT costing not much more. Yes, those are base prices and the Elantra will cost more when extras unavailable on the Accent are tacked on â€“ but if the monthly payment isnâ€™t much more, why not walk up to an Elantra?
Not to mention the Honda Fit hatchback is right there at the same price point. And you can get a manual without sacrificing as much content on the Fit and iA.
On its own merits, the Accent is well-done â€“ a handsome little runabout with a decent content mix and driving dynamics that donâ€™t punish, even if they arenâ€™t best in class. Itâ€™s no penalty box. But it doesnâ€™t stand out either for being fun to drive or as a value proposition.
In the end, you get a pretty good car that doesnâ€™t rise above the rest. For a lot of buyers, thatâ€™s more than good enough.
[Images: Â© 2017 Tim Healey/The Truth About Cars]