Sunday, July 16, 2006

Three Bucks a Gallon and a Hyundai Accent Looks Pretty Good

What can be said about an automobile that has about as much personality as a can opener? With petrol selling for three bucks a gallon, quite a bit, actually. So what about the Hyundai Accent?

By the normal standards of automotive criticism, the Accent is just another faceless, boring little econocar sought only by first-time buyers on a tight budget who view their daily driver as nothing more than a way to get from point A to point B.

But the normal standards don’t always apply, especially when you are dealing with the most expensive per-gallon fuel costs of the modern era, so the Accent bears special attention.

So let’s get the negatives out of the way first, beginning with the fact the Accent is not a performer. Its 1.6 liter 110 horsepower four cylinder just doesn’t have sufficient torque to make things happen except in a deliberate manner, particularly when it is hooked to the four-speed automatic transmission, as was my Dark Sapphire Blue tester.

The 12.40 second 0-60 mph time reflects the lack of power. Thus, driving the automatic transmissioned Accent requires being comfortable with life in the slow lane. Getting up significant grades always means a downshift or two and lots of noise as the little four does its best to keep things moving.

But there are a lot of good things here. The exterior styling is not exactly inspiring but it’s decent enough. And the interior is spacious for the econocar class and tastefully outfitted with an appealing two-tone color scheme. Instrumentation is straight forward and easy to use. An unexpected plus is the driver’s armrest – ala minivan practice – that comes in handy if your daily commute includes lots of bumper-to-bumper crawl.

Where the Accent shines is on the value side of the equation, thanks to the standard equipment list that includes six air bags, anti-lock brakes, tilt steering and rear-seat armrests. My loaded GLS tester came in at $14,870, which under prices a similarly equipped Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla.

On the fuel economy side, my tester compiled a 27.5 mpg overall figure during its week in the test fleet. Considering the official EPA figures are 28 city and 36 highway, the 27.5 figure might seem like a let-down. But it’s not uncommon for actual mileage to vary by a noticeable amount from the official government figures, mainly due to the unrealistic driving cycle used by the EPA.

In any case, the Accent is pleasant enough, offers lots of room and versatility and never feels like a penalty box on wheels. It’s still an automotive appliance, but let’s not sneer at efficiency and value. At least not until the price of gas comes down.