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The Poor Man’s Hyundai

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2014 Hyundai Accent GS Sedan

Let’s say you’re a young person who wants a new car. But, sadly, you’re a high-school drop-out, knocking tin in the construction industry as an air conditioning installer. Or you’re a recent college graduate working at your first office job in the mailroom. Basically, you’re young, and just starting out in life. Unless you have rich, benevolent parents, that means you’re a dirty, poor person.

2014 Hyundai Accent SedanYou may be a very good person, but, let’s face it, if your primary dietary staple is ramen noodles…well, that means no 558 HP Cadillac or Mercedes AMG for you. A 300 HP BMW 3-series is right out, too. Even a 200 HP Scion FR-S is far beyond your means.

Oh, sure, you could look around at used cars. Unfortunately, while you could probably swing the loan for the fifteen grand or so that a 10 year-old BMW M3 would cost, you’re far too poor to pay the monstrous maintenance bills that go along with a complicated foreign car. You need a new car, with low, low maintenance costs and warranty coverage in case things go south. So, if you want a new car, and you’re a dirty, poor person, you’ll have to troll down at the shallow end of the vehicle pool.

Sooner or later, that means you’ll probably take a look at the inexpensive little Hyundai Accent. This is Hyundai’s entry-level car, with a base retail MSRP of $14,465. That’s a grand cheaper than the Dodge Dart, and only $300 more than a base Chevy Sonic LS. In other words, the Hyundai is about as entry-level as a car can get. And an entry-level car is just what you need to match your entry-level one-room apartment, with its entry-level shotgun kitchen supplied with entry-level beans and rice. And beer, of course.

How it looks

It’s pretty enough on the outside, I suppose. I has attractive lines, and is nicely sculpted. Looking at the front end dead-on, though, the headlights and lower grill make a face that reminds me of a particularly slack-jawed and dull child that’s just been asked a moderately difficult mathematics question. But is doesn’t have stupid fake vents or other outrageous styling cues, so, overall, it’s fairly attractive. The Accent implements Hyundai’s Fluidic Sculpture design theme, so it looks a lot like a smaller Sonata or Elantra.

I’m afraid the inside is a bit worse. The dashboard and center console are thermoplastic olefin. The seat upholstery and carpeting are made of olefin fiber. In other words, literally everything in the interior is plastic. I guess the best thing that can be said is that Hyundai at least went for a pleasing cross-hatched design molded into the hard plastic, instead of the weird fake leather texture that most automakers choose. I mean, you can mold any design you want into the plastic surfaces, so why is obviously fake leather the standard choice?

39770_1_1And it’s still more attractive inside than a Chevrolet Sonic. The headliner is actual cloth, for instance, instead of the Chevy’s pressed paperboard. And you get a nice, full driver’s instrument cluster, with a little TFT color status screen mounted between the analog tachometer and speedometer. Everything’s well-designed, too, with good ergonomics. Yes, there’s lots of hard plastic everywhere, but it’s not really, you know, ugly. And, really, 10 years ago, you wouldn’t have thought anything at all about all the hard plastic.

If you’re willing to spend a little extra on options, you get a full set of driver’s controls for Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, and stereo controls. And you’ll get electric door locks and window controls as well. You also get satellite radio, and USB connectivity, too.

The real surprise of the Accent is the amount of space you get inside. It’s like The Doctor’s TARDIS in there. Despite being a bit tiny on the outside, the EPA upgraded the Hyundai’s rating from subcompact to compact on the strength of the interior room. This means that 4 adults can be comfortably accommodated inside without going psychotic like rats in a coffee can during a long commute. The Accent’s interior is larger than the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta, Chevrolet Sonic, Mazda2 and Nissan Versa. The trunk is also pretty roomy for its class, giving you 13.7 cubic feet. So, just because you’re a dirty, poor person doesn’t mean you can’t get comfy and stretch out.

How it Drives

Nor does it mean that the driving experience has to totally suck, either. First off, the Accent is powered by a 1.6L I4 motor that spits out 138 HP and 123 torques. That gets you to 60 MPH in less than 10 seconds from a full stop, which is actually quite good indeed for this class of car—though the Chevy Sonic is a bit faster.

The suspension is surprisingly firm, yet comfortable, which actually tempts you to try and toss it through corners a little bit, because the ride is so composed. It’s not exactly sporty, but it does prove that you don’t have to sacrifice a decent ride in a budget, entry-level car. It’s obviously not up to sport-car handling, of course, and the engine gets a little shouty and unpleasant when you push it hard, but the ride is perfectly livable for a daily driver.

The steering is the usual electric power steering set-up, so there’s really no feel to it at all. Not that it matters. You’re not going to be racing a BMW M5 through mountain passes, and it doesn’t really have enough power to break grip anyway.

You can get the Accent with standard a 6-speed manual transmission, which is pretty user-friendly, but, it also comes with a very nice 6-speed automatic as well, though it costs an extra grand. The automatic unit is also shiftable on demand, so in a car of this class, the auto unit gives you the best of both worlds. Though really, you’ll never use the shifty bit on the auto unit. You’ll just drive, and forget about it. The manual transmission version is noticeably quicker, operates smoothly, and saves you a thousand bucks.

The Accent is rated for 27 MPG city and 38 MPG on the highway. That’s not great for the class, and your actual mileage probably won’t be quite as good. But, you’re getting a zippier car than most subcompacts, so a little worse mileage is probably the price you pay for the extra dollop of performance.

You get traction control and stability control with the Accent, as well as a host of safety features like side curtain airbags and whatnot. That sounds great, but in reality, they’re just OK. It gets 4 out of 5 stars in crash testing, so the safety features are good, but not great. On the other hand, if you run up against a soccer mom in a Tahoe, it doesn’t matter how many safety stars it gets. It’s a small car. The Tahoe will crush it. What’re you gonna do?

Braking is decent in the Accent, as well. It takes 147 feet to come to a full stop from 70 miles an hour. The ABS system works smoothly, and it doesn’t get squirrely under hard braking. It also comes with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD). The EBD system checks the grip on each wheel and constantly changes the braking power to the individual wheels to provide the best braking for the available grip at each wheel. 15 years ago, this would’ve been a feature available only on something like the Mercedes S-Class, now you, the dirty, poor person, can have it on your compact car.

You will also have a 10-year, 10,000 mile warranty. Sure, the Sonic might be a bit faster, and the Kia Rio might be nicer inside, but Hyundai’s 10 years of warranty protection is hard to beat, and adds to the Accent’s value proposition.

What’s good about it

It has decent ride and handling for a compact car. It’s more powerful than most of its competitors. The styling is modern and attractive. A decent manual transmission option is available. For a little extra money, you can get every technological goody you could want, except, sadly, for sat-nav.

What’s bad about it

Well, no sat-nav for starters. No telescoping steering wheel, either, which compromises the driving position a bit. The sedan’s available options are pretty limited, in fact, but, since you’re a dirty, poor person, you probably can’t afford any options anyway. The engine—while smooth—gets loud in an unpleasant way when you push it too hard. The ride on rough pavement could be better.

Conclusion

The thing about the Hyundai Accent is that it isn’t really the best subcompact in any one thing. The Kia Rio is nicer inside. The Chevy sonic is faster and a bit more fun, though it has a worse interior, being, you know, a Chevrolet. But the Accent is a close runner-up in every category. As an all-round package, you could do a lot worse, and with the 10-year warranty, you really can’t do much better with your tiny, tiny, little pile of money.

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