By Greg Wilson
The 1999 Accent, Hyundai’s smallest, lowest-priced car, is available as a two-door hatchback or four-door sedan. The sporty, new GSi hatchback is new for ’99, and includes such standard features as 14 inch tires and alloy wheels, front fog lamps, and leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Sporty GSi new for ’99
Sporty economy cars, or ‘pocket rockets’, have a special appeal for commuters who want a little more zip in their daily transportation. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many left on the market. Those remaining, such as the VW Golf GTi, Honda Civic Coupe Si, Nissan 200SX, and Ford ZX2, are now pushing the $20,000 mark – not exactly affordable.
So I was pleased to see Hyundai create a sporty version of the Accent hatchback called the GSi, starting at a very reasonable $13,495.
To the basic Accent L, the GSi adds larger 175/65R-14 inch tires and 14 inch alloy wheels, a stiffer suspension which includes revised shock valving and stiffer springs, quicker steering, front fog lamps, rear spoiler, lower bodyside cladding, sporty cloth seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shift lever, tachometer, power door locks (including the trunk), 60/40 folding rear seat, and flip-up sunroof.
The GSi has the same engine as the Accent L hatchback and GL sedan, a 92 horsepower 1.5 litre four cylinder engine with three valves per cylinder and a single overhead camshaft. Though 92 horsepower is less than most of its competitors, the Accent’s power to weight ratio is very good because the car weighs just 959 kilograms (2,114 lbs.). Subjectively, the car feels lightweight and nimble, and certainly not underpowered. The engine makes sporty, growling sounds under acceleration, though it’s a little thrashy at higher revs. At a steady cruising speed of 100 km/h, the engine turns over 3000 rpm in fifth gear, higher than average, but not unbearable.
Fuel consumption is excellent: 8.4 l/100 kms (34 mpg) in the city, and 5.8 l/100 kms (49 mpg) on the highway, enough to travel up to 790 kilometers on its 46 litre fuel tank.
With its short 94.4 inch wheelbase, small 9.8 meter (32 feet) turning diameter, and independent suspension (front MacPherson strut/rear multi-link with front and rear stabilizer bars), the GSi is a great handling car, a snap to zip in and out of traffic, easy to park in spots marked ‘small cars only’, and has relatively short stopping distances. Outward visibility to the front, sides and rear is very good, and the rear window includes a defroster and rear wiper for improved rainy day vision.
The one thing hampering an otherwise enjoyable driving experience is a manual shift lever with unusually long, clunky throws. The only thing in its favour is that the shifts don’t require a lot of effort, and after a week in the driver’s seat, I got used to ‘rowing’ the GSi down the road.
At night, the headlamp’s low beams are rather weak, but the standard yellow-coloured fog lamps really do cut through the fog and make the GSi visible to motorists travelling in the opposite direction.
The Accent’s interior has a contemporary rounded appearance not unlike some more expensive cars, and includes such niceties as cloth inserts in the doors, simple, round white-on-black gauges that are easy to see, and a handy dead-pedal to the left of the clutch pedal to rest your foot. One complaint: the steering wheel obscures the radio’s volume and seek controls. A driver’s airbag is now standard equipment, but a passenger airbag is not offered. An AM/FM/cassette player is also standard, but air conditioning is not available as a manufacturer’s option, although it may be offered as a dealer option.
To facilitate entry to the rear seat, the front passenger seat slides forward automatically when its backrest is flipped down, but as is common on many two-door cars, the seat doesn’t automatically slide back to its original position when the backrest is flipped up.
With a rear hatchback and split folding rear seats, the Accent GSi has a lot of usable cargo area – about a third more than the Accent sedan – and there’s a rear cargo cover for privacy.
All Accents come with a 3 year/60,000 km warranty and a 5 year/100,000 km powertrain warranty. The GSi’s base price of $13,495 includes everything mentioned above except an optional automatic transmission.
Though not as refined as some of its more expensive competitors, the Accent GSi nevertheless delivers a fun-to-drive experience at price you can swallow.