2003 Hyundai Accent GL
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by Greg Wilson

Great value in a small sedan

The Hyundai Accent is one of only two subcompact cars left in the Canadian marketplace that starts under $13,000 (if you don’t count the languishing Daewoo brand) – the result of a gradual abandonment of the low-priced subcompact car class by automakers in North America over the past decade. In other parts of the world – in fact, in most other parts of the world – there are plenty of subcompacts and micro subcompacts to choose from. Here, in North America, if you believe the automakers, there just isn’t enough demand for inexpensive, small new cars. Consumers would rather have a bigger used car than a small new car, they say. While there is some truth in that, it’s also true that automakers make more profit on larger cars, trucks, and SUVs.

So it’s been left up to the South Korean automakers, Hyundai and Kia, and Japanese automaker Toyota, to show us how it can be done. After driving the recently-restyled 2003 Hyundai Accent GL sedan for a week, my overall impression was, “This is one heck of a car for about $16,000 all in!” Accents start at $12,395 for the two-door GS hatchback model, $14,495 for the sporty GSi two-door hatchback, and $13,795 for the four-door GL sedan model, this week’s test car.

The Accent’s only real competitors are the Kia Rio S four-door sedan ($12,350), Toyota Echo two-door sedan ($13,690), and the Toyota Echo four-door sedan ($14,025), and possibly a heavily discounted Chevy Cavalier or Pontiac Sunfire. However, the Echo, Cavalier and Sunfire can end up costing more than its South Korean competitors once popular options like air conditioning and power windows are added in.

Standard and optional equipment

As before, the base two-door Accent hatchback GS model has a 92 horsepower 1.5 litre SOHC 12 valve four cylinder engine, while the GSi hatchback and Accent GL sedan offer a 104 horsepower 1.6 litre four cylinder engine with double overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. Standard equipment on the GL sedan includes a five-speed manual transmission, a fully independent suspension, power steering, body-coloured bumpers, 13 inch tires, AM/FM/CD stereo with four speakers, 60/40 folding rear seatbacks, height-adjustable driver’s seat, variable intermittent wipers, tachometer, and digital clock. Hyundai’s warranty of 3 years/60,000 kilometres and 5 year/100,000 kilometres on the powertrain is competitive with everyone else except Kia which offers a bumper-to-bumper 5 year warranty. Still, for $13,795 plus $380 Freight, the base Accent GL sedan is well-priced.

Add a four-speed automatic transmission ($750), and an option package which includes air conditioning and power windows, power door locks, and power heated mirrors ($1,090), and the price comes to $15,635. With Freight, the as-tested price of this car totaled just over $16,000. Only the Kia Rio sedan will come close to matching this price.

2003 Hyundai Accent GL
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Accents were last redesigned in 2000, and changes for 2003 are mostly exterior styling revisions. The hatchback and sedan have a bolder, sculpted appearance with sharper edges. The front bumper, grille and headlamps have all been redesigned, as have the hood, fenders, rear deck and taillamps. I would say the 2003 Accent has a greater presence than the previous model, but it’s still rather generic.

Responsive at lower speeds

The sedan’s 1.6 litre four cylinder engine delivers 104 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 106 ft lb of torque at 3,000 rpm – sufficient power for a car that weighs only 1066 kg (2350 lb.). That’s comparable with the Kia Rio’s 1.5 litre engine which offers 104 horsepower and the Toyota Echo’s 1.5 litre engine with 108 horsepower, but where the Accent shines is in its torque figures: while the Rio develops maximum torque at 4700 rpm and the Echo at 4200 rpm, the Accent offers maximum torque at just 3000 rpm. To the driver, that means a more responsive-feeling engine, particularly around town and at sub-highway speeds. The Accent is lively off the line and zips in and out of traffic passing slower cars with ease. In typical urban use, the Accent’s engine feels more powerful than it actually is. The engine’s gutteral growl during acceleration is a bit noisy, but vibration is minimal, and I found it acceptably quiet at engine speeds under 3000 rpm.

2003 Hyundai Accent GL
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At highway cruising speeds, the Accent’s engine revs at just 2600 rpm at 100 km/h and 3100 at 120 km/h, so the engine doesn’t sound strained or overly noisy, as smaller engines sometimes do.

The four-speed automatic transmission in my test car proved exceptionally smooth – shifts were generally undramatic despite the racy engine sounds coming from under the hood during hard acceleration. This transmission features adaptive logic, a computer program that can delay upshifts and reduce gear-hunting when going up slight grades. For do-it-yourselfers, an on/off overdrive button on the floor shifter allows you to snick the transmission into third gear before approaching a hill, or when descending a hill for engine braking – I liked this feature.

Fuel consumption (with the automatic transmission) is thrifty: 8.9 l/100 km (32 mpg) in the city, and 6.2 l/100 km (46 mpg) on the highway – about the same as a Kio Rio, but not as good as the economical Echo which offers a commendable 7.1 l/100 km (40 mpg) and 5.5 l/100 km (51 mpg) on the highway.

I was also quite impressed with the rigidity of the Accent’s unit body structure and the solidity of the fully independent suspension which consists of front MacPherson gas-filled struts with coil springs, anti-roll bar and hydraulic shock absorbers; and rear struts with multi-links, coil springs, anti-roll bar and hydraulic shock absorbers. This generation of the Accent certainly feels tighter and better built than the pre-2000 models.

The Accent’s ride is suprisingly devoid of choppiness and twitchiness that you find in some small cars. And its small size makes it entertainingly nimble, particularly around town where you can squeeze between parked cars, maneouver through rush hour traffic, and pull in and out of parking spaces with ease. A relatively tight turning circle of 9.9 metres (32.5 feet) makes U-turns a snap, and the Accent’s unobstructed outward visibility also helps when changing lanes and backing up.

The power-assisted steering requires minimal effort at parking lot speeds, is responsive at higher speeds, and the Accent tracks well at freeway speeds. Handling is fairly neutral, but cornering grip is limited by its relatively small Kumho P175/70R13 all-season tires. I don’t think it was the fault of the Kumho tires – they were grippy enough in both dry and wet-weather conditions – it was their small size that limited their capability. Hyundai does offer 14 inch tires on the GSi hatchback model, but unfortunately not on the sedan.

Interior has room for four

2003 Hyundai Accent GL
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Due to its narrow width, the Accent’s interior has room for four adults, even though it has five seatbelts. I found legroom and headroom to be adequate, considering the Accent’s 96 inch wheelbase, and the seats are comfortable although they could use more seat padding. The driver’s seat cushion is height-adjustable at the front and back of the seat cushion, and there is a lumbar adjustment, a bonus on an economy car. The seat material is a durable, hard cloth, and my GL sedan offered patterned seat inserts and matching door inserts which added some colouring to what could have been a boring interior.

The driver faces a small, grippy steering wheel behind which are a tachometer on the left, a larger speedometer in the middle, and smaller gauges on the right. The Accent includes standard variable intermittent wipers, another useful feature not found on many small cars.

The centre stack includes a digital clock, a standard AM/FM/CD player which sounds great but but has hard-to-read small letters on small push buttons. Below the radio are three easy-to-use heater controls, however the left fan dial is hidden from view by the steering wheel. Just below that, two pop-out cupholders slide out gracefully when prompted, and at the bottom of centre stack is a small open storage area with a 12 volt powerpoint for charging accessories.

Storage space is limited. To the left of steering wheel is a large pulldown drawer for coins and tokens, and the front door pockets include built-in bottle holders. There is a good-sized glovebox, but no armrest storage bin.

2003 Hyundai Accent GL
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My car included optional power windows, power mirrors, and power door locks. I noticed there is no button on the armrest to lock the doors – you have to push the lock button next to the door handle. With a key in the driver’s door lock, you can open the driver’s door with a single turn of the key, and all the doors with two turns. One turn the other way locks all the doors. A remote key fob isn’t offered.

The Accent includes standard 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks which increase the Accent’s cargo-carrying capacity significantly. However, they aren’t lockable. The trunk is easy to load and includes a carpeted floor and plastic sides. At 334 litres (11.8 cu. ft.), the Accent’s trunk is bigger than the Kia Rio’s but smaller than the Echo’s.

For safety, the Accent includes five three point seatbelts, front seatbelt pre-tensioners, height-adjustable front head restraints, fixed rear head restraints, rear child door locks, rear tether child seat anchors, and a driver’s side airbag – surprisingly, a front passenger airbag is not offered.


Despite its small tires and lack of a passenger side airbag, the 2003 Hyundai Accent GL sedan an excellent buy in the subcompact class.

Technical Data: 2003 Hyundai Accent GL sedan

Base price $13,795
Freight $380
Options $1,840 (Comfort Group, automatic transmission)
Price as tested $16,015
Type 4-door, 5-passenger subcompact sedan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 1.6 litre 4 cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 104 @ 5,800 rpm
Torque 106 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm
Tires P175/70R13 all season
Curb weight 1066 kg (2350 lb.)
Wheelbase 2440 mm (96.1 in.)
Length 4234 mm (166.7 in.)
Width 1670 mm (65.7 in.)
Height 1395 mm (54.9 in.)
Trunk space 334 litres (11.8 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 8.9 l/100 km (32 mpg)
  Hwy: 6.2 l/100 km (46 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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