Story and photos by Haney Louka
The benefit of experience
When I was in high school, one of my best friends drove a 1985 Hyundai Pony. It was the butt of a few jokes, as the little 1,400-cc, rear-wheel-drive econobox was fading from red to pink at a different rate on each body panel.
Since bringing that humble effort to North America in the mid-’80s, Hyundai has constantly improved the quality of their product and expanded their lineup to include sport coupes, luxury sedans, and SUVs. But of all of Hyundai’s current offerings, none competes as strongly in its class as this latest iteration of the Pony’s spiritual successor, the Accent.
Starting at $12,395, the Accent has about the lowest base price out there, a mere $45 more than the cheapest-in-Canada Kia Rio. That sum nets a GS three-door hatchback with a cargo cover, dual cup holders, a tachometer, lumbar-adjustable driver’s seat, split folding rear seat, power steering, and sporty three-spoke steering wheel.
My GSi tester stickered for $14,495, adding a larger engine (more later), 4-speaker CD audio, power door locks, leather-wrapped shift knob and steering wheel, upgraded upholstery, fog lights, tilt sunroof, rear wiper, 14-inch alloy wheels, and a rear spoiler to the mix.
Power windows are not available on the GSi and air conditioning is a $1,600 dealer-installed option.
The Accent GL sedan carries a base price of $13,795 and is equipped much like the GS hatch but with a larger engine.
Nuts & Bolts
The base Accent GS makes do with a 12-valve, 1,495-cc engine that dribbles out 90 horsepower. But both the GSi and GL sedan benefit from a larger dual overhead cam 16-valver displacing 1,599 cc and producing a healthier 104 hp at 5,800 rpm and 106 lb-ft of torque at 3,000 rpm. Power is routed to the front wheels through a five-speed manual or optional ($750) four-speed automatic transmission.
Keeping the 185/60-R14 tires planted to the pavement is a MacPherson strut front and independent dual link rear suspension, sport-tuned for duty in the GSi. Braking is accomplished through the use of power-assisted front vented discs and self-adjusting rear drums. Sadly, anti-lock is not an option on any Accent model.
Inside & Out
The styling of this latest Accent is best described as a mild freshening of the 2002 model. It’s conservative but possesses a few subtle styling cues that don’t make themselves known at first glance. Like the way the hood is raised at the headlights with a sharp crease, similar to the hood treatment on the Tiburon.
The GSi model lends some flair to the hatch to make it look more hip – fog lamps, spoiler, and alloys give it a sportier look without adding a lot to the price.
Inside, stylish cloth covers seats that provide a solid foundation from which to perform driving duties, assisted by an adjustable driver’s lumbar support. Once seated, the basic but functional controls make themselves easily accessible. Light-faced gauges switch to a cool blue-green backlit mode at night.
Rear seat room is reasonable and access is made easier by a passenger front seat that slides forward when the seatback is tilted. The 60/40 split bench back there combined with the hatch means that this is one practical little car.
The Driving Experience
With one rather glaring exception, the Accent proved itself to be a fun car to drive around town. Steering response is quick, braking feels confident, and the refined engine characteristics contribute to a satisfying drive for this class. The motor gets a little boomy as the revs approach six grand, but that won’t be a concern to most Accent owners.
What is a concern, though, is the five-speed stick. My first shift from neutral to first gear didn’t reveal anything out of the ordinary. But the one-two shift made me drop my jaw in disbelief. Only the six-speed Dodge Ram 3500 comes to mind has having longer shifter throws than the Accent. Compare that with the slick stick in an entry-level Toyota or Honda product and it becomes a major disadvantage in comparisons.
In the twisties, the Accent controlled its body motions well, but quickly revealed that even the upgraded 14-inch tire package wasn’t enough to keep the car firmly planted. Again, most Accent owners would think that type of driving is insane, so not a big problem.
On the highway, the Accent tracks well and has decent power for passing provided the driver exercises some patience. Fifth gear is not overly tall, but reasonable for a low-torque engine. At highway speeds, downshifting is rarely necessary for passing as the revs measure over 3,000 at 110 km/h.
A couple of small surprises reflect Hyundai’s attention to detail on the Accent: The windshield wipers include a one-touch pulse setting that isn’t found too frequently on cars in this price range. And the rear wiper has settings for both intermittent and steady-on modes – usually it’s one or the other.
To Sum It Up
The Accent is perhaps Hyundai’s strongest model in the North American marketplace. Years of experience have paid off in an economy car that’s well built, stylish, and affordable.
Chief competitors for the Accent GSi ($14,495) are the Toyota Echo LE hatchback ($13,965), Ford Focus ZX3 ($17,650), the four-door Kia Rio RX-V ($15,750), and coming in early 2004, the Suzuki Swift+, and the Chevy Aveo. And I might suggest that even though the Cavalier and Sunfire can be had for amounts far below their retail prices (in the mid-teens), the Accent still holds a decisive advantage in the areas of refinement, practicality, fuel economy, and driving fun.
Technical Data: 2003 Hyundai Accent GSi
|Price as tested||$14,495|
|Type||2-door, 5-passenger hatchback|
|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||P185/60R14 all season|
|Curb weight||992 kg (2187 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2440 mm (96.1 in.)|
|Length||4222 mm (166.2 in.)|
|Height||1395 mm (54.9 in.)|
|Trunk capacity||(max) 480 litres (16.9 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 8.1 l/100 km (35 mpg); Hwy: 6.5 l/100 km (43 mpg)|
|Hwy:.8 L/100 km (42 mpg)|
|Warranty||3 yrs/60,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||5 yrs/100,000 km|