It would be more than generous to call it a “classic” – though I’m rather fond of my 25-year-old Mazda hatchback. But after a frosty commute – wind whistling through decayed door seals while I prayed fervently for the heat vents to emit more than a warm breath – I just couldn’t wait to climb into a brand new press car.

This week, it’s a 2015 Hyundai Accent hatchback – also available as a sedan.

It was hard not to compare them. Side by side, my elderly “classic” and the Accent are roughly the same size and fall within the same sub-compact segment.

But there the similarities end.

Previous generations of Hyundai’s smallest entry went from woefully ugly to acceptably forgettable. But the advent of Hyundai’s “Fluidic Sculpture” reshaped the Accent into one of the most stylish in its segment.

This particular Accent is the “Sport Appearance Package” trim which includes all the features of the mid-range GL and adds sunroof, fog lights and 16-inch alloy wheels.  The GL model’s base price is $17,799, the Sport Appearance Package is $18,849, a $1,050 difference.

This trim package, and the cheery Yellow Sunflower paint are new for 2015.

We’ve already talked about the enormous changes small cars have undergone, in our recent subcompact comparison test, and in virtually every review in this segment for the last couple of years. Small vehicle segments have been exploding in popularity, and stiff competition has injected new levels of quality and innovation into manufacturer’s most basic offerings.

Stepping from one into the other truly hammers it home.

My car’s interior is a perfect example of the penalty-box mentality of its era – as if budget buyers didn’t deserve any better than to accept what they were given and live with it.  Dreary grey plastic covers every surface, with no effort to appear as anything more than functional.

Inside the Accent, you’ll find plenty of hard plastics too – but they’ve been moulded into creative surfaces and textures with plenty of attention to design and function. There’s no pretence of luxury here. Niceties like leather seating and navigation are unavailable on the Accent, however you can get them on its sister car, the Kia Rio. But that doesn’t mean that the Accent’s cabin is without charm.

The seats may be cloth, but they’re attractively patterned and the front ones are heated. There’s far more room overhead than you’d expect from a car that doesn’t look that tall from the outside.

The steering wheel telescopes (not all competitors do), there’s hands-free Bluetooth, remote power entry, cruise, a power sliding sunroof, steering wheel audio controls and air.

Rear seats split 60/40 to produce 600 litres of cargo space – which is about mid-pack for the segment.  However, it falls far short of the Honda Fit, undisputed champion of interior flexibility with a grand total of 1,492 litres.

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