2018 Hyundai Accent Test Drive Review: Constantly Moving The Bar

Test Drive / Comments

The 2018 Hyundai Accent is all new, and brings a big feature list to the small car segment

To see how far the automotive industry has truly come in the past ten years, drive a small car. No, not an electric city car or a pint-sized performance rocket, but your average, everyday subcompact economy car. Ten years ago a well-equipped small car came with AM/FM radio with a CD player (!), power windows, height adjustable seats, and perhaps even power locks with a key fob remote. Those kinds of things wouldn't even make it into a press release these days.

The 2018 Hyundai Accent takes things to an entirely different level again for subcompact 'economy' cars, but it's not just the long list of features, it's the types of features and the total impression they make in a car that has more presence than its small footprint would suggest and a cabin that is modern and well executed. At the heart of it is a touchscreen infotainment system on a seven-inch display, a system that is brilliant for its simplicity and effectiveness. Press an icon or one of the fixed buttons around the screen and something happens right away, no waiting, no delay, no frustration. That is a luxury I could get used to.

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That seven-inch screen is optional, and a smaller five-inch screen is standard, but it's still a far cry from the pencil-thin digital readouts most affordable cars used to have. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also included with all but the base model SE, making your entertainment and communication controls even more familiar and seamless. The touchscreen will likely be the center of attention for entertainment, but your attention should be on the road first, and that is easy with the Accent. The 2018 Accent is one of the most undemanding cars I've driven in ages.

Everything is straightforward and familiar, and although the small 1.6-liter four-cylinder only makes 130 hp and 119 lb-ft of torque, and while less powerful than its predecessor, that is generous for this class and the car weighs 2,679 pounds at most (2,502 with the manual transmission), so it gets going from stoplights with decent pep. However, the more speeds climb, the more it struggles, and it's not a car you'd call fast, especially with the six-speed automatic transmission we drove. The manual might give you a bit more jump, but the automatic is also seamless, with a conventional shifter that will take no time to get used to, and would make the commute a breeze.

The manual used to always be the frugal option with a lower cost of entry and lower running costs, but the automatic now holds a slight edge in efficiency. The EPA rates the automatic at 28 mpg in city driving, 38 on the highway and 32 combined, with the manual transmission one mpg less efficient in both highway and combined. During my week of suburban shuttling and family duty, we averaged an okay but not great 27.7 mpg, although one highway drive yielded a decent 35 mpg. The 1.6 is the only engine on offer in the Accent and it's all the Accent needs as a commuter appliance.

It's quiet enough to not hamper enjoying your music or conversation, and it rides about as smoothly as a small car can, though you still feel bumps and the cabin gets tossed around a bit on rough roads. On the highway it is smooth and steady and feels planted and centered like a larger car, but when you reach your destination, parking is a breeze thanks to decent visibility and a standard backup camera. If you're interested in any sort of handling quotient, just wait it out for the new 2019 Veloster that takes the same architecture and pins some sporty looks and capability on it, right up to the new N performance line.

Speaking of standard features, the rearview camera is not the only perk on the base SE model, and it might not seem like a $15K economy car to someone who hasn't shopped for a new car in a decade. Standard equipment includes that back-up camera on a five-inch touchscreen, steering wheel controls for audio and the cruise control, air conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, power windows and mirrors, power door locks with remote keyless entry, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, 60/40 split-flat folding seat, and six-way adjustable driver seat including height adjustment.

Although the height of the seat bottom can be adjusted, the angle cannot, and one of my few complaints, which my wife shared, was that the seat was awkward, with the seat falling away and not enough thigh support. Oh, and the door armrests are still rock hard elbow crushers. C'mon Hyundai, a little bit of padding goes a long way. Hyundai's safety improvements have come a long way, and in addition to front, side and head curtain airbags and ABS with stability and traction control, Hyundai's high-strength-steel-intensive 'Superstructure' engineering shows great promise with the 2018 Elantra earning a coveted IIHS Top Safety Pick+ (and the related Kia Forte and Soul as well).

We're still talking about standard equipment here, priced at $15,880 ($14,995 + freight charges of $885), with the only options made up of seven no-charge colors and the automatic transmission that adds $1,000. The SEL adds a few things for a modest price bump working out to $18,180 with the freight charges and adding that seven-inch touchscreen display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus automatic lights, dual USB charging ports and four-wheel disc brakes and 15-inch alloy wheels instead of steelies of the same size with hubcaps.

Where the Accent really gets fancy is the Limited model, which is still less than 20 grand at $19,870 and loads it up with all the following: forward collision-avoidance assist, heated front seats, proximity key with push-button start, hands-free smart trunk that opens when you stand next to it for a few seconds-no silly foot waving required, automatic climate control, a fancier trip computer in the gauge cluster, leather-wrapped steering wheel, power sunroof, fog lights, projection headlights with LED daytime running lights and taillights, and 17-inch alloys. With all the features, you might overlook the practical compromises of a subcompact sedan, but the 2018 Accent is a genuinely livable little car.

The front seats are comfortable, with quality fabric, the leather steering wheel is nice, and all the controls are within reach and clearly labeled so you just get in and go. The rear seats aren't going to be confused with a limo or even an Accord, but they are fit for a pair of adults who can live with tight knee room but reasonable headroom, and there is no trouble with a couple kids in child seats. While I mourn the loss of the practical hatchback, the trunk does have a fair bit of space at 13.7 cubic feet and the rear seats split and fold for the occasional large cargo missions.

The 2018 Hyundai Accent is a testament to how far the industry has come, but also the leadership Hyundai has taken in the small car segment. While the Honda Fit and Versa Note go big on practicality, a new Accent feels like a luxury sedan if you are coming out of a 10-year-old car, and that is where a lot of subcompact new car buyers are coming from. If Hyundai can get shoppers into the showroom with the excellent value proposition of advanced features and loads of convenience for the great prices they offer, spending some time in this car will likely seal the deal.

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