Contrary to the practice in much of the rest of the world, subcompact cars are rarely the sole household vehicle in the U.S.
They're more likely a second or third car, often used for commuting--and rarely occupied by more than a single person.
With that in mind, we tried to assess our two and a half days in a 2012 Hyundai Accent SE hatchback from the point of view of a commuter, who might have a crossover or minivan at home for the family--or perhaps a more fun car for weekends.
Basic manual hatchback: $15.8K
The basics first: Our Korean-built 2012 Accent SE was finished in dark Cyclone Grey with a black nylon interior. A four-door sedan is also available, as is also the case for the Ford Fiesta, the Toyota Yaris, the Nissan Versa, the Kia Rio, and the upcoming 2012 Chevy Sonic.
Unusually for media test cars, ours was the most basic Accent you could get, with a six-speed manual standard and exactly one option above the $15,795 base price: a $35 iPod cable, bringing the bottom line to $15,830.
Given the list of standard equipment--including cruise control, steering-wheel controls for audio and the cruise, an AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 stereo, Bluetooth hands-free mobile phone connection, and a 60-/40 split folding rear seat--the new Hyundai Accent is a lot of value for the money.
When we first climbed into the car, we noticed:
The 2012 Accent isn't quite as capacious or flexible as the remarkable 2012 Honda Fit, with its Magic Seat combinations that turn it into a mini-moving van if necessary.
But if a single driver mostly uses a car for commuting duty, which is more important, interior capability or the electronic gadgets?
Inside, the plastics are hard, but they don't look cheap. And the seats are comfortable, better than those of other subcompacts we've tested.
We didn't test the Bluetooth mobile phone connection (we try hard not to talk on the phone while driving, period), but a colleague found its sound quality no more than average.
Commuter mileage: 33.4 mpg
Over not quite three days, we covered 260 miles of mostly freeway driving, with a few around-town errands and some stop-and-go traffic.
Frankly, we used the little Accent the way a commuter might use a family's second or third car: as an economical smaller car that almost never carries more than one person.
Over that time, we logged average gas mileage of 33.4 mpg.
That compares to the EPA ratings of 30 mpg city, 40 mpg highway, for a combined average of 34 mpg.
Six closely-spaced gears
While our 2012 Accent had a six-speed manual transmission, we found the ratios quite closely spaced. That made it fun to drive around town, but we noticed that at 75 mph in top gear, the engine was turning over at 3000 rpm--higher than we would have expected.
We wonder whether the Accent achieves its 40-mpg highway rating by tuning that's optimized for the lower top speeds of the CAFE cycle tests, rather than the 70- to 80-mph speeds at which real people drive real cars on real freeways (at least in Cailfornia).
Small but not all that sporty
The handling was competent, but not particularly sporty. We're looking forward to our first drive in a 2012 Chevrolet Sonic, which is reputedly the sporty choice in subcompacts, perhaps along with the Mazda Mazda2.
The 2012 Accent was adequately refined, though unlike some of its competitors, it somehow telegraphed its small size to the driver at the wheel.
We also found it a bit of a challenge to parallel park due to the rising beltline and thick rear pillars. That's the downside of stylish lines; the interior glass area of the triangular third window on each side looked little larger than a palm print, making looking over the shoulder something of a guessing game.
Hyundai provided a test car to allow High Gear Media to bring you this first-person drive report.