Now that fuel economy has become a pocketbook issue as well as a political one, high-mileage gas-powered cars matter more than ever. Hyundai is tackling new gas mileage targets with a trio of new cars, and as it's done with the new Sonata and Elantra sedans, it's also hitting a 40-mpg bogey with the new Accent, its subcompact-class sedan and hatchback.
We're giving the Accent duo an 8 on the GreenCarReports scale. No matter which transmission you choose, the Accent earns an EPA-rated 30/40 mpg. To do any better, you'll have to upgrade and spend your way into a larger diesel or hybrid vehicle.
The fact that Hyundai hits those numbers with a compact car, and not a subcompact, makes the Accent a competitor for the Ford Focus and Chevy Cruze sedans as well as for subcompacts like the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa. But unlike the Ford and the Chevy, Hyundai doesn't force buyers to opt for an add-on gas-mileage package. Every Accent is rated at 40 mpg highway, thanks to a body that's more rigid without adding any curb weight, as well as a new direct-injection four-cylinder and a swap of old gearboxes for more modern six-speed units. Given the choice, we'd opt for the new six-speed automatic since there's no EPA penalty, and since it offers an ActiveEco mode that triggers quick upshifts in the name of economy.
No matter which gearbox you choose, the Accent's acceleration will be leisurely. Dynamically it's much improved, but still very much an economy car with a short wheelbase. Big potholes will push the suspension to its limits, and the Accent can seem loud at times, though the drivetrain is admirably vibration-free. Electric power steering, which helps the gas mileage equation, is better tuned than in other Hyundais, and gets a meatier feel in the vaguely sporty SE edition.
It hasn't yet been crash-tested by the IIHS or by the NHTSA, but the Accent does have stability control--mandatory, starting in this model year--and curtain airbags. Bluetooth can be installed on most versions, and we'd recommend it, since we consider it a safety device, though talking even over handsfree devices still is an unwanted driver distraction.
On interior room, the Accent makes a strong case for paying less for more. It's just as large as a Honda Fit inside, with standard fold-down rear seats that still lack the flexibility of the Fit's rear bench. Adults will fit in the Accent with ease, unless they're very tall and riding in back, especially in the sedan, which has a roofline that's a fraction of an inch lower than the sporty hatchback.
We prefer the hatchback, anyway, for its overt references to European styling themes while still staking out territory for real bits of Hyundai character, like the trapezoidal grille and the vertical taillamps. We especially like the interior, which is finished in some versions with a matte textured plastic that seems far above the Accent's station in life.
As Americans seek out cars with better gas mileage and more overall efficiency, the 2012 Hyundai Accent meets them more than halfway. It's better in almost every way, while only worse in price, about $2000 more in base form than before. Progress comes at a cost, but in this case it's clear to see where the money's gone.For more on its performance and gas mileage, utility, safety, styling and features, see TheCarConnection's full review of the 2012 Hyundai Accent.
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