Being tethered behind a monstrous motor home lumbering toward Las Vegas has always been the Hyundai Accent's role. It's the car retired revelers use to scour the Vegas Strip for a $6.99 prime rib special. Other Accent faithful include broke students, the unemployed and the former management of Enron.
But the new redesigned 2006 Hyundai Accent deserves better. It's longer, taller and wider than its predecessor, as well as more comfortable, more powerful and more stylish. Hyundai has even packed it with the latest safety features.
No, we don't expect the Hilton sisters to be cruising around in an Accent, but Hyundai's least expensive model is now nice enough to satisfy people without felony convictions. The employed, too.
No Longer Just a Tow-Behind
Initially the Hyundai Accent will be offered only as a front-wheel-drive sedan, but a three-door hatchback will be added for 2007. The four-door, which remains competitively priced from $11,455 to $13,600, is powered by a new 110-horsepower, 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder with continuously variable valve timing for increased power. It's mated to a standard five-speed manual transmission or an optional four-speed automatic.
This clean-running ultralow-emissions engine has 6 hp more than the old Accent four-cylinder but its power peak is at a heady 6,000 rpm. Torque peak is only 106 pound-feet at 4,500 rpm, which doesn't sound like much, but the engine provides good low-end pull and is as refined as can be expected from a 1.6-liter. It remains very quiet until you really put your foot into it.
Our test-drive was limited to an automatic-equipped Accent, which is rated at 28/36 mpg. The five-speed-equipped Accent is estimated to earn satisfying 32/35 mpg during city and highway use. The hotel heiresses may not care about fuel mileage, but the working class sure does.
A 39-percent stiffer body structure helps the new model stay smooth and stable, and the multilink suspension with coil springs and antiroll bar prevents even rear passengers from being bounced around unnecessarily. When pushed through corners, the Accent responds with predictable body roll and unexpectedly crisp steering from its power-assisted rack and pinion setup.
Safety Comes Standard
Hyundai is using standard safety equipment to distinguish its new cars from the rest of the economy flock, and the entry-level Accent is no exception. Like all recently redesigned Hyundai models, the Accent comes with plenty of standard airbags, including two in the front, two on the side and two roof-mounted side curtain airbags that cover front and outboard rear passengers. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) says that this configuration is good for a 40-percent fatality reduction when involved in a crash.
Larger four-wheel antilock disc brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) are also standard. Surefooted stopping power was obvious out on the road, with confident pedal feel, even at the limit.
Due to its stretched dimensions, the Hyundai Accent's total interior volume has increased by nearly 4 cubic feet over the old car. The extra length allows rear passengers to get 1.5 inches more legroom, plus adds almost a cubic foot to the trunk for a total of 12.4 cubes with the 60/40 rear seat in its upright position.
The front-seating position has been raised 2 inches, providing the driver with a better view of the road. Small amenities have been worked into the two-tone beige or gray cloth interior to help passengers get comfortable, including a tilt steering column, an eight-way driver seat with adjustable height and a right-side armrest for the driver who might find the center console too low for support.
We criticized Hyundai for the tacky upholstery in the recently redesigned Hyundai Tucson, and are pleased to see that the Accent's seat covers escaped the same fate. Some cheap plastics along the dash and center console are the only distractions from the overall quality presentation.
In back, passengers have plenty of legroom in front of the padded, supportive bench. Three adjustable headrests line the seatback, and a center armrest folds down to reveal two additional cupholders for a cabin total of eight. Fabric map pockets are fixed to the rear of each front seatback giving passengers a place to stash their stuff.
Plenty of Standard Equipment
Economy sedans are often stripped down to nothing more than an engine and a key, but the Accent is different. It only comes in the GLS trim, but many modern conveniences are standard equipment including two-speed variable intermittent wipers and a rear window defroster with electronic timer. Two 12-volt outlets would allow both Paris and Nicky to charge up their Blackberries, and driver and passenger illuminated vanity mirrors would permit the girls to lavish on the lip gloss at the same time. Kids will have to crank the tunes through the single stereo offering, a 172-watt CD with six speakers.
Options are limited to air conditioning and power windows with driver window auto down, plus power locks, remote keyless entry, power remote heated side mirrors and optional 15-inch alloy wheels in place of the standard 14-inch steel wheels. When the Enron boys are financially able to upgrade, they can choose the Premium Sport Package which combines all of these options.
Value With a Capital V
The 2006 Hyundai Accent has earned the right to move out of the motor home's shadow. It does a nice job of mixing basic transportation needs with a touch of comfort, and yet maintains an aggressive price. The addition of a five-year/24-hour roadside assistance plan, and a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty doesn't hurt, either. In a segment that's largely about value, the Accent stands tall among the competition.
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