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The first Hyundai Accent looked like a small economy car, albeit a nicely designed one. The second generation was styled more like a luxury car, in keeping with the new trend for Korean subcompacts to look more luxurious than Lincolns, on the outside at least.
On the inside, the Accent gave up the luxury motif for a sensible-subcompact theme. Think Neon or Contour - the interior actually looks nicer than, say, the Subaru Impreza or Nissan Altima.
The ride is fairly comfortable, and there was little road or wind noise, compared to, say, the Infiniti G20 and Nissan Altima we recently tested.
The tradeoffs are mainly size, acceleration, and handling. Handling is not bad, but neither is it up to today's standards. Putting on better tires will help, but it's not going to turn the Accent into a Neon.
Speaking of Neons, the Accent is small. There is plenty of trunk room, and the people in the front seats will do fine, but the rear seat room is relatively sparse. That's just fine for most people, who use the rear seats fairly rarely. There is room in the back when the front seats are moved up, so a child seat is not a problem.
The engine is moderately peppy with a manual shift, but the automatic hurts. The car moves readily enough when the pedal is floored, and the automatic is moderately smooth. The car brings out gentleness in the driver, which is probably a good thing, especially for those of us who live in areas where police abound and the insurance companies heavily penalize those who get even a single ticket.
The interior of the Accent is generally nicely done, well integrated and thought out. It is easy to figure out and operate all the controls and switches. Hyundai did not make the instrument panel look cheap, as some companies do on their lowest models. Tilt steering will be very helpful for taller drivers, since the steering wheel is set to accommodate shorter people. The driver's seat is nicely adjustable. Side demisters are effective - and missing from the upscale Corolla!
The stereo featured actual analog knobs for bass, treble, fader, and balance. That made it much easier to operate than most modern stereos. It sounded good, too. The remote-controlled trunk, hood, and gas cap also fell into the quite-convenient category.
It is easy enough to say that a loaded Accent runs into Neon territory, or that the Neon is "only a few thousand" more than the Accent. But those of us who have been in the market for a $9,000 car know that there is a vast difference between $9,000 and $12,000. So it is facile to say that Accent buyers should consider the Neon. (Though a used Neon is another story.)
Earlier, we compared the Neon favorably with the Altima, though it costs much, much less. It would be fun to find that the Accent is as good as the Neon, but that would be too much to ask. Ask us, though, if we think the Accent is a bargain, and we will say yes. It is also a respectable car, with a civilized ride, adequate space and acceleration, and good looks. Did we mention a far better warranty than Chrysler's? For those who do not need a larger interior, better handling, or faster acceleration, which by the way is an awful lot of people, the Accent is a good deal.
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