Hyundai Accent gives new car experience at used car price

Friday, April 9, 2004

Hyundai Accent gives new car experience at used car price

Accent n. 1 a style of pronunciation or inflection. 2 an entry-level car with a 100,000 mile warranty that sells new for less than many used cars. 3 not to be confused with "scent," as in "new-car scent," that intoxicating aroma missing from used cars.

If you're like me, there's nothing much sweeter than new-car smell. Sure, we all stop once in a while to smell the roses, and we linger to savor the smoke of a good barbecue, but who can resist that addictive incense that fills our senses when we first open the door of a new car? Trouble is, new car smell is more expensive than Chanel No. 5, and that's why most of us buy used cars. Each year Americans buy more than 50 million used cars. Last year nearly a million used cars found new owners through eBay. Sure, they saved money buying used, but they gave up a new car warranty, the latest technology, improved gas mileage, and most importantly, the latest safety technology.

Enter the Hyundai Accent, a new car that sells for the price of a used car. At under $10,000, the Accent is one of the lowest-priced cars in America and gets 29 mpg in city driving on regular fuel. With a major makeover last year, the Accent is mostly unchanged for '04. The base three-door hatchback is the price leader, is nicely equipped, but lacks air conditioning. Air is standard on the GL, which is offered as a three-door hatch or four-door sedan. The Accent GT that I test drove adds 14-inch alloy wheels, sport suspension, cloth sport seats, fog lamps, rear spoiler, an excellent warranty, nicely appointed interior, solid build quality, and, a surprisingly smooth ride.

Say "GT" to many car shoppers and they think "bumpy, firm ride." Say "small inexpensive import car" to most car shoppers and they think "bumpy, firm ride." So when I tell you the Accent GT has a "surprisingly smooth ride" I'm saying that I was very pleasantly surprised at how composed and confidently the Accent does its job. Not only does it provide good, reliable transportation, but it does so without beating its occupants to death. Even back-seaters are treated to comfortable seats, decent legroom and other accouterments that are unexpected at this price point. We put a couple of hundred miles on the little Korean-built hatchback, and never heard a rattle or squeak. The four-wheel independent suspension soaked up the bumps without providing a harsh ride, and the larger-than-normal sway bar kept body roll under control while navigating curvy roads. The front disk brakes offer powerful stopping performance, while the power-boosted rack and pinion steering gave precise directional control. Wind noise was muted, while the little 1.6-liter engine could be heard growling during most driving conditions.

Our test vehicle was equipped with an automatic four-speed transmission that provided good, but not thrilling performance while coupled to the 103 horsepower engine. If that doesn't sound like much power, keep in mind that this vehicle weighs only 2,339 pounds, and is marketed against the likes of the Toyota Echo and Kia Rio, which have 108 and 104 horsepower respectively. That's enough power to get these vehicles up to 60 miles per hour in under 10 seconds. This engine/transmission combination produces gas mileage of 25/35 mpg -- better than the Rio's but not as good as the Echo's.

But new car buyers do not buy on gas mileage alone. If they did, everyone would be driving gasoline/electric hybrids. Today's buyers also want style, comfort and safety, and that's where the smallest Hyundai is a great buy. It's equipped with a host of safety features such as dual front and front side-impact airbags, and an energy-absorbing steering column. Front seatbelts are equipped with force limiters and pretensioners that regulate tension in the event of a moderate-to-severe frontal collision. In addition, the Accent's reinforced bumpers help absorb shock in low-speed accidents, and its unibody construction contributes to its structural integrity. Also standard are rear child-seat anchors, and on the GL 4-door, childproof rear door locks. Steel side-impact beams round out the list safety features.

Cost and benefits

But what will bring customers into the Wieser Hyundai showroom are the Accent's price tag, equipment list and warranty. All Hyundais, even the least expensive Accent, feature a 5-year, 60,000-mile bumper to bumper warranty, and a 10-year, 100,000-mile power train warranty. The Accent GT I tested carried a MSRP of $13,304, and was nicely equipped with cruise control, power windows, rear window wiper, power heated outside mirrors, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, air conditioning, alloy wheels, real spoiler, disk brakes, sport seats, white-faced gauges, a CD stereo with 6 speakers and carpeted floor mats. It's perfect as a second car, for students, or anyone who can't live without that new car smell. With low-interest financing and other financial incentives, this Hyundai puts an accent on savings.

Steve Robertson of Robertson's Creative Photography is a car enthusiast and former staff writer/photographer for the Southeast Missourian. Contact him at srobertson@ semissourian.com.

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