The restaurant exists, the servers are actually from-Italy-Italian, and the food is great, but as I sit on the cobblestone patio noshing gnocchi I can’t help but feel lost in a dream not of my making. The Italian villa is a con, a plaster facade on an interchangeable building. I’m actually in the desert of southern Nevada just a few miles outside of Las Vegas, and it feels like a video game simulation. I feel like I’ve stepped into an open world sandbox game that has crossed the uncanny valley into proper Matrix-esque simulation. The visuals are only skin deep, as the lake is obviously man-made, and the buildings were assembled far more recently than the Renaissance, given a painted-on false age. It feels wrong.
The juxtaposition of Hyundai’s Accent against the backdrop of Las Vegas is purely farcical. This is a truly honest car that looks out of place in the world’s most fake city.
Facing facts, cars are too damned expensive these days. It seems as though we’ve already forgotten the economic collapse that plagued the world just a decade ago, and people are overleveraging themselves to purchase larger pickups and SUVs with ever-larger fuel bills to commute by themselves into the city from the large suburban homes they just overleveraged themselves to purchase. It may be cynical, but we need more properly-built inexpensive cars in the world. The average automobile loan today is $30,032. This car comes with a base price less than half that figure. While this compact Hyundai isn’t going to be a luxury experience, it’s the pragmatic approach to the small car, and is honestly better than other similarly priced compacts I’ve driven.
The 2018 Hyundai Accent provides a much nicer driving experience than a comparable Nissan Versa or Mitsubishi Mirage by leaps and bounds. Honda’s Fit is larger and more expensive, but the Hyundai feels more or less on par with that. Perhaps Toyota’s [well Mazda’s, really] Yaris iA sedan is the benchmark of the class. I’d really like the opportunity to compare the iA, the Fit, and the Accent head-t0-head-to-head, but as I sit here I think I’d rather have the Hyundai for its elegant good looks and seriously strong 10 year/100k powertrain warranty. The bargain basement model comes with a stick shift and a $14,995 price tag.
For years the compact and subcompact buyers market has been shrinking. That’s largely due to the fact that people have been forced to drive cars like the Mirage and Versa. So-called “penalty boxes” do exist, but the Accent isn’t really one of them. I kicked off the morning in a base SE model with 15″ steel wheels and drum brakes in the rear. Popping into the driver’s seat, there’s a surprising amount of room for someone as large as I am (6’2″ and extra wide). The base model doesn’t have a center arm-rest, which is difficult to abide, and a lack of tilt steering column makes this tall man sad. That said, the car does come equipped as standard with a 5″ touch-screen infotainment system, power windows, cruise control, bluetooth connectivity, and power steering. Not bad.
The interior surfaces are hard plastic in many places, but that’s to be expected really. What isn’t expected is how quiet the interior is. Jumping on the freeway heading north I can hear myself think. Wind noise is minimal, as Hyundai spent a lot of time shaping the aero profile of this compact. The tire noise, even, is less than expected. With some serious insulation inside, even roaring semi trucks barely register. I’ve driven a lot miles in a lot of junk over my lifetime, and it’s usually noise, vibration, and harshness that contributes to road-trip fatigue. I am confident that this car would make a decent cross-country road-trip machine, due not in small part to its 38 mile-per-gallon highway EPA rating.
Once off the highway we hit the route through the Valley of Fire with some tricky long sweepers and tight corners to really put the car through it’s paces. It’s certainly lightweight in today’s climate, at around 2700 pounds, but it wouldn’t be quite right to call it nimble. For one thing, the tires have a tall washy-feeling sidewall, and the suspension is tuned more for potholes and highway than for rushing through corners. The car is stable under normal driving conditions, but I did have a moment or two where the back end of the car wanted to do something different than the front. Those moments were certainly outside of the car’s intended use range, but it was a little offputting all the same. If you don’t drive it like a knob, the Accent will treat you well.
If you step up a bit to the SEL model, you’re forced into an automatic, but at least it’s a decent automatic. With the SEL you get a bunch more equipment. It’s a couple thousand dollar jump, at $17,295, but you get alloy wheels, four-wheel disc brakes, a larger touch screen with Apple CarPlay connectivity, and crucially for me the tilt/telescope column and a center arm rest. It’s not quite as cheap as the base model, but seventeen grand seems reasonable for this ride. I’d miss the manual, for sure, but the SEL would probably be my choice as a good balance of price and features.
For the truly bourgeois, you can opt for the Hyundai Accent Limited, which adds a sunroof, forward collision assist, LED daytime running lights and LED tail lights, massive 17″ rollers, chrome accents, fog lights, turn signals in the mirrors, heated front seats, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter. That package will cost you $18,895, which seems a little too much for my taste. As mentioned before, the SEL seems to be the sweet spot.
In every trim of the new Accent is a 1.6-liter GDI engine. It produces 130 horsepower and 199 lb-ft of torque, which is more than enough for around town duties, and doesn’t fall on its face at higher speeds. The 6-speed traditional automatic routes power through the front wheels, and provides one mpg better than the 6-speed manual (only available in SE trim). It’s a bit on the buzzy side, but no worse than anything else in this segment.
The long and short of it is that this is certainly among the best compact cars on the market. It’s leaps and bounds ahead of the car it replaces, and matches up with the leaders in the segment. The design is well proportioned, and features a useable interior compartment that can ostensibly fit four adults, though not necessarily in comfort for hours on end. Two adults and two children? No problem. If you want a new car that you can count on, a great warranty, and decent amenities without spending a fortune, this is probably the place to look.
I’ve driven a few Hyundais lately, and they all boil down to being pretty damned honest cars. As current Toyota drifts ever toward circa 2004 GM, Hyundai seems to be filling in the space Toyota left. They’re making quality cars with competitive price tags and focussing on long-term reliability. I’m more confident than ever in the products coming out of Korea (I just drove a Stinger GT, and it was so good. More on that soon.). Building a quality entry-level car like this and not charging too much for it? That’s a huge step in the right direction.
In keeping with the honesty of this Hyundai, I was invited to Las Vegas to drive this car and spend a day at the SEMA show. I was provided travel, food, drink, and a room at the Mandarin Oriental by Hyundai in order to bring you this review. I have done my best to remain impartial.