With the company's brand-new 1.6-liter four-cylinder under its hood, and a beefed-up suspension, the 2012 Hyundai Accent hits a few benchmarks all at once. It bests the subcompact class in fuel economy, and takes out most of the compact class as well, while it dials up better straight-line performance and handling than it had before.
The Accent is Hyundai's first vehicle to use the new four-cylinder, though it's also going to find a home inside the upcoming Veloster sporty coupe. Hyundai claims a best-in-class 138 horsepower, though that's also the same output penciled in for the turbocharged version of the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic. With 123 pound-feet of torque to twist out, too, the Accent still has what we consider average acceleration. It's the kind of power familiar to drivers of Honda Civic DX and HF cars, Toyota Tercels, and the like--except for the tick of direct injection, the four-cylinder winds up with the noise and grunt you'd pick out as "economy car," even blindfolded, which we don't recommend. It comes into a little more force at around 3500 rpm, feels a bit taxed when more than two people are riding along, and according to Hyundai, can hit 60 mph in less than 10 seconds.
The six-speed transmissions, manual or automatic, do a fine job of extracting all the value from the small-displacement engine. The manual transmission will probably be a rarity, because Americans vastly prefer automatics, but the stick is a good one, with very light uptake and lever feel, and an "eco" light to nag you when you're winding out the engine too much, too often to get good gas mileage. The six-speed automatic has an ActiveEco function to complement its sport-shift mode; choose the first and those upshifts come quickly, or flick the lever to the right and get more control over those gears. We've found the Accent automatic feels much better off the line around town when you put it in Sport mode--remember that when you're ferrying more passengers.
Also remember it when you don't quite hit the excellent fuel economy numbers Hyundai and the EPA promise. With either transmission, the Accent's rated at 28/37 mpg--strong figures that roll up the benefits of a light body, direct injection, and efficient transmissions. Fill up the tank and the Accent could go about 400 miles without another stop. Wring it out, or leave in Sport, and you're sure to land at the lower end of that scale.
The Accent tackles the road with more finesse than it did in the past, and some of the credit for its more capable road manners goes to its stiffer, lightweight new body. It hasn't put on much around the middle, as usually happens at model changeovers: at about 2400 pounds, it weighs about the same as the Honda Fit, and a few hundred pounds less than the smaller Ford Fiesta. That and better body rigidity allow the improved suspension design to do its work. The design includes twin-tube shocks and a stabilizer bar for the front struts, while the rear suspension sticks with the classic torsion-beam setup. Like any short-wheelbase vehicle, the Accent can come down hard on big potholes, but there's surely a more fluid ride quality here than before, even with the car's lower-rolling-resistance tires. Those tires lend a hand to gas mileage, but they don't give the Accent any help in the grip department--and despite the electric power steering's meaty feel (even more so on the SE), the Accent doesn't want or need to push much beyond its commuter duties. We'll take the upsized 16-inch wheels and tires--but we'll leave our cornering hopes and dreams for the Accent-based Veloster coupe.