The 2013 Accent hits a number of class benchmarks all at once, thanks to an economical direct-injection engine and 38-mpg highway ratings for the entire lineup. But it's hardly the quickest or sportiest performer in its class, and we'd say the driving experience is merely par for a high-mileage small car.Going by specs panels, the 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine makes a best-in-class 138 horsepower and a respectable 123 pound-feet of torque, but acceleration is about average with zero-to-60 times no faster than about ten seconds. Rev it above 3,500 rpm and you can extract a little more from it, but it does feel taxed with more than two people aboard.
Both six-speed transmissions, manual or automatic, do a fine job in making the most of the engine's power. 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. The six-speed automatic has an ActiveEco function to complement its sport-shift mode; choose Eco and those upshifts come quickly.
With last year's redesign came a much-needed chassis rethink, and with more nuanced suspension tuning and a new lightweight body structure (about 2,400 pounds) the Accent feels more graceful, if not edgy. 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. Ride quality, as with any short-wheelbase vehicle, can be jarring over potholes and bouncy on frost-heaved highways, but there's surely a more fluid ride quality here than before.
We like the somewhat meatier feel of the electric power steering in SE versions, though throughout the lineup the steering tuning feels like it's trying to emulate the strong-centered feel of a large sedan; it's fine, but it also doesn't make the Accent feel as lively as it could be.