By Rex Roy
Chevette. Omni. Metro. Le Car. Colt. Vega. Pinto. Cricket. Storm. Escort. Horizon. Festiva. F-10. Justy.
What do these have in common? They were $%& boxes each and every one. Even esteemed names like “Civic” were crappy in their early iterations. Through the 1970s and ’80s these cars could be observed rusting into oblivion, and blowing clouds of oil smoke as they strained to achieve highway speeds before getting run over by semis and fuel-swilling V-8-powered Detroit lead sleds. (Please save your indignantly rose-colored e-mails…these cars did offer, albeit rarely, new technologies and driving grins. The author put over 120,000 miles on an Omni GLH-S, so he knows.)
What we have for evaluation today is the 2007 Hyundai Accent SE. It is most certainly not a piece of junk. Our fresh example sported no rust and refused to blow any blue smoke. As a matter of fact, this little car pushed everything we knew about cheap cars right off the shelf and into the trash can. This is what to think about the inexpensive Accent SE: It's solid, eager, nicely equipped, cute, practical, and pretty sporty.
The basic package
Dimensionally, the Accent packs more interior room into its stubby 159.3-inch overall length than the much larger Chevrolet Cobalt or Ford Focus coupe models. There is nothing cramped about the interior, and even the rear seating area offers plenty of leg, head, and shoulder room for an average adult male.
impressive in the same sense as the hand-matched wood grain on the dash of a
Rolls-Royce, the interior of the Accent is impressive for what this car is.
Materials feel durable and look good. In decades past, inexpensive cars were
bastions of awful interior fabrics. (This author recalls a 1978 Dodge Colt he
owned with houndstooth fabric in red, white, black, and maroon. He also recalls
the vehicle being delivered new with a bag of white rice in the glove box and a
note of appreciation from the Mitsubishi plant in
All, however, was not perfect, as interior panel fitment could have been better. As can be seen in our photos, the gap between the driver door panel and the dash was about half that of the opposite side. While an obvious shortcoming, this is not a deal breaker for a $14,000 car, just a reminder that it is a $14,000 car.
Power and performance
Power is a term used loosely with entry-level cars. Few of them are ever really powerful. The Accent’s 1.6-liter four-cylinder features double overhead cams, the expected 16 valves that go with two cams, and variable valve timing. Horsepower tops at 110 at 6000 rpm and torque peaks at 106 pound-feet at 4500 rpm.
Up to about 40 mph, the Accent feels pretty zippy. Short and closely spaced gears help that happen, but the pull to highway speeds reminds you that this is an economy car, not a performance car. Economy, by the way, comes in at 32 mpg city, 35 mpg highway.
The front strut/rear torsion beam suspension provides handling that goes with the power — it’s zippy. Little cars like this are fun to toss around. There is truth to the axiom that it’s more fun to drive a slow car quickly than a quick car slowly.
The SE package is an option on top of the base Accent that includes some real hardware changes. The featured goods are a larger front sway bar (24 mm vs. 21 mm), springs that are stiffer (24 percent stiffer in front, 11 percent stiffer in back), re-valved struts and shocks, and a unique steering gear. The sticky Kuhmo P205/45VR-16 radials put down a big rubber footprint for a car that weighs only 400 pounds more than a ton.
While we didn’t track-test the Accent SE, its four-wheel disc brakes with ABS never gave us reason to doubt their capabilities for street driving.
Refinement, and an occasional lack
The Accent SE is screwed together so solidly that during the hundreds of miles we accumulated that we couldn’t coax (or beat) a rattle out of it. Doors close with a solid sound, and the exterior fit and finish easily meet the standards of the class.
However, a couple of areas of the Accent could benefit from some polish. Our biggest complaint is engine noise. This is most notable on the highway, where at 80 mph the thrumming from the little engine becomes way, way too loud. Add the sound of the A/C and blower fan, and it’s hard to have a conversation.
An additional rough edge is the shift linkage. It’s not so swell. Notchy is a kind descriptor. That said, we never missed a shift, but that’s like saying the steering is okay because we never ran over a curb.
Our former opinions
We can recall the days when cheap cars felt all of their description. This opinion is now obsolete thanks to the thoroughly modern and competitive offerings like the Accent SE, Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, and others. Hyundai takes it a step further: to quell concerns about quality and reliability, it backs the Accent with a five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty plus a ten-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
Hyundai wants you to compare their
Accent to the Yaris, Scion xA, Fit, and Chevrolet Aveo. After researching
competitors, add the Chevrolet Cobalt and Ford Focus to that list. All of these
cars offer solid transportation value at a dollar-store price. But none of them,
especially not the Accent, belong in one.
2007 Hyundai Accent SE
Transmission: Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 159.3 x 66.7 x 57.9 in
Wheelbase: 98.4 in
Curb weight: 2366 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 32/35 mpg
Safety equipment: Anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution; front, side, and curtain airbags
Major standard features: Air conditioning; fog lights; illuminated vanity mirrors; heated outside mirrors; 172-watt AM/FM/CD audio system; cabin air filter; leather-wrapped steering wheel
Warranty: Five years/60,000 miles