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Hyundai Accent

Hyundai Opens New Doors for ‘05

By Jim Bray

What do you do to make a good value even better? Add a hatch, if you’re Hyundai updating its popular entry level Accent.

When I test drove previous models of the Accent I thought they were nice vehicles that would make a very good first car for someone just getting into the market, or a nice second car for someone who wants a decent commuter vehicle that’ll get the job done without making a fuss or breaking the bank. It would also work well for folk who tow a little car behind their behemoth RV’s to use for running around once they’ve set up shop in an RV park.

For 2005, Hyundai has sweetened the deal with its Accent 5, a four door plus hatchback version of the car previously available in only 3 and 4 door configurations. Or, as it is so often called these days, a five door, though climbing in through the hatch would be a bit silly.

The Accent is a straightforward front wheel drive economy car, offering basic transportation that won’t make its owners suffer for their buying decision.

It isn’t easy to make an entry level car that’s still reasonably fun to drive, or that offers enough power, or that doesn’t transmit howls of wind noise on the road (or, due to a lack of sound deadening material, noise in general). This is why, if given a choice and if it fits into their budget, most people would undoubtedly choose a Lexus over a Lada.

The Accent manages to walk that fine line quite well. It won’t push you back into the seat with gobs of torque, it won’t coddle you with massaging seats or thrill you with a kick-butt audio system, but that’s not what one expects in a car of this ilk.

For 2005, all Accent models come with a buzzy 1.6L DOHC engine putting out 104 horses @ 5800 rpm and 106 ft-lbs torque @ 3000 rpm as standard issue. These specs look pretty anemic, but in practice I had no trouble getting the Accent up to highway speeds and it kept up with traffic just fine. It’s no rocket sled, but what do you want for the price?

A 5-speed manual transmission is standard, which is what my tester 5 door had, and a 4-speed automatic tranny is available as an option.

Most of my time with the Accent 5 was spent in harsh winter conditions, doing city driving. And the Accent performed just fine, though it takes a while to warm up when it’s minus 20 Celsius outside (not as long as I do, though!) and if you have more than two people in it it tends to fog up a tad if you don’t keep the defoggers running at all times. But our family’s ’92 Corolla is like that, too, and the Accent is a much nicer car than our old Toyota, though of course it isn’t really fair to compare a new car with one that’s 13 years old.

The Accent always started on the first try, too, regardless of how cold it was, even after having sat idle for a couple of days. It didn’t like it much, but I can’t blame it a whit; I didn’t like being out in that weather either.

I managed to take the Accent on one highway trip and, other than the usual complaints from this class of vehicle that it’s relatively noisy at highway speeds and prone to crosswinds, it felt safe and comfortable and I cruised along at a steady 120-130 Km/h with no fuss.

The independent suspension has MacPherson struts up front (Multi-link in the rear), and you get stabilizer bars at both ends. Brakes are ventilated discs up front and drums in the rear. There’s no ABS and/or traction control option.

Steering is power assisted rack and pinion and it feels pretty good for an inexpensive car. The Accent generally goes where you point it and handles curves quite well, though of course it’s no sports car.

My test unit came with what they call a “comfort package” which includes air conditioning, keyless entry and security alarm, along with power windows and power adjustable, heated outside mirrors. Given the choice between those creature comforts and ABS/Traction control, I’d opt for the comfort in this case, since the front wheel drive/manual transmission Accent does just fine on slippery roads anyway if you have any driving skills whatsoever.

Seat and steering wheel (tilt) adjustments are manual, and it’s easy to find a comfortable driving position, though I could never find one that was just perfect – probably because the left foot rest is a little close due to the small overall size of the vehicle and the location of the front wheel well. But I’ve experienced worse.

Seating is comfortable though snug for four, with adequate legroom and headroom in the rear for those who aren’t too large. The driver and front seat passenger get airbags, and other safety features include seatbelts with pretensioners: 3 point seat belts with height adjusters (which I find really handy) up front.

The rear seat splits 60/40 and folds down for extra storage space. All the seats are cloth upholstered and quite handsome considering the entry level status of the car. The insert design is repeated on the doors and is a nice, attractive touch.

The audio system is an AM/FM/CD/MP3 single disc player with four speakers. It sounds okay with radio, but is a tad anemic when it comes to CD’s. Ergonomically it’s head and shoulders better than the tiny-buttoned thingy in previous years’ Accents, though.

There are plenty of storage spaces, including door pockets, a reasonably sized glove compartment, and dual retractable (though small) cup holders up front. And since this version’s a hatchback, you can haul a surprising amount of stuff.

One quibble I had was the positioning of the rear window wiper, which sits upright over the window rather than parking at the bottom, out of the way. It was in the way when I was forced to sweep snow off the rear window, though other than that it worked well and I was glad to see it included in the first place.

Hyundai’s brochure for the Accent says it offers “worry free driving for years to come,” and that’s probably true for the most part. The company offers an excellent warranty and though I only had it for a week it seems like a well put together vehicle.

Except that, in the interests of journalistic honesty (I know, that’s often an oxymoron) I must recount a problem I had with the Accent that was serious enough to freak me out.

One night when I was sallying forth to visit a friend the car’s lights suddenly went out – headlights and tail lights and instrument panel lights – leaving me completely in the dark other than for street lights, and leaving the Accent nearly invisible to other drivers. The problem seemed intermittent, because I’d been driving the car for nearly a week when it first reared its ugly head. Later, when I was ready to drive home again, the lights came on as they should, only to fail again about a mile down the road. I could get them to flicker back to life if I yanked and twisted on the control stalk, but they wouldn’t stay on.

It seemed like a loose connection in the stalk and would undoubtedly be fixed quickly and relatively painlessly under warranty, but it was a pretty dangerous fault to rear its ugly head! And it must have been as embarrassing as heck for Hyundai since it happened to a pundit during a review!

I’m confident that this problem was the exception rather than the rule, since my experience with Hyundais has been much better than this incident would indicate, but I would be remiss not to mention it.

My tester lists for just under $16,000 Canadian, which seems like a reasonable price considering everything you get.


Jim Bray is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. His columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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