Hyundai Accent: A brief history

The story of the Hyundai Accent in the country, as told by Top Gear PH
by TopGear.com.ph | 5 days ago
PHOTO: Top Gear PH

The Hyundai Accent was first introduced in several offshore markets close to two decades ago as a replacement of the Excel. It was met with mixed reactions. The first generation, despite receiving a relatively low Euro NCAP rating, was also rated as one of the safest cars in its class at the time by European insurance companies. The second generation, introduced in 2000, fared much better in the safety test ratings, doubling the number of points compared to its predecessor. Through the years, the Accent has always had enticing prices.

2006

The third-generation Accent (featured here in blue) was introduced locally several years back. This was a dramatic improvement over the previous two generations in terms of styling, build quality and ride comfort. Perhaps not as popular to the general motoring public, it has been steadily growing in popularity and making headway with taxi operators and fleet consumers.

When first introduced a few years ago, the Hyundai Accent was priced fairly close to its competitors. This, combined with the impression of the still unproven durability and reliability of Hyundai automobiles at the time, meant that the Accent didn’t find as many homes in residential areas as it should have. Quite a contrast to the results of a 2008 J.D. Power survey naming it as one of the few brands that had the least number of problems per hundred vehicles.

Exterior

The 2006 Hyundai Accent actually had quite a number of modern design aspects that were ahead of its time for its class of vehicle. Large expansive headlights flowed smoothly into the hood line, surrounding an attractive grille, which are capped off by a hood with strong character lines that adorn the front. Everything flows until it reaches the rear, where it seems that the designers turned it into a cross between a hatch and a sedan, making it look less attractive than it could’ve been. Apart from that, the Accent’s individual aspects are top-notch. Sadly, the local other offerings at the time edged it out in the looks department.

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Interior

However, whatever it lacked in exterior appeal, it made up for in its interior, which looks like it belongs in a chic European make instead of something made in Asia. A matte-finished dash surface covers a lighter lower half, with both halves sandwiching logically laid-out instrumentation and controls. All buttons of the car that need fiddling with are easy to reach. Looking at all its available features—parcel shelf on the driver’s side, universal door pockets with beverage holders, height-adjustable ELR seat belts, split, fold-down rear seats, cubbyholes—one sees why it cost as much as it did.

Engine

On the side of the 1,493cc DOHC common-rail direct-injection diesel engine that resides under the hood of this Accent hangs a desirable variable- geometry turbocharger. To a gearhead, it’s one of the most sought-after components in the entire automotive kingdom since it allows for a wide engine power band, thereby increasing the responsiveness and fuel efficiency of the engine. Proof of this is the frequently reported mileage of 14km/L and up under urban driving conditions.

Driving impressions

The diesel-driven Accent has a small hint of vibration that’s absent in its petrol counterparts— a small trade-off in light of the advantages. Good off-the-line response combined with the ability to drive in a gear higher than other gasoline-powered competitors (with still enough power to pull up inclines or accelerate into gaps in traffic without the need to downshift) is great—all it takes is a decisive step on the throttle pedal. The brakes are quick to rein in the power, too!

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The spoiler is the suspension, which is biased more for comfort. The engine’s flexible powerband, the thick-rimmed leather-covered steering wheel (which provides excellent driver interface), the appropriately spaced pedals, and the easy-to-reach gearshift lever certainly encourage a fun drive, without even giving you a hard time at the pumps.


2011

With this generation Accent, Hyundai aims to strengthen Korean representation in the subcompact class, which has always been Japanese-dominated in this part of the world. It’s meant to follow through on the bangfor-the-buck proposition of the previous model that not only boasted cheap acquisition costs, but also matched this with notable savings in operating expenses, thanks to the CRDi engine option.

At P588,000, the new Accent’s base 1.4-liter gasoline GL variant still undercuts its closest rival by P11,000 (and 100cc), ensuring a killing in fleet sales. As with the Tucson, the release of the diesel is scheduled for a later date—it’s due to arrive in the middle of the year—but if Hyundai’s current crop of diesels are anything to go by, it shouldn’t disappoint.

Now, we’ve mentioned fleet sales, and there’s no shame at all in dedicating a model variant specifically to meet the demand for cheap, mass-order company cars. However, if a vehicle were to appeal to a wider buyer market, its higher variants must be spec’d to have a more upmarket feel. This is especially true for discerning/ discriminating B-segment bargain shoppers, whom Hyundai wants to win over with this top-of-the-line Accent in 1.6-liter petrol GLS guise.

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Exterior

The P806,000 asking price begs a very good answer to the question, “What more is there to it?” Well, not bigger wheels—the GLS wears 14-inch alloys that can hardly be considered upgrades to the GL’s steel ones of the same diameter. Still, past the diminutive rollers and the yawning gaps they leave unfilled under the wheel arches, the exterior shares the classy styling cues of the new Hyundai models, its profile even having a Sonata vibe going on with sharply rendered creases. The strakes on the hood are the only pretense to performance, but otherwise, the front and the rear are modest-looking, doing away with unnecessary details on the sheet metal.

Interior

Some of the car’s top-spec-only features: the auxiliary buttons on the steering wheel; the rheostat-equipped instrument cluster (which tastefully combines analog gauges with a generously sized digital readout); the integrated audio head unit with USB and baby-jack connectivity; and the automatic climate-control system. The cheat sheet accounts for the rest of the upgrades: dual front airbags; tilt adjustability for the tiller; antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution; 60/40 split-folding rear seats; and keyless entry. There’s also chrome trim on the inside door handles, while the center console gets a high-gloss black finish that looks virtually impossible to keep smudge-free.


Engine

Needless to say, this leaves the powertrain as the only logical area into which Hyundai channeled the GLS’s premium value. Thankfully, the engine and the transmission pass the test. The 1.6-liter powerplant with continuously variable valve timing puts out 122 horses and 156Nm of torque, put to the ground by a four-speed automatic gearbox that reacts quickly to throttle input.

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Driving Impressions

Carrying four passengers through city traffic didn’t pose any issues for the Accent, and it showed just a hint of strain when we briefly gunned it down an open stretch. With at least three people weighing the car down, the handling felt better. Driving alone the steering felt too light and disconnected from the road, no thanks to the skinny 175/70 cheap rubber that already had signs of wear on a unit with just over a thousand clicks on the odometer.

As for the ride, it’s definitely a step up over the previous generation’s, which pitched and rolled when you took a corner even a touch too quickly. There is less off-balanced sensation in the current Accent, although it could have used better spring damping so it wouldn’t feel like something went loose inside your head whenever you rode over a rumble stri

2013

Welcome the new Accent hatchback with a CRDi engine. Wrapped in an attractive and practical trunkless silhouette, it promises to capture the hearts and minds of those who rely on emotions when purchasing a car.

Exterior

The front end is a replica of what is found on the Accent sedan. Hyundai’s ascension is the eye-catching styling of its latest models. There’s no denying that the Korean brand’s exterior design has leapfrogged both Toyota and Honda, and can even cause their cars to be mistaken for a European brand. The Accent is no exception, replacing the generic molten-soap appearance of its predecessor for the current “fluidic styling” theme. The car is styled in the vein of its bigger brothers, the Sonata and the Elantra. On the smaller scale of the Accent sedan, the suit doesn’t fit so well, with the sharp creases and swooping lines that look so good on the larger sedans looking a little lost on the Accent. The new Accent hatchback is definitely an improvement, with a nicely tapering rear section merging well with the character lines on the car’s side section. 

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Interior

If the exterior is distinctive, the interior is rather conventional. The trim is in all-black, with bits of metallic silver to relieve some of the monotony. The gauges are traditional large round analog units that indicate engine and vehicle speed, with digital bar graphs for fuel and coolant temperature. The trip computer data is displayed in the middle, with an “eco” indicator lighting up whenever you drive efficiently.

One feature that we haven’t seen in quite a while is the single-din audio head unit that slots into the middle of the dashboard. Thankfully, there’s an iPod connector hidden in the glove compartment. Switchgear is all simple but sturdy. The only negative experience is olfactory: The Accent has that unpleasant odor from the plastics that is usually found in Chinese cars.

Interior and cargo space is on a par with (or even bigger than) most vehicles in this class, save for the Honda Jazz. Still, the Jazz can’t deliver the aforementioned mileage on the highway under the same conditions. Ergonomics is fairly spot-on with the exception of a couple of gripes. One, the steering-wheel position is optimized for the 10 and 2 o’clock driving position instead of our preferred 9 and 3. Two, the rear seatbelt’s anchor point is a tad too high for my frame, making the diagonal belt rub so uncomfortably against the neck that one would be inclined to go unbelted rather than get a friction burn.

Engine

What’s different is the engine, which is now a 1,600cc forced-induction CRDi diesel that delivers a rated output of 126hp at several hundred revolutions per minute before the 4,800rpm limit. But that’s just half the story. The other half is even more remarkable: the 260Nm of torque. To put that into perspective, Honda’s 1,600cc SOHC VTEC engine popular with the racer wannabes, makes 125hp but doesn’t produce as much torque.

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What does produce similar amounts of torque would be rallyspec engines like those found in the early Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution that produced 333Nm of torque. A stone’s throw from what the Accent’s CRDi engine produces, but the latter does so at a much lower rpm (1,900-2,750rpm, to be exact). A range in which most drivers will operate most of the time.

Driving Impressions

Informal testing reveals that the engine in the six-speed manual-transmission GL variant can deliver about 15km/L without even trying (the higher-spec variant with a four-speed automatic is close behind). On the expressway, both transmission variants easily deliver hybrid-territory fuel economy, capable of delivering 20km/L (based on our actual drive) while cruising at 120kph on the North Luzon Expressway. Now, that’s something to think about.

Ride comfort passes what I call the “cat-eye test,” or running over the road reflectors to see if this upsets or flexes the chassis significantly enough to make the ride annoying. In this case, the exercise does not. Handling is also pretty good, with a tad of understeer manifesting at times, but that’s easily kept in check. We personally prefer higher damping shocks. Most everyone else will be quite happy with the current setup. The rest of the cabin has no real ergonomic issues, everything else being where you expect it to be.

The Accent diesel uses either a six-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. We sampled the automatic, and it did a fine job of delivering the enormous torque. Shifts were quick and unobtrusive. The transmission is there just to make the car go faster. There’s hardly any need to downshift for more acceleration.

To its credit, the Accent’s steering is free from torque steer and remains well-behaved no matter what that hooligan engine attempts. The electrically-assisted power steering feels properly weighted. Its only shortcoming is that the steering wheel itself is adjustable only for rake; it doesn’t telescope.

Matching the engine’s overabundance of propulsion are the powerful brakes, comprised of discs at all four corners. When we first stepped on the pedal, we found the brakes quite annoying. They grab quite easily and strongly. Then, after experiencing a round of acceleration from the diesel, we understood just why they had to be that way. Any car’s brakes have to be easily capable of overpowering its engine, and with this much acceleration available, they have to be up to the task. After adjusting our expectations we could brake normally after all.

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Top Gear PH Says:

2006: The Accent is one of the best-kept secrets in the subcompact category. Its superb fuel efficiency, fun-to-drive factor, interior that’s bigger than it looks, and the split-folding rear seat work together in delivering a good car that’s easy on the pocket for the prospective used-car buyer—if you don’t mind the looks.

2011: Hyundai’s subcompact bet isn’t a bad one at all, but considering how strong its competitors are in the B-segment, it has to undercut the prices of its rivals without making too many compromises. For the GL’s cost, we would be more tolerant of cabin noise and flimsy plastics. For the GLS, however, decent soundproofing should be standard at the very least. Otherwise, we’d be more inclined to look elsewhere, and there are a good number of similarly priced options. Here’s hoping the gasoline Accents are merely being used as market gauges for packaging and pricing their diesel counterparts.

2013: We remember the redeeming factor of the previous generation Accent was its enormously torquey diesel engine; unless you drive an exceptionally powerful car, you shouldn’t be surprised if one of those Accent taxis easily overtakes you. This Accent retains that Road Runner-type acceleration. From idling, the car feels quite normal, but once the turbo starts spooling and the engine unleashes the torque, it’s time to hang on. The Accent hatchback may end up as the best-selling Hyundai in the Philippines. It looks good and has a decent interior. And it gets 12km/L in city driving, and more than 18km/L with some light traffic and highway driving mixed in. What could be more fun than using less fuel?

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The Verdict

The Hyundai Accent line was introduced worldwide in 1995 as an affordable economy subcompact car meant to take the void left by the Excel. However, like the second-generation Accent launched in 2000, we didn’t get it here. Which actually was a good thing, because compared to what the Japanese brands had to offer back then—both in terms of styling and power—the old Accent was not something you would be falling over yourself to get. It wasn’t that it was a bad car, but next to the competition, it might as well have been.

That changed a bit with the third-generation Accent. It came in a slightly better-looking package with an attractive front end and a dated-looking rear. It certainly was more stylish than the absolutely horridly designed ones before it. And it came with a 1,500cc common-rail turbodiesel engine, an engine type that was never available with that particular displacement in any vehicle on our market until then. This wasn’t at all well-known to the general driving populace, save for the fortunate few who took the plunge and gambled on the particular formula of the Accent CRDi. It was a veritable Q-ship in the vast ocean of subcompacts made up primarily of Toyotas, Hondas and more Toyotas, with a sprinkling of Fords, a pinch of Mazdas and a dollop or two of Kias.

Only when a taxi company bet its good money on a huge number of units did the car truly show up on anyone’s radar at all. By then, it was a tad too late in the game for the third-gen Accent CRDi. The bells had tolled, and the Hyundai’s life cycle, brief as it was in human years, came to an end. But not without local distributor Hyundai Asia Resources snapping up whatever units that were allocated to it by Hyundai’s headquarters in South Korea. Why the demand from the public-utility fleet sector? Quite simply, the formula of a fuel-efficient, high-torque diesel engine mated to a manual transmission with excellent driving characteristics and superb low-rpm power delivery, proved to be a hit with fleet drivers, all of whom were wowed by the economics that the package delivered. Boundary targets were easily met even as the car cost very little in terms of operational expenses for both driver and operator. Drivers lined up to battle tooth and nail for first dibs on the Accent CRDi, almost ignoring rival brands in the pool of vehicles.

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It was that much of a hit among drivers who lived in a world in which every little bit counted and a kilometer per liter of savings meant a significantly bigger take-home pay at the end of the day. A mileage figure of 17km/L in the urban driving environment was typical for units in the hands of private owners. One can only surmise what fleet drivers got, but whatever it was, the only thing certain was that they loved the car’s performance and economy. Easy proof of how sought-after and valued this version of the Accent was, is the fact that you hardly ever see any pre-owned units for sale, and the very few that are will almost always be snatched in an instant—all while commanding what is considered premium pricing in the secondhand market.

Hyundai’s story from laughing stock to Korean powerhouse is much like a fairy tale. Locally, the carmaker’s rise to greatness started in the mid-2000s, with the introduction of seriously capable products to replace the old, cheap ones, and with new leadership to pave the path toward greatness. Sales have grown each year since 2005, and thanks to products like the desirable Genesis Coupe, the stylish Sonata, the fun yet fuel-efficient Accent CRDi, and the load-lugging Starex, Hyundai’s model lineup is as impressive as the next brand’s. 

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