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2012 Hyundai Accent
Our candidate for most-improved car? The reasons are rather obvious

Hyundai's focus used to be on inexpensive transportation. Period. You can add style, pep and fuel economy to the description now with the 2012 Hyundai Accent.

By Malcolm Gunn

What took Hyundai so long? For six long model years (2006-'11), the Korea-based automaker kept churning out the same basic Hyundai Accent econo-car while the competition was busy updating or completely renewing its basic-transportation offerings.

Whatever the reason, the long wait ends in 2011 with the release of the fourth-generation Accent duo for the 2012 model year.

The outgoing two-door hatch and four-door sedan could never be considered the sharpest models on the lot. With their understated blob-like shapes, both represented the last vestiges of Hyundai's school of anonymous automotive styling and would have made ideal conveyances for those entering a witness-protection program. They also remained relatively spartan and lacked the assortment of standard and optional features that customers expect in their small cars these days.

All that has passed. The 2012 Accent, still available in four-door sedan and hatchback formats, appears to be yet another game-changing model for Hyundai. This one should present a formidable challenge to pack leaders as the Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta and Mazda2, to highlight just a few.

The sedan's new sheet metal contains Hyundai's familial shape that has already been imprinted on the Hyundai Sonata and Hyundai Elantra models, especially the deeply sculpted crease extending along the doors and fenders and ending with a hiked-up rear deck. The same is essentially true for the wagon-like hatchback, although its sweeping roofline, curvaceous liftgate and dominating taillamps make it the most practical Accent and arguably the best looking of the two.

With buyers considering smaller cars, you need to show them that there's still plenty of room. And for that, there's not much that's more versatile than a hatchback like the 2012 Hyundai Accent's version.Both models are built on the same platform that extends the distance between the front and rear wheels by about 7.6 centimetres, which is important real estate for maxing out both leg and knee room. In terms of stowage space, Hyundai claims the hatchback bests all comers with the second row in place, although the better-packaged Honda Fit still enjoys significant space-race superiority when measuring maximum volume with the rear seat folded flat.

The Accent's slick new body styles are matched with an equally slick 1.6-litre engine that produces 138 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque. Both numbers are substantially better than the outgoing 1.6's 110 horses and 106 pound-feet. Since the Accent's curb weight remains essentially unchanged, the higher output gives the Accent considerably more pep.

The new powerplant benefits from the latest in engine-building technology, including direct injection whereby precise amounts of highly pressurized fuel are sprayed into the combustion chamber (instead of through the intake manifold), which means more power and reduced emissions. As well, a special hard diamond-based coating has been added to the engine's camshaft components to reduce valvetrain friction.

You'll no longer be seen as merely frugal when you buy a 2012 Hyundai Accent. Not when it looks like this, has 138 horsepower and still pulls down 6.7 L/100 km in the city.The 1.6's fuel economy is rated at 6.7 L/100 km in the city and 4.9 L/100 km on the highway, for the six-speed manual transmission and 6.8/4.8 L/100 km for the optional six-speed automatic. These numbers are now expected for cars in the subcompact class.

Selecting the base four-door L sedan or hatchback with the manual transmission gets you just the basics, including a full suite of safety gear (six airbags, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes plus traction and stability control to prevent skids and spinouts). However, moving up to the GL gets you into air conditioning, cruise conrol, cloth (instead of plastic) door inserts, two extra speakers for the audio system and windows, door locks and heated outside power mirrors.

This content is included in the top-end GLS models, along with a six-speed automatic transmission, premium 172-watt sound system, Bluetooth short-range wireless networking, fog lights and 16-inch alloy wheels (14-inch steel wheels are standard).

The fact that leather seats, power sunroof and navigation are missing from the factory-installed option list (they might be offered as dealer accessories) indicates that Hyundai is striving keep all of the Accent's trim levels as close to the bone as possible and in line with the competition.

Given the sedan's $14,700 on-the-street base price (including freight) -- $15,100 for the hatchback -- it appears that small-car power, hospitable roominess, fuel efficiency and affordability are at the top of the Accent's menu. And at long last, so is style.

What you should know: 2012 Hyundai Accent

Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive compact sedan and hatchback

Engine (hp): 1.6-litre DOHC I4 (138)

Transmissions: Six-speed manual; six-speed automatic (opt.)

Market position: With rising gas prices, small-car sales have been steadily growing. Class leaders such as the Accent offer more than one body style, deliver impressive power and achieve equally impressive fuel economy.

Points: New body style is a huge improvement; The Accent nails it on fuel economy and horsepower; Roomier interior means Accent feels more compact than subcompact; Sedan's enlarged cargo capacity is much appreciated; Added luxury-style options would broaden appeal; Lengthy warranty, once seen as confidence booster, is just a bonus now.

Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.

L/100 km (city/hwy): 6.7/4.9 (MT)

Base price in Canada (incl. destination): $14,700.

By comparison

Ford Fiesta
Base price: $14,500
Good-looking sedan and hatch models feature Euro-style handling.

Honda Fit
Base price: $15,900
Class-leading, fun-to-drive wagon features a versatile interior.

Mazda2
Base price: $15,500
Sporty, fuel-sipper looks great. Slick-shifting manual gearbox a real treat.

Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!

Posted July 16, 2011. © CarTest.ca TM


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