2018 Hyundai Accent Limited First Test: A Ho-Hum or Humdinger?

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Small economy cars do not get much love nowadays, and it’s rare when one gets much hype—tell a friend or family member that you just bought a Fit, Fiesta, or Versa, and see what kind of reaction you get. Today’s subcompact sedans—which include the Nissan Versa, the Ford Fiesta, the Toyota Yaris iA, the Chevrolet Sonic, the Kia Rio, and the Mitsubishi Mirage G4—only take up a small percentage of the shrinking sedan market. The new 2018 Hyundai Accent enters this segment with a fresh redesign, but is it anything special, or is it just another ho-hum subcompact sedan?

The redesigned 2018 Hyundai Accent dropped its hatchback body style and now only comes in sedan form.

The 2018 Accent has been completely overhauled. The sedan now rides on a new platform with new technology. Outside, the new design adopts Hyundai’s latest styling language, contributing to a mini-Elantra look. It’s quite attractive and doesn’t look like a styleless bar of soap or have overly quirky styling like some subcompacts do. Inside, designers gave the Accent an interior you would normally find in a more expensive car; it doesn’t look like the basic rental car interior normally found at this price point. It’s nothing gleaming, but it’s a nice surprise for an entry-level car. Technology and features weren’t overlooked. A rearview camera and a 5.0-inch center touchscreen are now standard in the base SE trim, the midlevel SEL trim now gets a larger 7.0-inch center touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the top Limited trim receives heated front seats, automatic emergency braking, and a hands-free smart trunk that pops open when you stand behind the car for a few seconds with the key fob in your pocket.

Designers also gave the Accent more interior room, so much so that the EPA considers the Accent a compact car and not a subcompact for its size class, which is determined by passenger and cargo volume. Rivals such as the Ford Fiesta sedan and Toyota Yaris iA sedans are labeled subcompacts due to their smaller interior size. Other rivals, such as the very aged Nisan Versa sedan, the uncompetitive Mitsubishi Mirage G4, and the Chevrolet Sonic sedan, are also considered compact cars. Trunk cargo space is good for a small car; it measures in at 13.7 cubic feet, putting it above the Fiesta and Yaris iA sedans, but below the Sonic and Versa sedans.

During Motor Trend testing, the Accent accelerated to 60 mph in 9.3 seconds, on par with most subcompact sedans, and stopped from 60 mph in 119 feet, better than most rivals. Our road test team did not have any issues when launching or emergency braking the sedan. Where the Accent shows some separation from the rest of the small cars is on the figure-eight handling course with its time of 27.6 seconds and 0.60 average g. Nothing fast, but that makes it quicker than competitors in its segment and gives it one of the highest average g numbers, showing that the Accent handles well. Road test editor Chris Walton agreed after he flogged it around the figure eight. “For a compact economy car, this Accent is quite good on the figure eight,” he said. “The steering is talkative around the skidpad where it finds gentle but terminal understeer. The brakes are responsive, and there’s just enough power to keep it entertaining. I had to manually shift down to second for the skidpad, and it obeyed each time and made the downshift, unlike some others. The car is pleasant, entertaining in a surprising way.”

Out on the road, the 2018 Accent continues to be an enjoyable little sedan. Acceleration is adequate for around town, and braking feel and power is good. If you find yourself on a twisty road, don’t be afraid to push the subcompact a little, as it provides good grip and less body roll than you’d expect. But it’s still an economy car, so no Fast and Furious maneuvers, please. One of my personal complaints about most subcompacts is interior noise and ride comfort; sound deadening is usually kept to a minimum, and the combination of a short wheelbase, light weight, and lower-end suspension components usually makes for a rough ride. In other words, most subcompacts are loud and drive like they are flapping around everywhere. Considering its price point and segment, the Accent does a good job muffling out a lot of outside noise and ironed out road imperfections like a larger, more expensive car while driving on the firmer-riding 17-inch wheels versus the softer 15-inchers found on the two lower trims.

Like most economy cars, the Accent is fuel efficient with its 130-hp, 119 lb-ft 1.6-liter I-4 engine, which delivers an EPA-rated 28/38 mpg city/highway with the optional six-speed automatic transmission (not a CVT like many have in its segment). However, it’s not the most fuel efficient. The less powerful Versa, Yaris iA, and Honda Fit provide better fuel economy. The 2018 Accent offers the usual list of safety features you’d find in a small, entry-level car but adds one important one: automatic emergency braking, a feature not normally found at this price point. Forward Collision-avoidance Assist, as the automaker likes to call it, will warn the driver of a possible frontal collision before the system automatically applies the brakes if the driver fails to do so. Unfortunately, it’s only available in the top Limited trim, but at least it’s offered. This is one safety feature that should be available across all automakers’ lineups and not just the more expensive vehicles. At the time of this writing, the 2018 Accent has yet to be crash tested by the NHTSA or the IIHS.

Our 2018 Hyundai Accent Limited tester came standard with 17-inch alloy wheels, a power moonroof, foglights, LED daytime running lights, LED taillights, heated front seats, automatic headlights and climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a proximity key with a quick-entry system, push-start ignition, a six-way manually adjustable driver’s seat, hill-start assist, and a 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen with SiriusXM satellite radio, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto. The only option was the $125 carpeted floormats. All of this for $19,905. That doesn’t sound bad at all until you look up the price for a base model of a more refined and larger compact sedan like the Honda Civic, though a Civic LX base model would lack the Accent Limited’s larger alloy wheels, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, moonroof, and active safety tech (available as an option on the LX).

The Accent’s hands-free smart trunk (standard on the Limited trim) works well. You simply stand behind the Accent when its locked with the key fob in your pocket, and the trunk automatically opens without making any kind of gestures in seconds. No need to swing or kick your leg when you’re holding bags like in many other applications.

If you are finding it hard to believe that a little Hyundai can be this good and offer so much, don’t. My fellow editors had great things to say about its Kia twin, the Rio, which shares the same platform and powertrain, at our 2018 Car of the Year testing. We were so impressed with the Rio that it became a finalist. “It might seem surprising to see a budget subcompact hatchback reach the finals in our Car of the Year competition,” we said. “But every one of our judges walked away from the Kia Rio impressed with how much car you get for well less than $20,000. After all, it’s a lot harder to build a great car for $20,000 than for $50,000. Angus MacKenzie might have summed it up best: ‘The Kia Rio is a worthy finalist. Not car of the year, but it’s a great value and a well-rounded small car.’” If the 2018 Accent competed, similar statements would have likely been said.

I do, however, have a couple of quibbles with the Accent, the first being the imprecise steering, an issue that still seems to haunt many Hyundai/Kia vehicles to this day. When driving on the highway or on normal roads, I found myself doing constant small steering corrections more often than I normally do. The imprecise steering seemed to make the sedan wander around in its lane more than I’ve felt in other vehicles over the same roads. Additionally, the interior does have plenty of hard plastics that can be easily marked everywhere, including all of the door panel armrests.

The 2018 Hyundai Accent is not ho-hum, but it’s not a humdinger, either. It’s a good-looking and competent small car that I can recommend—pending the crash test results. I’m sure others might find other complaints besides mine, but like senior production editor Zach Gale said, “Almost everything can be countered with, ‘But it’s a $19,905 car.’” With all the Accent has to offer, this sub-$20,000 car should make buyers who don’t need the space of a hatchback or crossover happy.

2018 Hyundai Accent (Limited)
BASE PRICE $19,780
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan
ENGINE 1.6L/130-hp/119-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 2,665 lb (61/39%)
WHEELBASE 101.6 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 172.6 x 68.1 x 57.1 in
0-60 MPH 9.3 sec
QUARTER MILE 17.0 sec @ 83.2 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 119 ft
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.6 sec @ 0.60 g (avg)
REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB 25.4/39.8/30.4 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 120/89 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.61 lb/mile