First drive: 2018 Hyundai Accent [Review]

Hyundai\'s subcompact is repackaged for an evolving automotive landscape.

The subcompact segment is one that is often misrepresented at best, and disrespected at worst. Enthusiasts frequently see it as pointless, suggesting that just about any used car is a better value for the money. Many mainstream buyers often see it as a destination for those who really have no business buying a car in the first place.

As usual, reality lies somewhere in between. Let's face it, as members of the former group, we often view entry-level vehicles with contempt. You're more likely to find an appliance in this segment than just about any other (save a few specialty niches) and if there's anything we can't stand, it's an appliance.

But there's an ass for every seat, as they say, and from an objective viewpoint, there are reasons to purchase a subcompact over an equivalently priced used car. After all, used cars aren't exactly cheap, and it's often easier to finance a new vehicle. They also often come with better, more complete and longer-lasting warranties; they have updated technology; and, let's face it, they have the smell.

It's also important to point out that not all inexpensive cars are bad cars. There's a spectrum, with what we like to call "cheap and cheerful" at one end and "just plain cheap" on the other. The former are entertaining to drive despite their humble origins. The latter? Well, there's another term for them.

Penalty boxes.

With that in mind, we accepted an invitation from Hyundai to travel to Las Vegas last week and sample its latest effort in this segment: the 2018 Hyundai Accent. Where does this one fall on the spectrum? Read on to find out.

Downsizing Despite all of the arguments we made above in favor of the tiny car, there's one rather unavoidable reality of the current marketplace: small doesn't sell. If you're expecting manufacturers to invest heavily in this segment and make outstanding, premium-level vehicles, well, you're setting yourself up for disappointment.

The Accent is no exception. Hyundai decided to simplify the lineup. To that end, the hatchback model is gone for 2018. May it rest in peace. The engine is also a little less powerful (only 130 horsepower and 119lb-ft of torque), but thankfully the manual transmission is still an option on the base "SE" model. On the SEL and Limited, a conventional six-speed automatic is standard. Hyundai would like us to tell you that they kept the manual gearbox around for the five percent of buyers who just really want to purchase one; the reality is that it's cheaper and in this segment, cheap looks good in advertising.

Fortunately, the Accent remains relatively svelte. The manual model checks in at just 2,502 pounds. The automatic adds 177 pounds to that, but it's still not outrageously heavy.

Upsizing Where it counts, Hyundai has added rather than subtracted. A seven-inch infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is available, and even base models get a five-inch touchscreen. The updated Accent also boasts enough interior volume to be dubbed a compact rather than a subcompact by the EPA. While this is an odd and unreliable measure (see: first-generation Nissan Versa), we are pleased to report that it does feel genuinely roomier inside than a lot of other subcompacts.

There are some other standard and available niceties. On the "standard" side of things, there's a rear-view camera with dynamic guidelines and automatic emergency braking. Available upgrades include LED headlamps and heated front seats. Hyundai's app has also been integrated with the Accent's available BlueLink, allowing owners to take advantage of features including remote start and remote climate control on higher trims.

But even with these upgrades, there are still some things that are just too fancy for this price point. Leather or leatherette seating surfaces, for example? No dice. You're also limited to two USB charge points (one up front and one in the rear--though in addition to a third data port for the aforementioned phone connectivity) Hyundai's product planners said that these omissions exist to differentiate the Accent from the larger Elantra. Given how roomy the Accent has become, we're inclined to believe that they have genuine concerns about product overlap.

So it's cheap, but is it cheerful? The 2018 Accent does not bear the aesthetic hallmarks of an penalty box. Even its cheapest iteration, the SE (which Hyundai did bring along both in manual and automatic guises), looks nicer than it has any right to. Sure, you'll get steelies and wheel covers on a base model, but that's to be expected.

Inside, it's pretty much the same story. The smaller touchscreen is still a touchscreen, and despite the lack of niceties, we rarely found ourselves wanting for the more advanced features of the upper-trim models. Compared to more expensive cars, subcompacts enjoy a much more diverse sales spread. While the typical midsize sedan will probably see the bulk of its sales in its mid- and almost-top-trim variants, a car like the Accent splits pretty evenly between its base, middle and upper trims. The SE and SEL will be the Accent's volume models, which makes a degree of sense. The Limited will overlap heavily with the Elantra. In this case, the standard equipment really matters.

On the road, our impressions were mixed. It's quiet (for a tiny car) and handles most road imperfections well enough. Credit its long (for its class) wheelbase and Hyundai's decision to implement more comprehensive NVH fixes. Remember, context is king. A luxury car this is not.

The biggest disappointment is the 2018 Accent's steering. It's adequate, but detracts from an otherwise reasonable dynamic package. Highway cruising requires steady attention thanks to a need for frequent, minor steering corrections, and we'd be doing you a disservice if we didn't warn you that it could be fatiguing over the course of a longer straight-line interstate slog.

On twistier roads, that disappears and the Accent's competence starts to show. If you ask us, this is a competent chassis in search of a more fine-tuned steering solution. Placing it in sharper maneuvers never presented much of a challenge, and even the rear twist-beam setup didn't seem to hold it back. This is not a sport compact, but it's not some wallowing mess either.

Our favorites in this segment are the Toyota Yaris iA (formerly the Scion iA, AKA Mazda2 Sedan) and the Honda Fit. The former is the dynamic champion; the latter is easily the most-complete subcompact experience money can buy. The Hyundai doesn't really match either of these. It can't touch the Mazda Scion Toyota in the fun-to-drive department and it's not nearly as versatile or practical as the Honda.

But will the Accent buyer be disappointed? We suspect not. The robust feature selection and small footprint mean the Accent will likely do a superb job of suiting the needs of its target demo. We also expect its cost of ownership and overall dependability will make it a worthwhile choice in the long run.

Leftlane's bottom lineNot everybody wants a hatchback, and not everybody cares whether a car can carve corners. For those who can identify, the Accent is an excellent entry-level vehicle. Enthusiasts should look elsewhere.

2018 Hyundai Accent, price TBD

Exterior photos by Byron Hurd; interior photos courtesy of Hyundai.

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