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Golden rays of California sun twinkle through the palms, and play atop smooth black pavement along the ocean side as the day comes to an end. Two surfer gals still in their bikinis and waist wraps nap in the backseat while their beaus exchange a fulfilled nod to each other as they crank up the music.
Sound good? No? Then the all-new 2006 Hyundai Accent GLS is for you.
Roll call! Ding-a-ling warning chime? Here. Excitement? Style? Comfort? Still absent. But in the compact sedan segment, chances are you weren't expecting them in the first place.
What the four-door Accent GLS has in spades is the bare minimum in accommodations and a relatively low price. And if you're trading in the Hummer, you'll end up paying for this new little guy in no time with its 28 miles per gallon in the city and 38 on the highway.
But with all that cash you saved spilling out of your trousers, the question remains: Can you stand the anonymity? Given the amount of capable competitors in this segment and price range, the answer is more likely no — surfer or not.
An engine, four tires and four doors
Before this turns into a total love fest, let's pull back a step and take a peek at what the Accent does offer, because this car is by no means a lightweight. It's a very capable vehicle that nails the fundamentals. In other words, it doesn't do much — but what it does, it does well.
Take a quick trip around the Accent and, frankly, it's somewhat amazing what you can get for $13,300 to start.
Under the hood, Hyundai claims class-leading power from the standard 110-horsepower, 1.6-liter, DOHC inline four-cylinder engine, tuned with variable valve timing. In practice, you can safely smash the pedal to the floor just to amuse yourself. Although it won't blow doors off the line, taking a leisurely 11.8 seconds to get up to 60 mph, the front-wheel-drive Accent motors around with little ruckus from under the hood and no complaints from the standard four-speed automatic.
Still, the competition tends to be substantially faster, with the Toyota Yaris S, Scion xA and Chevy Aveo all getting to 60 mph a second quicker. And it gets worse over 60 mph. Because of an ambitious gear ratio in 4th combined with the low-torque engine, the Accent takes nearly 8 seconds to get from there to 75 mph. And that's painful with a tractor-trailer in the rearview. The perk, of course, is high mileage, with 28/38 mpg on the window sticker and an average 23.8 mpg in our grueling mostly city testing regimen.
In the handling department, the Accent GLS does fairly well in everyday circumstances, despite riding on a MacPherson strut front and a torsion beam rear suspension. At the track, it ran through the slalom with solid grip and average roll in an impressive 64.8 mph (faster than the Aveo, slower than the Fit or Yaris) with minimal noise from the optional 15-inch Kumho Solus HP4 Plus tires.
Hyundai says it also improved body stiffness by 39 percent over the previous model. The efforts have paid off with a smooth and remarkably quiet ride, although at highway speeds the car doesn't feel confident in evasive maneuvers or on rough surfaces thanks to a steering rack that transmits large amounts of turbulence from the wheels.
Safety and security
Among the other major selling points for the Accent are the standard safety features, including four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution. The brake system shined at the track, stopping this little fella from 60 mph in 122 feet with minimal ABS vibration. Front, side-door and side curtain airbags for driver and passenger are also standard.
Then comes the warranty — perhaps the most referenced feature of a Hyundai product. The Accent comes with a five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, seven-year/unlimited mileage anti-perforation warranty and five years of roadside assistance.
All this and more is available on the Accent's lone trim level for just over $13,000. It's impressive how much you can get in an entry-level these days, eh? For $1,500 more, our tester added the sport package, which featured A/C; power windows, mirrors and locks; remote keyless entry; and 15-inch alloy wheels. Throw in carpeted floor mats for another $65 and our final MSRP was $14,870.
Inside, the design is simple and functional and the materials aren't cheap-looking, but our tester had a few minor panel fits that weren't quite flush.
Controls are simple and easy to discern. Hyundai even delivers a soft, two-tone khaki and mud interior décor, giving the cabin a comfortable ambience with plenty of space for the driver to feel safe and at home. Views from the front seats are very nice, with the short hood allowing a full view of what's immediately ahead.
In a heady disclosure, Hyundai's data shows that the Accent's total interior space is about a Verne Troyer bigger than the 2006 Honda Civic. And while there is ample space in the driver seat, it only feels that way when you're alone. With a passenger in front, the cabin feels cramped, with sincere apologies to those who have to fit in back.
Hyundai's engineers have obviously studied what makes Toyota and Honda interiors work and tried to mimic the major points. (Listen to that tuned slam of the front doors.) And in this attempt, they've succeeded in large measure with a wraparound design that makes the car seem quite sophisticated. In a few instances, they've even thrown in surprising touches, like lighted mirrors on both visors.
From the exterior it appears you won't have any trunk space, but when you crack that puppy open, it extends surprisingly far, allowing 12.4 cubic feet of space (eating up some precious backseat comfort as well). The backseats also fold down for bigger cargo.
Too much competition to break out
Hyundai had a tremendous challenge with the 2006 Accent, given the amount of competition coming out in the compact segment. The big dogs like Honda, Toyota and Nissan all had new offerings starting in the $13,000-$14,000 range, while Chevy kept the pressure up from below with its Aveo starting at $12,850.
With this in mind, it makes sense to avoid any risky design moves that might drive customers away. And it also makes sense to focus on the core components to keep price — the ultimate feature in this segment — in line with or beneath the competition.
Those who choose the Accent will more than likely have an enjoyable experience. But given the number of competitors here — that is to say, nearly every major manufacturer — the Hyundai could very easily get lost in the mix.
System Score: 8.0
Components: The Hyundai Accent comes standard with an AM/FM/CD player. It's good for 172 watts and includes six speakers. A six-speaker sound system on the Kia Rio is an option but on the Hyundai it's included in the price of the GLS. No other sound system is offered.
Performance: Based on sound quality alone, the Accent's stereo is very good given the car's price point. The bass, while not exactly thumping, is deep and rich and most other tones sound surprisingly clear. The highs are sharp and can tend toward "tinny" but for the most part the system offers good separation and terrific sound reproduction considering the car's price.
We were pleasantly surprised to find that this low-cost car offers such good sound quality as well as preset equalizer settings with various sound "profiles" intended to enhance certain types of music. Those EQ settings change the sound profile noticeably but they don't always fit the correct type of music. Some rock and pop we listened to sounded really great on the classical setting, while almost nothing sounded better on the "Pops" setting (we think they mean "Pop").
Unfortunately, the Accent's stereo is lacking some features that are becoming quite common, even on budget-priced cars. The stereo does not have a mini-jack connector for portable MP3 devices, nor is it able to play MP3 CDs. And a CD changer isn't even an option. Inexpensive vehicles like the Scion tC and Honda Fit have more comprehensive sound systems that we feel hit the bull's-eye with the intended under-30 market.
The head unit is attractive and the buttons and knobs feel nice and smooth, but not in a cheap way. The large display is easy to read at a glance, which ultimately helps keep attention focused on the road.
Best Feature: Overall sound quality.
Worst Feature: Lacks MP3 capability.
Conclusion: A better-than-expected stereo for the price. The sound quality is great but the new Hyundai Accent's stereo is missing some features. Buyers in this segment are beginning to expect a stereo that can play MP3s, plus there is no other audio system to choose from unless you swing by Circuit City on the way home. — Brian Moody
Chief Road Test Editor Chris Walton says:
The Accent succeeds in being remarkable by being unremarkable. In other words, had it been torturously slow, dangerously lacking in braking abilities or terrifying in the slalom, it would've made an impression on me. But it wasn't any of those things, and I wouldn't have faulted it if it had been because at $13K-$14K I half expected it to be compromised in some way. It turns out that the Accent is completely competent.
OK, so it's a little slow, but its brakes are surprisingly good and its slalom speed (once I discovered the best technique) is outstanding. Bargain prices used to forebode not just an uninspired test session, but perhaps a dangerous one. I'm happy that the state of "entry-level" species has moved up the evolutionary ladder along with the rest of the automotive genus — and that's a good thing for all of us.
Vehicle Testing Assistant Mike Schmidt says:
What is there to say about the Hyundai Accent? It's not the gasoline-spider-slayer of Toyota advertising lore. It's not "go" in the futuristic anime world of Honda marketing. Short of a spray can and some juvenile mischief there is no apparent way to make this car say, "Look at me."
The safety features of the Accent are commendable. Disc brakes all around, ABS and an arsenal of airbags surrounding its occupants give some solace when sharing the road with 18-wheelers and full-size SUVs. Add in the benefits of fuel economy and the 10-year/100,000-mile warranty and this car becomes a good value for under $15K.
Is it enough of a value for this price-sensitive compact sedan market? I think so. I expect that the Accent will have some success but would definitely consider it to be the underdog in the youth market battle with up-and-comers Fit, Yaris and Versa.
"We've had the car about 30 days! Very pleased with the performance and it is very quiet! A lot of fun to drive and the gas mileage is great!" — Lee & Bill, March 26, 2006
"Very cute and modern design. Great gas mileage! Performs like a small sports car while providing great safety features. Worth every penny." — Don, December 28, 2005
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