It used to be that cars at the cheap end of the price continuum were just cheap. Accoutrements were spartan. Performance was lacking and so was quality. Even currently esteemed names like Civic were once best known for blowing oil-blue smoke rings while rusting before your eyes. However, today's breed of economy car — including the 2007 Hyundai Accent — break from the conventions that defined blessedly extinct nameplates like Chevette, Cricket, F10, Festiva and Justy.
A typical Hyundai
Hyundai continues making a name for itself by building inexpensive vehicles with loads of standard features that are backed by a mind-easing warranty. The manufacturer has found success in every market segment where it plies this high-feature/low-price strategy. The 2007 Accent SE follows Hyundai's proven modus operandi.
There are two Accent two-door hatchback models, the base GS and our as-tested SE — a sportier, better-equipped version. Each rides on a 98.4-inch wheelbase and provides generous room under its bubbly profile. People space is ample, and not just compared to the Accent's immediate competitors (Chevrolet Aveo, Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris).
Lots of features, solid quality
For a window-sticker price of just under $14,000, the Accent SE packs the following between its doors: air-conditioning, antilock brakes, cabin air filter, foglamps, heated outside rearview mirrors, illuminated vanity mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel, power door locks, power windows, rear window wiper, remote keyless entry, and a 172-watt AM/FM/CD audio system.
This is an impressive list to be sure, but one that is more or less matched by the aforementioned competitors. The Accent, however, one-ups them all by having side curtain airbags standard to go along with its front and side units.
The packaging for all this stuff looks and feels good. The exterior door seams are even, and inside, the quality of the materials and surfacing doesn't scream "You're in a cheap car!" The Accent stayed tightly screwed together during our hundreds of miles, and even the rough roads of Detroit couldn't elicit a rattle or shake lose any trim.
However, all is not perfect in the car's build quality. Obvious variations in door-to-dash gaps show that Hyundai hasn't yet achieved perfection, but this demerit shouldn't knock the SE off anybody's consideration list.
Accenting the performance
The entire Accent line only has one engine, so the SE gets the same 1.6-liter four-cylinder as the GS and four-door GLS. This little 16-valve engine utilizes variable valve timing to help it produce 110 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 106 lb-ft torque at 4500 rpm. A four-speed automatic transmission is optional, but in keeping with the sportier nature of the SE package, our test vehicle was delivered with a five-speed manual.
Up to about 40 mph, the SE fulfills its promise of being sporty. The engine feels perky, and closely spaced gears help the cause. Too bad the shifter is balky. The linkage lacks the precision that the most enjoyable shifters possess.
The four-wheel discs were well up to street-driving duty. On the wet leaves that blanket Detroit's residential roads in the fall, the actuators of the four-channel antilock brakes could be heard clicking away, helping to keep us from sure disaster.
The grippy 205/45VR16 Kumho radials put down a mighty big footprint for a car that weighs in at only 2366 pounds. Grip comes naturally to the SE as Hyundai made significant hardware upgrades including a larger front sway bar (24mm vs. 21mm), stiffer springs (24-percent stiffer in front, 11-percent stiffer in back), revalved front struts and rear shocks, and a unique steering gear. The speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering lets you know what the Kumhos are doing, but don't expect this Korean to speak German — the steering feel isn't that good.
Directional stability is solid at highway speeds, and sweeping around high-speed exit ramps makes you grin as the little car takes a nice set. But the Accent is so loud at 80 mph, you simply won't want to drive it that fast. The car is certainly capable of cruising at 80 and beyond, but don't plan on a comfortable conversation with passengers or enjoying a quiet symphony.
Our ears identified the tipping point at about 75 mph, slower if the weather requires a high blower setting for the A/C. These lower highway speeds suit the Accent SE better than higher, as with only 110 horses at 70 mph you feel like you're running a restrictor-plate NASCAR race — only 120 mph slower. Acceleration above 60 mph in the SE is pokey, and slows as speeds increase.
A good buy or just a cheap car
What is the Hyundai Accent SE? After a week behind the wheel, it does not strike us as a cheap car. It's roomy, solid, well equipped, and offers a decent dollop of true driving fun. Plus there's that Hyundai 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, along with its EPA-estimated fuel economy of 32 mpg city and 35 mpg highway. If you're in the market for a cheap — no, make that "affordable" — vehicle, what's not to like?
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purpose of evaluation.
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