Nobody buying a Hyundai Accent will expect sizzling performance, yet the 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine is surprisingly snappy, even with the automatic transmission. An Accent GLS automatic has no problem keeping up with traffic as long as you stomp on the gas pedal, and it's more than happy cruising at speed on the freeway. We have not had a chance to check out an Accent with a manual transmission but expect it to be more fun to drive.
Hyundai's 1.6-liter four-cylinder is a modern, sophisticated engine with dual overhead camshafts and continuously variable valve timing. This DOHC/CVVT combination helps give the engine a broad power band with high fuel efficiency and low emissions. The engine produces 110 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 106 pound-feet of torque at 4500 rpm.
The EPA's latest City/Highway fuel economy estimates are 27/32 mpg for the manual, 24/33 mpg for the automatic. When making comparisons, remember that 2008 figures are generally lower (poorer) than in previous years because of new test procedures designed to better reflect real-world driving. The automatic does slightly better than the manual because its overall top gear ratio is a low 2.77:1, versus 3.39:1 for the manual. In exchange, the stick-shift Accent should deliver snappier throttle response from cruising speeds.
The sedan's ride is on the soft side, softer than the Kia Rio, which gets sportier settings. The power assisted rack-and-pinion steering provides reasonable feedback and the handling proved to be acceptable on some winding mountain roads near San Diego. Our GLS automatic had the optional 15-inch alloy wheels with the sportier P195/55VR15 tires. We did not try a base model with the skinny 14-inch tires and steel wheels, but suspect it would not handle as well. Overall, the driving characteristics and performance make this a commuter car rather than a long distance cruiser.
The SE coupe is more stiffly sprung than the GS coupe or GLS sedan (by 24 percent up front and 11 percent in the rear). Its suspension struts are valved tighter, and its front anti-roll bar is beefed up to 24 mm, vs. the 21 mm bar on the GS/GLS. And the SE's V-rated tires have stiffer sidewalls and wider treads, which makes for a firmer ride. The steering ratio is the same (15.5:1) in all three models, but Hyundai says all three racks are tuned differently for different levels of sporty feel, while the SE's suspension upgrades make it 70 percent more resistant to body roll so it leans less in corners than the other models.
The SE's now-standard B&M Racing sport shifter decreases the distance the driver has to move the lever from one gear to the next, which should enhance the driving experience.
For 2008, the brakes were downgraded from four-wheel discs to ventilated discs in front and drum brakes in the rear. To be fair, a small, front-wheel-drive car relies more heavily on its front brakes anyway, so the change probably represents a bigger loss in bragging rights than in real-world safety. In theory, discs are better for their improved ability to dissipate heat, particularly when used repeatedly such as when hurtling down a steep mountain road.
The 2008 SE adds four-channel, four-sensor ABS with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD). This feature isn't even offered as an option on the GS coupe, and is optional on the sedan as part of the Popular Equipment Package. ABS allows the driver to maintain steering control in an emergency braking situation by preventing wheel lockup. EBD improves stability in hard braking situations by balancing brake force front to rear.