2012 Hyundai Accent SE: Smooth operator

Only one engine is available across the 2012 Accent line, a 1.6-liter four. Don’t let the size fool you. The little four is rated at 138 horsepower, thanks to advanced features such as direct injection and continuously variable valve timing for intake and exhaust valves, both something not usually available on lower-priced models.

The Accent’s “Gamma” engine is easily the most powerful in its class, trumping the Ford Fiesta, its closest competitor, by 138 to 120 horsepower, and thoroughly swamps the 100 hp 2011 Mazda Mazda2 (though look for a substantial increase in the Mazda2 in the 2012 model).

2012 Hyundai Accent SE

2012 Hyundai Accent SE; Hyundai photo

The engine pushes the manual transmission-equipped 2012 Accent to a best-in-class (at least for now) 30 mpg city and 40 mpg highway fuel economy rating. Also boosting the Accent’s fuel economy are techie stuff such as an offset crankshaft design, variable induction system and electronic throttle control. A feature touted by BMW is intelligent alternator control. The humble Accent has it as well, “turning off” the alternator  when no charging is required and thereby decreasing parasitic drag.

Inside the 2012 Accent SE is surprisingly well-dressed, with piano black accents that set off a highly contoured dash. The five-door Accents have durable-feeling cloth seating with cloth inserts in the door panels, giving the Accent’s insides an upscale look. The door trim on the GLS is, to use Hyundai’s word, simply “plastic”, though it’s upgradable to cloth as well. The SE has chrome door handles, otherwise painted, though chrome is available on the GLS as part of a package.

The plastic in the Accent isn’t soft-touch but it isn’t brittle, either. Our only real complaint about the Accent’s interior is the glovebox. It’s big, as Hyundai makes a point of noting, but it feels like flimsy plastic.

The 5-door Accent–or any hatchback in this class–makes more sense to us than a sedan, particularly as an only car, primarily thanks to the added cargo capacity. A drawback to hatchbacks, however, is the increased road noise that often accompanies the guitar sounding board-like interior volume. If the five-door Accent is louder, however, it’s not so much to notice. The Accent SE is one of those cars in which it’s easy to find oneself over the speed limit, even on the Interstate.

The 2012 Hyundai Accent is easy to notice, however, from the outside. The Accent shares the high-relief contours of the Elantra and Sonata, and of the Accent models, the five-door is the styling winner. The beltline not only rises towards the rear of the car but wraps around the hatch as well, accenting (sorry) the forward slope of the car and giving the  Accent a distinctive look from the rear,

The smooth and quiet ride, however, comes at a price, as we learned when we exited the city limits. The 2012 Hyundai Accent SE responds slowly when the steering wheel and is only this much this side of mushy. The softly-softly ride is accompanied by softly-softly highway handling. Most potential Accent owners won’t mind, we suspect, more enamored with the luxurious feel of the Hyundai under their derriere than any enthusiast-minded sport tuning would provide.

Performance, despite the numbers, is less than whelming. Torque peaks at almost 5000 rpm, so extracting acceleration means spinning the little engine. The good news, however, is that the engine is never loud, thrashy or rough.  Most buyers don’t buy a car in this class for quickness, but it’s still good to have when making high speed merges and such.

The test drive at the dealership and the EPA fuel economy numbers will sway a lot of economy car shoppers, rightly so, as the 2012 Hyundai Accent, and we’ll say a hurrah for the Accent SE and its value price for a car the economy driver will be pleased to own as a remarkably reasonable price.

Smooth move, Hyundai.