How much car do you really need? If the answer is not much and you’re looking to spend less than $16,000, let us introduce you to the Hyundai Accent. In base-grade SE trim, Hyundai’s smallest, least expensive car fits that bill and comes with a six-speed manual transmission, offering everything you need in a car and nearly nothing you don’t. (Unless you need a hatchback, though, because Hyundai has dropped that body style from the lineup.)
The Accent sedan comes standard with air conditioning, a 5.0-inch touchscreen audio system, remote keyless entry, and power windows, mirrors, and locks. This year, Hyundai tossed in cruise control and Bluetooth, too; both were optional before. Those extra items push the price north by a mere $250 over last year’s model, to $15,880. The biggest change, though, is that the 2018 Accent is all new.
New Accent, Who Dis?
The wheelbase has grown by 0.4 inch, and the bumpers are 0.6 inch farther apart. Next to small increases in legroom front and rear and a smidge extra headroom for rear-seat passengers, the biggest improvement is to the Accent’s looks. The Hyundai now sports normal-size-car proportions without the stubby, bubble-top appearance that afflicted its predecessor and many other small sedans. With its new hexagonal grille and more streamlined headlights and taillights, it almost could be an embryonic Sonata.
The Accent’s suspension again consists of front struts and a torsion-beam rear axle, although both bolt to a stiffer body that exhibits better isolation from wind and road noise. Hyundai lost 7 horsepower and 4 lb-ft of torque from the largely carryover 1.6-liter inline-four in an effort to enhance its flexibility throughout the rev range, but the new peaks of 130 horsepower and 119 lb-ft of torque register at the same 6300 and 4850 rpm as before.
These humble elements combine to deliver a surprisingly appealing driving experience. The ride is composed, and body control is tight; the steering even sends some road feedback onto the driver’s hands. Ignore the car’s mediocre 0.81 g of grip and so-so 173-foot stop from 70 mph. It’s riding on narrow 185/65R-15 tires, after all. What counts is the way the Accent’s primary controls work together harmoniously with the suspension to make cornering nearly as fun as in Toyota’s Yaris iAsedan, which was engineered—and is built—by Mazda.
Working the SE’s six-speed manual, it almost feels as though Hyundai committed its own theft from Mazda. This is the best manual transmission Hyundai has served up yet, with crisp gear engagement and a well-weighted clutch pedal with a defined takeup point. The brand’s previous efforts at this transmission type have suffered from vaguely defined shift gates and mushy, low-feedback clutch pedals.
If the stick’s goodness isn’t enough to make you hesitate before spending more for an Accent SEL or Limited—which get the SE’s optional six-speed automatic standard—maybe our acceleration data will sway you. This SE scooted to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds, far quicker than any other subcompact short of Ford’s 197-hp Fiesta ST hot hatch and fully 1.4 seconds ahead of an automatic-equipped 2018 Accent Limited. A previous-generation, stick-shift Accent hatchback we tested in 2016 was 1.1 seconds slower.
A shorter final-drive ratio than last year’s car likely improved the off-the-line performance. The change shortens the overall reductions in first through fifth gears, which also seems to do more to improve the Accent’s tractability than the engine tweaks Hyundai employed. We did notice that the engine feels smoother than before, and its tones could be considered dulcet for the class. Fuel economy is, predictably, a strong suit: We saw 30 mpg overall, plus 41 mpg on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy drive loop.
It’s No Accent-dent We Like This One So Much
Inside, every outboard seat save for the driver’s has an overhead grab handle, and every window switch (front and rear) is backlit. The lid of the overhead sunglasses holder is guided open by a damper. There are cupholders molded into each door panel, which, combined with the trio of cupholders in the center console, bring the total to seven.
The large, 14-cubic-foot trunk is usefully shaped and can be expanded by flattening the SE’s standard 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks. We proved this by finagling a fireplace mantel back there and closing the trunk. The interior is well screwed together but rendered mostly from hard, mediocre plastics. The only soft-touch materials to speak of are found on the seats and in the form of small scraps of cloth glued to each door panel. (Curiously, these patches aren’t on the armrests, leaving elbows to sit on plastic perches with no give.) This is par for the course at the SE’s price point, less so at the higher floors on which the Accent SEL and Limited models sit.