Sticking To The Good Stuff | Hyundai Accent 1.4 GL (M)

BY Burnpavement

Low-slung, sleek styling; fat tyres and stiff suspension; a powerful engine and breakneck performance - these are all qualities the Hyundai Accent does not possess. So what’s it doing on BP?

Photos by Jonathan Lim

”Cheap and Cheerful” is an old adage quite commonly used in reference to budget cars, not least because of its alliterative qualities (us editorial types love this kind of thing), but also to provide some kind of consolatory positive attribute to the cars. After all, at the tail end of the market, desirable characteristics used to be rather hard to come by. Even Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson once quipped, ”There’s no such thing as cheap and cheerful — it’s cheap and nasty & expensive and cheerful.”

That was about ten years ago though. These days, we’re not sure the situation applies anymore. Is there still such a thing as a bad car? Dull or boring maybe, but certainly not truly bad

This is certainly the case with the Hyundai Accent, one of the cheapest new cars you can buy today. It may have a bargain basement price (relatively speaking; you still have to pay for COE after all), but you certainly won’t be scraping the bottom of the proverbial barrel if you had one. More importantly — for us at least — an Accent in this spec ensures exclusivity that supercars can only dream of, for one glorious reason: peer into the footwell and you’ll see a weird 3rd pedal on the left; grab the gearlever and you’ll notice it can move from side to side in addition to back and forth, and has numbers etched into the top. Yup, this humble little sedan has a manual transmission, something not even Ferrari offers these days!

Jokes aside, considering the car buying trends of this decade, the Accent manual truly is a rarity, being only one of two models in the subcompact class with this near-extinct transmission option. In fact, I’d be willing to wager Ferrari and Lamborghini sell more 488 GTBs and Huracans in Singapore than Hyundai and Nissan do Accent and Almera manuals!

But, I digress. As I was saying, the 2016 Hyundai Accent is a car you don’t have to make any apologies for. The brand still might not have quite the same cachet or reputation as the Japanese marques, but in terms of products the company can now truly be considered a world player. Let’s start off with the car’s looks. Its styling is neither sleek nor suave; but you couldn’t really call it ugly either, with a clear stylistic link to the other, more expensive models in the range. More importantly, it doesn’t look half as frumpy as some of its competitors, with a cutie angry face at the front and a neat little lip spoiler integrated into the boot. One only needs to compare it to its predecessor from a decade ago to appreciate how far Hyundai has come, with little sprinklings of chrome and sculpted character lines down the side as evidence that some effort has gone into the styling.

Old Accent, say hello to the new Accent

Old Accent, say hello to the new Accent

Take a look at the interior and the brand’s progress becomes even more stark. Gone are the days of uniformly-coloured plastic all around, the cabin now lifted by the presence of gloss black and matte silver inserts. The quality of the materials still leans towards the thin and hard end of the spectrum (which is no surprise given the price), but actual build quality is sound. And while older small cars used to have the same amount of refinement as ”a Milo tin on wheels”, the new Accent maintains a reasonably quiet cabin even at highway speeds. If anything, the only thing that might remind you of the Accent’s budget status is the lack of toys to play with: fog lights, steering wheel controls and climate control are conspicuous by their absence.

Despite the compact size, there is ample head and legroom inside for five adults, although shoulder room is a bit of a squeeze. The 389-litre boot is decently large and practicality is further boosted with the inclusion of 60/40 split folding seats, while AUX and USB input and two 12V sockets will be useful for charging devices on long road trips.

To that end, one thing passengers would not have a chance to complain about are sore bottoms; the 14-inch rims might look like casters, but together with the soft suspension they combine to provide a very supple ride. Potholes, humps and all other manner of road imperfections are dismissed with nothing more than a bob and a shrug. Of course, the downside of having such a comfortable setup means the twisty stuff is dispatched with rather less aplomb. Those tiny wheels and economy tyres mean understeer is always just the slightest provocation away, while the soft suspension sees the car struggle for body control on mid-corner bumps. Having said that though, stick within its relatively low limits and the Accent is fairly agile and amusing to toss around, thanks to a surprisingly low 1,035 kg (claimed) kerbweight — that whole ”it’s more fun to drive a slow car fast” maxim definitely applies here.

That lack of mass translates into a driving experience that is overall best described as uncomplicated. The steering is effortless to twirl around in the city and in carparks, plus its small size makes dicing with other traffic a cinch. The 1.4-litre engine puts out 100 bhp at a high 6,000 rpm and 136 Nm of torque; but other than providing sufficient pep for most driving maneuvers, it’s rather unremarkable on its own.

What really elevates the driving experience and really helps the motor do its job though, is the transmission, a good ol’ 6-speed manual. If you’re worried about how rusty your hand-leg coordination is after all these years though, don’t be; the shift action is smooth, accurate and fingertip-light, and the clutch weight isn’t far off either. As a result, the Accent is a very forgiving car to get going, so you need not fear any jackrabbit starts or kangarooing away from a set of lights. Having the ability to row your own gears also means you can maximise the engine’s limited output, and allows you to deploy the power precisely when you want or need it. Many Singaporeans may be surprised at the number of cogs the Accent has since not too long ago, a 6-speed was the sole preserve of powerful sports cars - but in reality this gearbox type has been fitted to many humdrum cars in Europe for a long time already.

The popularity of cars like the Renault Megane RS or Porsche Cayman GT4 prove that there still exists a market for the manual transmission. Sadly though, this seems restricted these days to purpose-built performance cars. The one thing we often lament (in Singapore at least) is the death of the manual ’box in humble family cars. Apart from the fact that there are so few choices available to us, what’s also tragic is that young drivers will almost never get a chance to improve their skills or appreciate the benefits that a manual ’box provides. Since the family car is where the vast majority of drivers will hone their skills and gain invaluable experience, how will they ever get a chance to practice if parents aren’t able to provide the tools?

The introduction of cars like the manual Accent is a timely riposte to this ongoing trend, and is a move we hope other manufacturers will follow. But don’t be mistaken, for apart from the gearbox, the Hyundai Accent has enough merits to make it a serious contender in the subcompact segment. Its simplicity and user-friendliness make driving it a stress-free experience, space for humans and cargo alike is one of the best in class, and at just over S$85,000, it's the cheapest triple-digit horsepower car on sale today.

We can’t say for sure that bad cars don’t exist these days, but we do know one thing: The Hyundai Accent definitely isn’t one, not by a long shot.