This review is part of a seven-car comparison of subcompact hatchbacks. The Accent is ranked in fourth place of seven.
How quickly things change. In this reviewer’s last subcompact comparison three years ago, the then-new Accent came in first place of 10 cars, impressing for its driving dynamics, fuel efficiency, and all-around pleasant demeanor.
The Accent is still nice to drive. Its steering and handling are more natural and responsive than the competition, even more so now that a couple of once-sporty competitors have had their responses dulled since the 2012 model year. Its 138-horsepower engine is still one of the peppiest in the class. Its seats are still comfortable; its interior quality, though never luxury-grade, is still respectable.
But the Accent was hit hard by a scandal in which Hyundai admitted that it had carried out its EPA-standard fuel economy testing inappropriately, inflating the car’s figures. Its old rating of 40 miles per gallon on the highway and 33 mpg in mixed driving was best-in-class at the time and would still be in the top tier today, but those figures have fallen to 37 and 31 mpg, respectively, good enough for a last-place tie in this comparison (with the mechanically-related Kia Rio and two competitors).
The Accent’s safety ratings, never stellar, have also been eclipsed by a growing number of competitors and are now the worst in this comparison. It suffered a further hit by earning the lowest rating of Poor in a tougher new Insurance Institute for Highway Safety test.
And the Accent continues to suffer for having less interior versatility than a number of competitors. It’s not outright cramped like a Ford Fiesta, and cargo capacity specifications are generous, but it comes up a little short on real-world utility.
It’s decently priced and sets itself apart for its friendly driving dynamics. But it demands too many sacrifices to continue being considered a class leader.
To look at
Three years after its launch, the Accent’s front end has started to look a little tame, with less flair than Hyundai gave its other models at around the same time. The Accent’s shape is still fresh, though, and the sharply creased bodywork and big angular taillights remain distinctive. The SE model, priced comparably to other cars in this comparison, includes 16-inch alloy wheels (not shown on the tested base GS) that also help the Accent stand apart visually.
Inside, the Accent’s cabin has a mature design and layout, with user-friendly controls and a lack of the quirky touches found in several competitors. Padded armrests on the doors would be nice, but otherwise the Accent’s interior avoids giving off the vibe that Hyundai cheaped out. Panel fit is solid, and the plastics, while hard, mostly avoid looking or feeling too basic. Classy and clear gauges round out the driver’s field of view.
To be in
The Accent has comfortable front seats and a slightly lower driving position than some competitors. Many subcompacts sit you up on a high perch both to help visibility and also to maximize interior space; the Accent encourages you to spread out a little more, like in a larger car. Drivers suffer from poor rear visibility, though, a casualty of the Accent’s styling.
Rear-seat passengers have a lower cushion and less legroom than in most competitors. It’s decently comfortable, but you feel more wedged in than in a subcompact with chair-high seats.
Hyundai quotes the cargo volume at a comparison-leading 21.2 cubic feet of space behind the rear seat and an impressive 47.5 cubic feet with the rear seat folded. But the irregularly shaped cargo hold greatly reduces real-world utility, as does the small back hatch opening. Also, the rear seat doesn’t lie flat when folded, and it’s not flush with the cargo floor. Design improvements since 2012 have made the cargo cover easier to remove, at least.
The Accent is also available as a four-door sedan. The Hyundai lineup also includes the Accent-based Veloster, which has similar driving dynamics but a more low-slung shape, more available luxury features, and a higher price.
The Accent isn’t exactly sporty, but it’s the closest remaining thing among the seven cars in this comparison. Shoppers seeking something with a little more handling zest in this class can give up acceleration for a Mazda2 or pay a lot more for a turbocharged Nissan Juke, but the Accent is a far better all-around car.
Responsive, well-weighted steering makes the Accent relatively fun to drive by cheap economy car standards. The 1.6-liter four-cylinder’s 138 horsepower – tied for the best in this comparison – gives it peppy acceleration, and the six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly. As noted, though, gas mileage is nothing special: EPA ratings of 27 miles per gallon in the city, 37 mpg on the highway, and 31 mpg in mixed driving.
The Accent rides comfortably; it’s not isolated but it’s pleasant, and reasonably quiet. One dynamic shortcoming is that the touchy brakes work only in a limited range of angles, feeling more like an on-off switch than a more progressive action.
The Accent hatchback is available in two trims: a base GS with few options (the tested car), and a fully loaded SE. The Accent SE includes the features of the other cars in this comparison – an automatic transmission; power windows, locks and mirrors; cruise control; and Bluetooth connectivity – plus appearance items like alloy wheels and fog lights. There’s not much else you can add beyond this point, though – no advanced infotainment, no heated leather seats, no gee-whiz tech.
The sticker price is a little high at $18,330, but the estimated transaction price is a more palatable $16,142. That’s better than all but two comparably equipped competitors. As on other Hyundais, it has longer warranty coverage than most competitors, too.
But you get what you pay for, to some degree. Driving dynamics are pleasant and the interior is comfortable, but several competitors have fewer drawbacks than the Accent.
Overall grade: B
More from this comparison:
– Next review: 2015 Kia Rio EX (3rd place)
– Previous review: 2015 Chevrolet Sonic LT (5th place)
– Rating the seven subcompact hatchbacks
– Ranking the seven subcompact hatchbacks
– Introduction to this comparison
More about the 2014 Hyundai Accent SE:
– Photo gallery
– Report card — how does it compare in different ways, such as comfort, performance, and fuel economy?
– Report card — how does it stack up for different types of buyers?
2014 Hyundai Accent SE
Vehicle base price (MSRP): $14,645
Version tested: GS 5-door
Version base price (MSRP): $14,895
Vehicle price as tested (MSRP): $17,080
Vehicle price as comparable (MSRP)*: $18,330
Estimated transaction price as comparable**: $16,142
Test vehicle provided by: Kermit Tyler at Antwerpen Hyundai; Clarksville, Md.
Length: 162.0 inches
Width: 66.9 inches
Height: 57.1 inches
Wheelbase: 101.2 inches
Weight: 2,555 pounds
Cargo volume behind rear seat: 21.2 cubic feet
Cargo volume with seat folded: 47.5 cubic feet
Turning circle: 34.4 feet
Engine: 1.6-liter I4 with 138 horsepower
Transmission (as tested): 6-speed automatic
EPA city mileage: 27 miles per gallon
EPA highway mileage: 37 miles per gallon
EPA combined mileage: 31 miles per gallon
Fuel capacity: 11.4 gallons
Assembly location: South Korea
For more information: Hyundai website
Review: 2014 Hyundai Elantra SE
Review: 2012 Hyundai Veloster
Review: 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport