2020 Hyundai Accent- Swipe To The Left

All the single ladies (and gentlemen) can agree that dating is brutal. We picture our perfect match and have conjured up a list of what makes our dream catch so…..well……errr……dreamy. They have to be attractive, successful, love puppies, not be a convicted serial killer……the list goes on and on. But what if they meet all of the criteria and there’s just no spark (not referring the subcompact Chevrolet, this being a car blog, after all)? It’s beyond disappointing when they check all the right boxes but they’re as dull as oatmeal porridge and there’s no chemistry. The date goes nowhere. That’s how my experience went with the Hyundai Accent. It does everything a compact car should, but there was nothing extraordinary that made me crave a second date. That’s especially disappointing since the last generation Accent was among the best and more interesting cars in its class. But something tells me that Hyundai doesn’t want to continue the relationship much longer either.

This 2020 Accent is part of the fifth generation that debuted in 2018, so it’s relatively fresh. The Accent was originally the replacement of Hyundai’s infamous Excel, and since 1995 has been the company’s entry-level car on many shores. It’s an important task, for a brand that itself was often considered entry-level. But the world has changed and demand for these types of cars is dwindling (as proven by the demise of the Honda Fit, Chevrolet Sonic, and Toyota Yaris in the U.S. this past year). Small CUV’s are the rage. Despite the larger dimensions on this newest version (this Accent is about the same length as the original 1992 Elantra), this is a tiny slice of the pie to fight for. The Accent was once sold across the globe so it was an unprecedented move for this generation to not be sold in Hyundai’s home market of South Korea, or in Australia where it had been a top-seller years ago. It was discontinued this year in Canada where those lucky Cannucks had a hatchback option. Hyundai’s theory in these countries is that the new Venue crossover takes the place as the brand’s cheapest offering.

My beef with the Accent is that it’s lacking a personality. It has no soul (once again, not referring to a Kia). There’s plenty of substance, but nothing to capture the memory. The outgoing Accent was cheap and cheerful. It would never set the world ablaze, but it knew its purpose and made it lighthearted. This version is dull. It’s an appliance. Small cars are meant to not take themselves seriously. Plus we didn’t get the hatchback version of this generation, which was always more appealing for a number of reasons.

Let’s start with the styling. The Accent is a handsome little critter and there’s essentially nothing wrong here. It’s a shrunken 7/8 scale Elantra. The overall swoopiness and greenhouse shape is an evolution from the fourth generation Accent, and a refinement of Hyundai’s “fluidic sculpture” theme from a decade ago. The front end is more blunt and pug-nosed than before and the rear is upright to help with aerodynamics and safety standards. The taillights themselves are nicely crafted and look upscale on a car at this price point. The flowing edges of the old Accent have been given a edgier side. But especially in our car’s gray tone, the overall look is uninteresting. It can easily be confused for an Elantra but it’s more serious than its big brother. There’s nothing defining about this car. It’d be perfect for a bank robbery because….wait…..what did that car look like again?

The same goes for the interior presentation. Let’s get one fact out of the way; small, affordable cars will always have cheap plastics throughout the cabin. As sure as the sun rises in the east, it’s a certainty. This Accent is no exception, and neither were the prior versions. The old Accent tried to make up for it with dimpled, textured plastics and whimsical lines in the doors and dash. It knew it was thrifty, yet tried to be cheerful. The focal point on this latest Accent is a giant slab of dreary black plastic that forms the dash top. It’s cheaply grained with no imagination and no shape, and it’s within the view of the driver at all times. To look at that year-after-year while owning this car would be depressing. The doors and lower dash is also covered in the same drab, monotonous material. Granted, Hyundai did go to the effort of adding silver trim around the radio and air vents and some glossy black piano finish around the shifter to liven things up. But the overall theme of the interior is utilitarian. No smiles, and no laughs, on this date.

Excessive signs of cheapness abound in this car. The door armrests have no padding, but oddly, the door panel itself has some thin, bargain basement cloth trim. Hyundai would’ve been better investing the money into the armrests, as they are a touchpoint. There is no centre armrest, not even one that’s hinged to the seat and flips down. The headlights cannot be set into an automatic mode. And neither of the front seatbacks have pockets. The steering tilts, but does not telescope. These may sound like first world problems (and they are), but the Accent’s cheaper competitors have had these little niceties included for years. They’re odd omissions nowadays and make the Accent feel bargain-basement. No one wants a cheap date. At least all the panels fit together tightly and assembly quality was solid.

Anyone who has been in any recent Hyundai will be at home in the Accent. Many of the interior bits and pieces are shared the rest of the lineup. The white faced gauges would look right at home in a Santa Fe and the steering wheel, albeit missing a few features, came straight off the last generation Sonata. This is all good news, as all of the steering wheel controls are easy to decipher and the instrument cluster is a case study in perfect ergonomics. If anything, the Accent’s simple nature only uncomplicates Hyundai’s already straightforward layouts. The traditional blue backlit controls are a Hyundai trademark and add a soothing vibe to the interior at night.

The radio interface has a five inch display and, once again, is a carry over from other Hyundais. There’s fewer personalisation options on this radio but it has the basics covered. The touchscreen is quick to respond, the graphics are logical, and shuffling through the menus is as elementary as it gets nowadays. Physical knobs for tuning and volume are greatly appreciated and there are actual buttons to compliment most touchscreen commands. Although the screen is on the small side, as are the virtual buttons, it’s easy to see at a glance and is mounted high on the dash. Pairing a phone is effortless and there is one USB port in the centre console (the higher trimmed SEL gets two ports).

Like the radio, the ventilation controls are a true study of simplicity. Three large knobs work the temperature, air flow, and direction, and are flanked by a few buttons. It’s completely foolproof and refreshing.

The driver can find a comfortable seating position easily. The seat bottom does adjust for height, a luxury that cannot be taken for granted, and even though the steering wheel doesn’t telescope, it was comfortably in reach. There is enough rearward travel to provide plenty of legroom for longer limbs and headroom is generous. The seats themselves were a subject of debate. I personally found them flat with little bolstering or cushioning. Another driver went to the trouble to comment that they were nicely sculpted. You be the judge. Either way, they proved to be supportive after several hours on the road and didn’t cause any aches or pains.

The view from the driver’s perch is lower than the Accent’s more upright competitors, but still offered an unblocked view of the road. Thanks to thin roof pillars and a liberal use of glass, visibility is excellent. Reversing is child’s play because of the rear camera, a low back shelf behind the rear seats, and vast windows. Large side mirrors are very helpful to aid with lane changes and despite the Accent not having much of the latest active safety equipment, there was never a need for them.

The rear seats aren’t such a pleasant tale. Even though the Accent is among the larger subcompacts, along with the Nissan Versa, the accommodations in the rear are cramped. Part of this can be blamed on the sweeping roof line that eats aggressively into headroom. Anyone over 5’11” may find themselves in the chin-to-chest position. Another concern is that the rear window arches over the back seat and could lead to scorched heads on a summer’s day. Despite the stretch in wheelbase, legroom is lacking. Thankfully Hyundai is typically adamant about plastic cladding on the seatbacks of their cars, but the Accent’s is lined with cloth that has some give for knees. That’s needed, as the knees of most adult passengers will be digging into the seat.

Rear entry and exit also proved to be a hassle. That low roofline requires anyone to briskly duck their head, in the manner of a curious emu, and the narrow lower door opening makes squeezing shoes through a challenge. Much like forcing a square peg through a round hole. Reciprocally, the front seats had none of these qualms and it was a cinch for anyone to get out of the wide opening doors.

Where some space is lost, it is gained elsewhere. In the Accent’s case, that would be in the trunk. Although still no match for the volume-defying Versa, the Accent’s cargo area is generous for this class at 13.7 cubic feet. It can hungrily swallow several suitcases and the shape itself is usable with nice squared-off corners. Hardy clips on the sides of the trunk are a thoughtful touch. The liftover is low and the opening is wide to accommodate larger cargo. Due to the styling, the decklid is shallow and trying to leverage longer items could be a burden and create a scene worthy of “Mr. Bean”. The back seats fold down 60/40. Getting them to flip down does require moving the front seats forward for clearance and once folded, the load floor isn’t completely flat, compromising versatility. But still, it’s a good sized trunk and underneath (thank you Hyundai, finally!) is a space-saver spare tyre. The last generation had to make do with a piddly inflator kit.

So far, it may sound like I’ve been rough on the Accent and our first date is becoming a train wreck. But au contraire! Although the Accent’s showroom impression may not thrill, it has a few smooth moves up its sleeve. Driving the Accent reveals its biggest strong points. Just like on that date, there may be a few surprises if we make it to “second base”. So the stats of the Accent may not impress, but it truly is the motion of the ocean.

Under the hood of every Accent is a 1.6 litre four-cylinder with variable-valve timing (16 valves) that produces 120 horsepower. These are average numbers for the class, and is actually a downgrade of 10 horsepower from the 2019 Accent due to a compromise for improved fuel economy. We’ll get to that later. What the engine lacks in brute strength, it makes up for with refinement. At an idle, it can barely be heard in the cabin, and during normal driving around town and on the highway, it stays fairly hushed. Only at the higher reaches of the rev range does it become buzzy and its economy car lineage makes itself known. We clocked an average of 8.1 seconds for our 0-60mph runs, which is good for this segment. The Accent has no issues with uphill grades and never felt strained with a carload of people.

Helping achieve those numbers is a continuously-variable transmission. Hyundai is new to the CVT game, and only released their new transmission in the Elantra and Accent for 2020. I was curious to how well it would be developed. To Hyundai’s credit, their unit does a respectable job of emulating a traditional gearbox with artificial shifts and isn’t stricken with the typical droan associated with CVT’s. It’s responsive to inputs and is quick to “downshift” into a higher rev range when passing or climbing grades. It’s non-intrusive with none of the jerkiness that can occur when accelerating from a standstill. Some indecisiveness to which rev band to hold onto over rolling terrain was the only sign that this was a CVT. There is also a “sport” mode that can be selected, and according to Hyundai, that will hold the gears longer for snappier acceleration. Strangely, after multiple tests in normal and sport modes, the acceleration to 60mph was about a second slower in sport, averaging 9.0 seconds.

The way that the Accent carries itself down the road belies its economical intentions. There is a substantial large car feel with a hushed cabin and composed, refined manner on the road. The car feels pinned down whilst others at this price point would wander like a drunken sailor. Engine and road noise are muted and it’s obvious Hyundai went to great pains to control harshness and vibration. It is possible to whisper in the cabin and be heard whilst at cruising speeds. The Accent was also unfazed by the infamous Santa Ana winds and stayed true to its course down the road. Only some engine noise at higher revs and tyre rumble from rutted roads ever reaches passenger’s ears.

Handling is safe and secure with no body roll. The Accent has a flingable nature that can be fun on a back road and does tenaciously grip through the corners. Toss it into a sweeping bend and it will eagerly push itself through. Yet it remains pinned down and undaunted by road imperfections. The steering feel is predictable and provides dependable feedback as to where the wheels are heading. It’s nicely weighted and reflects a massive improvement over old Hyundai’s.

The ride is equally placid. There’s nothing advanced here with a front MacPherson strut suspension and an old school torsion axle with coil springs in the rear. It’s just the way it’s been tuned that makes the difference. Bumps are soaked up with ease. Unlike almost any of its competitors, the Accent is a tranquil place to ride through on a rough road.

The EPA rates the 1.6 litre with the new CVT at a lofty 33 mpg city and 41 mpg highway. Despite those grandiose numbers, I easily trumped them with my notorious easy-going driving style. A 200 mile freeway run resulted in an average of 53 mpg and over the course of 600 miles, I averaged 45 mpg. That included a mix of highways, mountain, city, and test track driving. That is excellent for a vehicle that doesn’t feel like a penalty box and without the help of hybrid technology. That downgrade of 10 horsepower for 2020 paid off.

Our Accent had 20k miles of rental duty under its belt. There was an odd rattle from the front passenger door that occasionally revealed itself and the fan for the ventilation system had an odd whirling noise at the lowest fan speed. That occurred once and disappeared indefinitely after the next drive. Otherwise, the Accent felt solid with no trim or mechanical issues. Hyundai’s lengthy 10 year/100k mile powertrain warranty adds peace of mind for frugal buyers.

Prices for the Accent start at $15,295 in base SE trim. That covers the basics and comes standard with features such as a six-speed manual transmission, a 60/40-split folding rear seat, Bluetooth, a rearview camera, the 5-inch touchscreen display, and a four-speaker sound system with a CD and USB/auxiliary inputs. The only option on our tester was the automatic, adding a pricey $1,100 to the tab. Once destination is added, our urban grey car totaled $17,370.

That price is one of the glaring issues with the Accent. Much of the competition is cheaper and offers more equipment for the price. But the biggest foe that could eat into the Accent’s sales happens to share the same Hyundai showroom. The 2019 Elantra that I tested was only $1,800 more, and offered more room, more power, nicer finishing, was more refined, and let’s face it, was a better value. Without a hatchback version to differentiate itself, there’s no enticing reason to look at the modest Accent. That’s too bad, because with a blindfold, the Accent is a compelling car to drive. But once you look at the interior and lack of basic features, the Accent comes across as boring and penny-pinched. It could’ve gotten a second date with a change of clothes and some better stories over dinner. But for now, it gets an average 2.5/5.0 boomerangs.

The mature badge has grown up along with the car
The rear view has a striking similarity to an outgoing Elantra, that has a similarity to the outgoing Sonata
There’s more than a passing resemblance to the prior Accent and 2011 Elantra on the side profile.
The blunt nose is handsome, yet doesn’t differentiate from other Hyundais
The swooping lines of the old Accent have been made edgier on this new model.
The aggressively angled rear slope is apparent from this angle.
Despite being a continuation of Hyundai’s fluid sculpture design, it’s a clean look overall.
The Accent could easily be mistaken for an Elantra.
The Rudolph nose does not come with the Accent.
Unfussy body lines and a defined shoulder line give the Accent a serious personality.
The rear taillights look great and are a classy touch for an economy car.
It’s a handsome car, but forgettable.
The rear is probably the most grown-up side of the Accent with a defined lip and tidy styling.
The front grille takes up much of the front end’s real estate. Most of it is fake and non-operative.
The rear deck is short enough that the Accent could be mistaken for a five-door hatchback.
Simple styling but dull plastics and colours define the Accent’s interior.
Anyone familiar with Hyundai will feel right at home with this steering wheel and gauge layout.
Everything in this car’s interior is dark; the seats, the dash, the doors. Was someone at Hyundai inspired by Edgar Allen Poe?
Hard plastics make up the door panel, which is expected for this class. The graining shows no sign of life.
The backseats were wide enough but headroom was lacking with the sloped roof.
The SE trim comes with one USB, the SEL would have two. The drive mode button was in an odd place away from the shifter.
This is Hyundai’s first year to experiment with a CVT.
Large side mirrors provide excellent visibility. Active safety equipment was missing but not needed.
To fold the rear seats down, the front seats must be pushed forward.
Once folded, there is a hump over the seat and the pass-through is small.
Resilient metal hooks in the trunk were unexpected thoughtful detail.
The trunk opening is wide, but the short decklid makes it shallow. Loading tall items would be a challenge.
Finally, a spare tyre on the Accent! Thank you Hyundai!

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