Apart from the Starex, perhaps the car that etched Hyundai in the Philippine landscape is the Accent. It first arrived here in the mid-2000's and caught on as a popular fleet and taxicab thanks to the standard diesel engine — a novelty in its segment. The current model then somewhat extended its horizons with the availability of an automatic transmission for both gas and diesel variants. This generation then not only pleases fleet managers, but private buyers as well.
Five years later on and the question now is this: Does the Accent still have what it takes to tackle the B-Segment?
Let's start off with the looks. With the new Sonata, Tucson and Santa Fe boasting Hyundai's 'Fluidic Sculpture 2.0' design language, the Accent is feeling a little left behind in terms of styling. The baby Sonata looks are still rather handsome, but there's no disguising the fact that it's in need of an all-new model. What we have here is the entry-level variant and it brings us back to the days of the late 90's base-spec car. Unpainted door handles, blanked out foglight housings and small 14-inch rims with wheel covers make up some of the markers that this is no premium offering. Still, it was a good looking car five years ago and, to some extent, still is to this day.
The base model theme continues on the inside. No buttons on the steering wheel or a touchscreen in here. To my surprise, there wasn't even an adjustable steering column. Fortunately, Hyundai extended the steering wheel far enough for an easier reach. To make up for the lack of a tilt wheel, the base model Accent does have height adjustable seats and finding the ideal driving position wasn't much of a struggle.
I didn't have to cram my feet against the pedals even though I had to slide the seat forward rather close to the steering wheel for me to reach it. It's not completely stripped out though, as it does have power windows, power adjustable side mirrors and central locking. As for interior space, the Accent is about average for its class.
Under the hood of the Accent is a 1.6 liter, four-cylinder CRDI turbodiesel. It puts out 136 PS and 260 Nm of torque and sends the power to the front wheels. This being the base model, it gets a manual transmission but it does have a sixth gear to keep the revs low on the highway.
With its soft clutch, the Accent CRDI is an easy car to drive around town. The biting point is low and, thanks to all that torque, you don't really have to step on the accelerator to get going. Slowly release the clutch and it creeps forward without much effort. I reckon that first-time drivers may find this a treat, especially when faced with the daunting task of setting off on an incline. Steering, meanwhile, won't ignite the senses of an enthusiast but it's light and effortless, albeit completely devoid of feel. Visibility was also good in the Accent. The pillars may be on the thick side but it was designed in a way to let you see a lot from the front. Despite the high trunk, it wasn't too bad reversing into tight spaces either.
Rolling on high sidewall tires, ride on the entry-level Accent is on the soft side. It does a decent job of soaking up road imperfections and ragged edged speed bumps. The diesel motor hums when its warmed up and stays relatively hushed while cruising.
One thing that isn't hushed is road noise. I first thought that my tires were overinflated because noise just kept going in the cabin. Turns out, it was a little underinflated and putting it on the factory recommended pressure didn't do any favors in suppressing noise. I wasn't sure if there was a lot of wind noise because the tires just kept droning kilometer after kilometer. It's a shame because the diesel motor is rather refined. Perhaps a change of tires might do the fix.
Another thing about the Accent I didn't like was the shifter feel. While the clutch was light, shift action felt vague especially downshifting from third to second. The spacing between the rows felt narrow and, at times, felt like I was shifting from third to fourth.
At least the Accent more than makes up for it in fuel economy. Around town, I managed 16.6 kilometers per liter at an average speed of 19 km/h. Had traffic been lighter, I might have been looking at 18 kilometers per liter. On the highway, the Accent CRDI is an absolute sipper on fuel, reading 4.6 liters per 100 kilometers on the average economy readout. That means 21.7 kilometers per liter at an average of 93 kilometers per hour. If saving fuel is your top priority when looking for your first (or fleet) car, then the Accent is one car you should seriously consider.
Besides this, as a first car, the Accent makes for a decent one. Granted, it's rather sparse on equipment, it's very friendly to the first-time driver. Light controls, conventional ergonomics, high efficiency and a decent amount of performance is what made it a strong proposition for fleets and perhaps the private market as well. However, the lack of safety equipment does bother me as ABS and airbags are absent. Stability control? Don't even ask.
Overall then, the Accent CRDI, in base model trim at least, is a bit of a mixed bag. I hugely appreciated the engine performance and efficiency but I can't overlook the fact that there are a lot of things missing in this car. At Php 748,000, it's a tempting deal, especially for those who want to minimize their fuel bills and do a lot of kilometers on the road, but car ownership isn't always about economy, it's the overall package. As for me, I'm willing to shell out Php 100,000 more for the better-equipped, automatic transmission model with all the safety kit standard, plus I still get the high economy this impressive motor offers.