- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2006

Anyone already dealing with too much stress in his life will appreciate deciding not to clutter up the buying process with too many decisions, the marketing types at Hyundai settled on only one four-door body configuration in one trim level - GLS. If you can live without air conditioning and like to stir the transmission, you can roll out of the dealership for as little as $12,995. Three stand-alone options and one option package comprise the entire options list. It doesn’t get much more streamlined than that.

Having spent the past decade rehabilitating itself, this Korean carmaker is now turning out some very decent product at a relatively affordable price.

Are Toyota and Honda quaking in their collective boots? Probably not, but they should be glancing over their shoulders every once in a while. Like the Jeffersons, Hyundai is moving on up with much better product in a growing number of segments.

Copying the Japanese business plan, Hyundai is successfully shedding its econobox past. Building bigger, highly contented cars at more affordable prices, Hyundai seems to have mastered the formula so effectively applied by the Japanese Imports during the past two decades. During the transition, however, Hyundai continues to keep the faith with consumers looking for inexpensive, basic transportation. This is Accent’s role.

Actually, Accent isn’t quite as bare bones as it appears at first glance. Sure, at the sub- $13,000 price point, you have to crank your own windows and fan yourself with your hat when the outside temperature crests 80 degrees, but an antilock brake system monitoring discs on all four wheels is standard.

Also adding to Accent’s safety credentials are front-seat side-impact airbags, as well as front- and rear-seat curtain airbags - all included in the base price. Standard passenger convenience features include a six-speaker audio system with CD player and a tilt steering wheel.

Powering the Accent is a 1.6-liter 16-valve four cylinder engine.

It generates 110 horsepower. This isn’t a lot of power, but it’s competitive within the segment.

It’s 16 ponies shy of the Suzuki Reno and 10 less than the Mitsubishi Lancer, but bests the Honda Fit by one horsepower and Scion’s xA by seven.

Ushering the engine’s production to the front wheels is a five-speed manual transmission. For $850, this can be replaced with a four-speed automatic transmission.

The extra money would be better spent on the $800 air conditioning option.

While the Accent won’t dust many of the sedans surrounding it in traffic, it does hold its own.

Fuel economy is solid with an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 28 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway for versions with the automatictransmission.

The manual transmission gets an additional 4 mpg in city driving, but loses 1 mpg on the highway.

The suspension layout is rather basic with struts up front and a torsion bar with springs arrangement in the rear, but this is pretty standard for the segment.

Even Toyota’s Yaris, the newest offering in the compact segment, has a similar setup. The handling is better than average for a small car. The power-assisted rack and pinion steering is quick adding to the nimble feel.

Roomy is never an adjective that you will see or hear describing a compact vehicle. However, in the world of entry-level compacts, Accent certainly doesn’t embarrass itself in terms of interior space.

Just a skosh separates Honda’s Civic and the Accent in terms of front- and rear-seat legroom with the Civic having a fraction of an inch on Accent in rear-seat room and Accent having about the same advantage in the front seat.

Accent’s trunk is about a half a cubic foot larger.

Decently shaped, the front seats are supportive and comfortable enough for longer trips. The backseat has a 60/40 split and can be folded down for extra cargo-carrying space.

Some care was taken in styling the dashboard and instrumentation. The two-tone color combination and flowing lines keep things interesting.

Placed high in the center of the dash, the audio system is easy to access.

Three large round knobs arranged horizontally below the audio system control the ventilation system.

The interior fit and finish on the Accent provided for this test was flawless.

If your expectations don’t include wood accents or something more sophisticated than plastic covering most hard surfaces, you will probably be quite pleased with this cabin.

If in addition to air conditioning you would like other amenities such as power windows, door locks and mirrors, as well as remote keyless entry and security alarm, you can opt for the $1,500 Premium Sport Package that bundles all of these features, air conditioning and 15-inch alloy wheels into the only available options package.

In the world of entry-level compacts, Accent may not be king, but it’s not the court jester either.

Offering solid value and that excellent Hyundai warranty, Accent costs a grand less than a comparably-equipped Yaris. That’s some real bang for your buck.

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