Slow adopters and close-minded car shoppers might be quick to write Hyundai cars off their list. After years of selling cheaper, not particularly inspiring cars, the plucky Korean manufacturer has a lot to prove. But it has been on a mission to win over hearts and minds one car buyer at a time, and it is succeeding by selling high quality cars for less than its competitors.

Behind the wheel of the 2012 Accent, one can't help but think that Hyundai has done it again. The little Accent stacks up favorable against comparable cars from more established brands, and does it with a $12,500 base price that's thousands of dollars less.

The Accent is Hyundai's smallest and most affordable model, but it isn't actually a subcompact car. The government officially classifies the Accent as a compact, which is a size above rivals from Ford and Toyota.

In spite of its extra size, the Accent weighs less than many other cars in its class. Its lighter weight is part of the reason it is capable of achieving an impressive 30 miles per gallon in the city and 40 mpg on the highway.

The other part of the fuel mileage equation is Hyundai's direct injection 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. Achieving both class-leading horsepower and outstanding fuel economy is a tough thing to do, but the Accent pulls it off.

The Accent's peppiness is a welcome perk in the subcompact segment. It certainly wouldn't qualify as fast, but the Accent provides noticeably more punch than cars like the Toyota Yaris, Ford Fiesta or Honda Fit.

The Accent's suspension is on the soft side, which gives it a more comfortable ride, but that comes at the cost of the zippy, fun driving experience that find in the Fit or the Fiesta. The Accent tends to wallow into tight bends, and even with the improved steering feel in the sportier SE model, there is very little tactile feel to the driving experience.

The Accent's interior is very well laid out, and a lot of care was put into making the small car's cabin a pretty nice place to be. The pillars, for example are made with a blend of plastic and fiber to keep the use of cheap-feeling hard plastics down to a minimum.

The optional six-speaker stereo sounds good, and there is iPod connectivity that comes with it. It should be noted that plugging an iPhone into the Accent locks the device's normal controls. Hyundai claims that the lock out occurs to cut down on distracted driving, but it means you have to use Hyundai's clunky music menu, and it can take minutes to sort through a long list of artists or songs.

To be honest, this is nitpicking. The Accent is bigger, more powerful and cheaper than most of its competitors, and when you factor in Hyundai's 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty it's a value that's hard to argue against.

The Accent may not have the charisma of some of the other cars in this segment. It would be understandable for a person to walk past the Accent and fall for the cute Fiat 500 or hip Ford Fiesta. But if you set out to find the best value for your money, the Accent will be a tough car to pass up.

author photo

J. Mark Sternberg is an automotive journalist, car enthusiast and writer with a degree from the University of Arizona. Mark is a devoted Formula 1 fan and also enjoys boating, flying and attending the occasional track day.

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