Pros: Great fuel economy, nice looks, pleasant ride quality, hatchback's impressive cargo capacity, usable back seat.

Cons: Steering wheel doesn't telescope, base GLS sedan is very basic, Bluetooth unavailable on midgrade GS hatchback.

Introduction

The 2012 Hyundai Accent is a reminder that Hyundais don't need to look like concept cars in order to impress. By the standards of Hyundai's current product lineup, the Accent is a staunch conservative, featuring few of the aggressive swoops and creases that grace (if that's the right word) the sheet metal of its stablemates. Same goes for the interior: the Accent's dashboard is downright subtle, bearing only a faint resemblance to the apparently spaceship-inspired control centers in other Hyundais. But wallflower or no, the Accent is one of the best subcompacts on the market.

The thing we like most about the Accent is that it acts like a bigger car. To wit, the ride is compliant, there's adequate room for adults in the back seat and the hatchback model's rear seatbacks fold down to yield a whopping 47.5 cubic feet of maximum cargo space. We don't expect any of the above in a subcompact-these cars are largely designed for basic transportation. But especially in hatchback form, the Accent makes a case for itself as a substitute for a number of larger vehicles.

Competition has become very stiff in this class, so the Accent isn't a no-brainer choice. You'll want to test-drive a number of models before deciding. But there's no doubt that the Accent is another winner for Hyundai, even if it's the company's least likely model to be mistaken for an auto-show escapee.

Comfort & Utility

The 2012 Hyundai Accent is offered as a sedan (GLS) or hatchback (GS and SE).

The GLS sedan comes standard with 14-inch steel wheels, a height-adjustable driver seat, manual outside mirrors, manual locks and manual windows. It does not come standard with air-conditioning or a stereo of any kind (though four speakers come pre-installed in case you want to use them some day). That keeps the price down, of course, but we'd strongly advise opting for the sedan-only Premium package, which transforms the GLS with 16-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, keyless entry, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, nicer cloth upholstery, piano black interior accents and a sliding armrest storage box.

The hatchback models come with considerably more standard equipment than the sedan. The GS features full power accessories, air-conditioning and a six-speaker audio system (optional on GLS sedan) with iPod/USB connectivity. The SE steps up to 16-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, piano black interior trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control (optional on GS), Bluetooth connectivity (not optional on GS) and a sliding armrest storage box.

The Accent's front seats seem rather soft-we wonder how they'll age-and their upholstery is a little cheesy, especially the base version. The tilt-only steering column likely won't work for long-legged drivers unless they like driving with their elbows locked. We have no complaints about the gauges, which look crisp and frame an attractive LCD trip computer in every Accent. The controls are mostly straightforward, and the three-knob climate controls are a model of ergonomics. Materials quality is about average for this class, highlighted by the usual hard plastics (check out the related Kia Rio for a more inspired cabin).

The Accent's back seat is one of its strongest suits, accommodating normal-sized adults with unusual ease by subcompact standards. Cargo space is impressive across the board, ranging from 13.7 cubic feet in the sedan's trunk to 21.2 cubic feet behind the hatchback's back seat, with an enormous 47.5 cubic feet when rear seatbacks are folded, dwarfing the maximum cargo capacity of rivals like the Sonic and Fiesta.

Technology

We generally don't have high hopes for subcompacts in the technology department, and the Accent illustrates why. It's nice that you can get Bluetooth in the sedan, for example, but it costs extra, and it's not even available in the cheapest hatchback model, the GS. The six-speaker stereo sounds decent and includes an iPod/USB hookup, but the GLS has no stereo at all by default. So keep those high-tech expectations low if you're shopping for an Accent.

Performance & Fuel Economy

Every Accent is front-wheel-drive and powered by a 1.6-liter inline-4 rated at 138 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque. The available transmissions are a six-speed manual and an extra-cost six-speed automatic. The latter will be the most popular choice, but it blunts the engine's performance, so we recommend the more responsive manual if you can shift your own gears. The engine itself remains quiet and well-behaved even at high rpm, though it sometimes feels a little short on energy for passing or merging.

Fuel economy is outstanding at 28 mpg city/37 mpg highway with either transmission.

Safety

The 2012 Hyundai Accent comes with standard stability control and four-wheel antilock disc brakes. The latter are a very welcome standard feature for this class, as many rivals come with inferior rear drum brakes. The Accent also has six airbags (front, front-side, full-length side-curtain).

In government crash-testing, the Accent scored four stars out of five across the board. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Accent highest rating of "Good" in all categories except side impacts, where it garnered the second-highest "Acceptable" rating.

Driving Impressions

The Accent's soft suspension tuning is a boon on rough roads, and the cabin is respectably quiet at highway speeds, which emphasizes the Accent's grown-up vibe. Due to those soft underpinnings, however, the Accent isn't as entertaining in corners as athletes like the Sonic and Fiesta. That may not bother you, but do pay close attention to the Accent's steering and see if it feels all right. We think it's a little too light and numb for its own good.

Other Cars to Consider

Chevrolet Sonic - The Sonic's optional turbocharged engine is one of the best in this class, but even the simplest Sonic boasts a comfortable ride along with responsive handling. Its motorcycle-inspired instrument panel is pretty nifty, too.

Ford Fiesta - The Fiesta seems lost in the shuffle these days, and that's not fair, as Ford's subcompact is a pleasure to drive thanks to its Euro-inspired suspension and exceptionally smooth inline-4 engine. Strong fuel economy, too.

Kia Rio - If you want more style and character than the Accent offers, try its cousin from Kia, the redesigned Rio. The Rio feels better from behind the wheel, and we like its attractive, good-quality cabin.

AutoTrader Recommends

As tempted as we are by the base GLS sedan with its lack of pretty much everything, we'll go with the SE hatchback, as we love the extra hauling capability-and we couldn't do without Bluetooth.

In November 2012, Kia and Hyundai adjusted the fuel economy ratings on some 2011-2013 models. This article has been modified to reflect the accurate EPA ratings.

author photo

Josh Sadlier is an automotive journalist based in Los Angeles and has contributed to such publications as Edmunds.com and DriverSide.com. He holds arguably the most unexpected degree in his profession: a master's in Theological Studies.

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