I USED TO have a white Accent. Not really larney the ads depict, just white. Well some bits were grey, as I’d purchased it second hand from a questionable used car dealership, but that was a very long time ago in 2001. It was a 1996 1.5 CS and had a set of 14”TSW alloy wheels, and at some point during my Max Powery life I got it into my head to spray the calipers blue (?) and outfit a banana branch manifold (?) to it. It had sixteen valves, 12 in the cylinder, 1 in each tyre. There might have been some window tint involved too. Now, this is the dark horse, a car I never really speak about despite it only ever letting me down once with a busted fuel pump. Instead you’ll often hear me laud the Chevy 4100, Mini Cooper or VW Beetle from my past and I guess it comes down to the absolute lack of street credibility of the Korean brands 15 years ago. But today, here and now, the Hyundai Accent has grown into a formidable B segment sedan. This has all it takes to be best in class, and after the pleasant surprise its big brother (the Elantra) was we would wager that perceptions towards the marque are set to improve dramatically.
Styling for the latest range of Hyundai from the large Sonata down to the smaller Elantra and then this new Accent may be similar, almost derivative, but there’s no denying that it’s an attractive car and progresses the marque’s design by more than just one generation. This could easily be the 2014 Hyundai Accent, but it is yours today for just R164900, about R30 000 less than a Honda Ballade. A strong new corporate face can be found on each car, and on the Accent the graft work is just as convincing. The entire car is rendered in ‘fluidic sculpture’ which is design speak for waves and creases dominating every panel of the Accent and carving up its flanks like sashimi. Cool. Inside it’s the same story, upmarket, elegant – a quality feel, just like we found in the Elantra, but in a smaller slightly pared away fashion and boasting almost as many toys and modern conveniences.
The ride is smooth initially, crashing mildly on the rare occasion over more frenetic road surfaces. Luckily there were not too many bumps or pockmarks on the road course chosen for us to test the performance and handling of the Accent. No, for us it was the Franschhoek Pass and its glorious ancillaries. Now, think about this. This humble 1.6 litre Korean petrol engine churns out 91kW and 156Nm stirred through the company’s in-house five speed transmission. That’s more grunt than the Toyota RSIs had two decades ago, and those did duty as race cars. The manufacturer rates it with a 10 second 0-100kph sprint but that it conservative, this thing gets under ten without breaking a sweat. The handling dynamics of light FWD car with narrow 175/70 r14 tyres was always going to be a handful with the familiar McPherson front/Torsion rear suspension, but coming down the pass near the car’s (and flirting with the speed) limit the Accent proved predictable (in the ‘serial killer’ sense) providing safe understeer with a lift off the throttle inducing a minor correcting ‘oversteer’. Braking (ventilated discs upfront, solid at rear) is more than adequate although the speeds we were flitting about the mountain could very well be called ‘excessive’. It’s fun, better than expected, despite a helm that was a bit too light – typical Korean trait. It’s the one area they haven’t sussed out yet but as soon as they do I reckon it’s time for a proper ‘hot version’ on a car that is surprisingly desirable. Unlike that crap box I had a decade ago. Ag it wasn’t really that bad, but now with Hyundai’s five year/150 000km warranty buyer’s remorse (and banana branches) should be a thing of the past.
FOR: Excellent value, good performance
AGAINST: Manual box is good but not ‘there’ yet, ditto the steering
PICK OF THE RANGE: 1.6 GLS MANUAL
ALTERNATIVE CHOICES: Honda Ballade, Mazda 2 sedan, Ford Fiesta sedan
TOPCAR RATING: 8/10