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Accent - is 'nice' nice enough?

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As far as 1600s go, the Hyundai Accent is a strong performer.

Ok, I can't claim that I had Hyundai's global headquarters rigged with secret surveillance equipment, but I have a suspicion that a disgruntled employee changed this car's name back to Accent and ordered a massive badge production run just before packing his or her belongings and making that hasty exit past security.

Or was it an innocent error? It's alleged that the 1980s Mitsubishi Starion was meant to have been the 'Stallion' before some Japanese-English mistranslation, although the company denies this.

LOST IN TRANSLATION

Company politics aside, it's hard to believe that Hyundai actually called this car the Accent, so far cry it is from that cheap, tinny and relatively sloppy-to-drive 1990s model.

I also ended up doing more that just the standard road test in this latest Accent, taking it on a 1000km journey to the KZN Midlands and while I can't think of anything about the driving experience that really stood out, I am surprised that I never longed for a bigger or more substantial car.

IT’S GOT GUTS

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Design is neat enough but those 14-inch plastic rims do it no justice.

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It weighs just 1035kg yet the good chaps at Hyundai saw fit to install a 1.6-litre engine that's strong for its size, with 91kW and 156Nm on hand. It made mincemeat of the many inclines on my journey and I never found myself praying for more ponies under the pedal.

In fact, it's far cry from the 1.4-litre hatch that I did the same route in not too long ago. That car was frustratingly sluggish despite being among the most powerful in its size class. Why am I comparing a 1.4 to a 1.6? Because, at R169 900, the Accent is actually cheaper than a lot of 1.3- and 1.4-litre hatchbacks and sedans on our market.

AND SPACE

It's on the roomy side too, with acres of rear legroom and a reasonable 465 litre boot. The Accent is also refined and easy to operate. The ride quality is supple, cornering feels safe (albeit terminally boring thanks to lifeless steering) and the cabin is quiet. The gearshift, despite its plasticy feel, is salesman-smooth and, despite it having only five forward gears, the Accent is not too revvy at highway speeds.

Even the economy was impressive - the on-board litres-per-hundred-kays readout hovering in the late fives at an average of around 120km/h.

It's a worthy little brother of South Africa's Car of the Year (the Elantra 1.8 GLS) in so many ways then. Just a pity it falls short of really inspiring or exciting the driver.

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Interior is solid and spacious, but a little bland.

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It looks nice, but I somehow wish they'd made the design come alive that bit more, like they did with the Elantra; and those small wheel arches housing meek 14-inch plastic-covered steel rims just don't do this car any favours.

It's also a little bit sombre inside, although the design is nice enough and the perceptive quality leaves nothing to its Japanese rivals. The Accent is very nice, then, but is 'nice' really nice enough?

VERDICT:

After all, it comes up against some pretty competent competition in the small sedan fighting ring, and is perhaps run a bit close (value-wize) by the Chevy Sonic and Polo Vivo, but if I was a rep and forced to consider something in this fleet-fodder market, the Accent would still be at the top of my list, if only just.

PRICE:

Hyundai Accent 1.6 GLS (91kW) - R169 900

ALTERNATIVES:

Chevrolet Sonic 1.6 LS 4dr (85kW) - R171 600

Ford Ikon 1.6 Ambiente (74kW) - R158 900

Honda Ballade 1.5 Comfort (88kW) - R184 900

Mazda2 1.5 Dynamic 4dr (76kW) - R197 500

Nissan Tiida 1.6 Visia+ 4dr (80kW) - R198 600

VW Polo Vivo 1.6 Trendline 4dr (77kW) - R153 200

VW Polo 1.6 Comfortline 4dr (77kW) - R195 000


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