2012 Hyundai Accent at the 2011 New York Auto Show

  • Competes with: Ford Fiesta, Chevrolet Sonic, Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit
  • Looks like: Email your office manager – the 40-mpg club needs to book a bigger conference room
  • Drivetrain: 138-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder with six-speed manual or automatic; front-wheel drive
  • Hits dealerships: Summer

Hyundai says its redesigned 40-mpg Accent — a car that debuted globally at the Beijing Auto Show a year ago — has the best-in-class standard fuel economy, a not-so-veiled jab at the segment’s other 40-mpg car, the Ford Fiesta, which requires an optional fuel-efficiency package to achieve that mileage number. Hyundai reckons the Accent will be EPA rated at an impressive 30 mpg city, too. With other competitors nearly here — from the Chevy Sonic to the Nissan Versa — we wonder how long Hyundai will be able to lay claim to the title. Available in sedan and four-door hatchback configurations, the Accent hits dealerships this summer.

More Coverage of the 2011 New York Auto Show

Hyundai’s “fluidic design” ethos gives the Accent a similar shape to the Elantra. Save the Elantra’s shapelier headlights — and, conversely, the Accent’s shapelier (optional) fog lights — it could be easy to mistake one for the other. Gone is the old Accent’s high-shelf dash; the new one’s wraparound textures appear more inviting, but we’ll have to see it in person to weigh in. Given the Accent’s segment, expect base models to come sparsely equipped; Hyundai says options will include iPod/USB ports, Bluetooth connectivity and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls.

The hatchback offers 21.2 cubic feet of volume behind the second row, which Hyundai says is best in class. Fold the seats down and its 47.5 cubic feet of maximum volume trails the voluminous Honda Fit by some 10 cubic feet, but it stacks up well against other small hatchbacks. What’s more, the Accent sedan offers 13.7 cubic feet of cargo volume. That’s not too shabby for an entry-level car.

Hyundai will pair the Accent’s new direct-injection 1.6-liter four-cylinder with a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. The engine makes a healthy 138 horsepower and 123 pounds-feet of torque, both substantial increases over last year’s port-injected 1.6-liter (110 hp and 106 pounds-feet). Both transmissions secure the 30/40 mpg rating — no options required — something actor Jeff Bridges will doubtless articulate in forthcoming Hyundai ads that he voices. A driver-selectable Eco button modifies drivetrain response to improve real-world mileage up to 7%, according to Hyundai.

Still, the Accent’s larger sibling, the Elantra, secures impressive EPA ratings of 29/40 mpg city/highway. We’re curious why the Accent only does 1 mpg city better, but we suspect weight plays a big role. The two sedans are only about 250 pounds apart — less than the average difference between a Ford Fiesta and Focus (318 pounds) or a Toyota Corolla and Yaris (421 pounds).

There won’t be any more $9,985 two-door hatchback, but Hyundai expects similar pricing with other outgoing trims despite the redesign offering a bevy of new engineering and safety technology. All-disc antilock brakes and a stability system will be standard, and given Hyundai’s recent string of Top Safety Picks from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, expect the new Accent to score considerably better than its poorly performing predecessor.

More photos below.