It's easy to think of Hyundai's sporty three-door Accent as an antidote to the rising price of gasoline.
The hatchback joins the existing Accent GLS sedan, and it is a good example of why small urban cars are gaining attention. Thrifty commuting doesn't have to be boring or uncomfortable.
This sharp-looking compact comes in two trim levels. The GS starts at $10,995 and the SE at $14,495. Both are powered by a 1.6-liter engine rated at 32 miles per gallon in the city and 35 on the highway.
According to Hyundai, the three-door has more interior volume, both passenger and cargo, than a Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic. Consequently, the government classifies it as a compact, rather than a subcompact.
Lessons learned from design and execution of larger cars continue to trickle down to small urban cars, and the Accent SE was a good example. Handsome styling, a wide assortment of standard equipment and agile handling made it clear that a small economy car doesn't have to be a rolling penalty box.
Creature comforts include air conditioning, power windows, power heated outside mirrors, keyless entry, 16-inch wheels and low-profile tires, fog lights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a 172-watt AM/FM/CD player with six speakers.
The test car's options included a power sunroof and upgraded audio system with a six-disc CD player.
Some folks worry about safety in small cars, but the SE comes with front, side and side-curtain airbags.
The Accent's 110-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine has four valves per cylinder and continuously variable valve timing. This powerplant, which Hyundai says is the most powerful in its class, is full of energy and revs easily. Fuel economy is rated at 32 miles per gallon in the city and 35 on the highway. The engine qualifies for an Ultra Low Emission Vehicle rating and has a 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty. Roadside assistance is free for five years or 60,000 miles.
The five-speed gearbox has a light, direct shift linkage, and the clutch is a breeze to use. The final drive ratio seems to be fairly low because the engine rpm is about 3,400 at 70 mph, and that makes the engine sound busy on the highway.
The SE is not a sports car, but it handles with reasonable precision. It has a sport-tuned suspension with unique springs, shock absorber valving, stabilizer bar and steering gear that deliver considerably flatter cornering than the GLS sedan. The 45-series tires on 16-inch rims look great and aid handling, but their low profile contributes to a slightly choppy ride on uneven surfaces. That said, I still prefer the enhanced handling and solid road feel to a soft, mushy ride.
Four-wheel, anti-lock disc brakes round out the SE's performance package. The brakes also automatically distribute brake force from front to rear depending on load and conditions.
The SE's cabin is nicely appointed. The light metallic blue test car had light gray cloth seats, a two-tone instrument panel and brushed silver accents. The two-tone instrument panel is dark on top to reduce reflections in the windshield and light on the bottom to help give the cabin a feeling of spaciousness.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel was pleasant to touch. Controls for the radio and climate were simple and direct. The center console had two cup holders, a removable ashtray and two power outlets. Additional storage is available with the seatback pockets and bottle holders in the front doors.
The 60/40 split-folding rear seat is handy for hauling large items, and it's easy to load them with a hatchback.
Price The base price of the test car was $13,915. Options included a power sunroof and upgraded audio system with a six-disc CD player. The sticker price was $15,250.
Warranty Five years or 60,000 miles with a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.