Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: November 13, 2017
MONTREAL, Quebec - There’s a bit of cult following regarding small hatchbacks in Montreal, especially when it comes to the coveted Hyundai Accent. In fact, about 30% of all Accent sales in Canada happen in this city alone, an almost unbelievable statistic. So we were invited out by Hyundai to this land of poutine and smoked meat to test drive the brand new 2018 Accent GLS, but as my driving partner and I drove a few clicks toward our lunch stop, we couldn’t help but notice all the other Accents on the road.
And not just the modern ones, there were Accents of every generation. One driveway we passed even had three generations of Accent neatly parked in a row. And it wasn’t until we stopped for some photos next to the pier that we encountered an spritely middle-aged fellow by the name of Jacques.
He was quick to point out that we were driving the new Accent, and enthusiastically spewed out every inch of detail he knew about it: from the 130-hp naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine, new Elantra-esque looks, increase in size (length, width, height, and wheelbase), and the fact that Canada is the only market to receive the 5-door hatchback, whereas other markets only get the standard four-door sedan.
As he rambled on, I was more surprised about the fact that he was able to spot the Accent right away and tell it apart from its bigger brother, the Elantra. Because frankly, even if you put them side by side, I’d still have trouble telling them apart. The new Accent adopts Hyundai’s corporate design language, which borders on conservative and inoffensive. It’s a handsome new look, one that won’t change the rulebook but one that won’t bend those said rules either.
“Can I sit in it?” he asked us with a seemingly stern but puppy-eyed face. You see, I’ve only been asked that question when I’ve got the keys to a vehicle that costs significantly more, say a Rolls-Royce Dawn or BMW i8. But an Accent? Now that must be saying something. He looked like a kid in a candy shop. And I’m not surprised.
The interior of the Accent has improved significantly, still with plenty of plastics but they’re hidden with the clever use of shiny black gloss. The dashboard is dressed up with a vibrant infotainment screen and clear sight lines out the front and side. Our time was spent with the top GLS trim, which loaded the Accent up with everything from automatic air conditioning to a sunroof. Navigation is unavailable in any trim, but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are equipped, so drivers are welcome to use their phone maps as a substitute.
It helps to have a point of comparison, so I fittingly (no pun intended) spent some time in the refreshed 2018 Honda Fit Sport right before I drove the Accent, and I’m happy to report that the Accent has the Fit blown away with cabin quality. The Accent just feels more cohesive, more expensive, and larger too. Whereas you sit incredibly high up and forward in the Fit, you sit much lower in the Accent. The driving position is much better too, as the steering wheel can telescope a significant distance towards the driver, allowing them to sit far and low. The wheel isn’t tilted at an upward angle like the Fit either, and has a heated steering wheel option whereas the Honda doesn’t.
The Accent doesn’t feel like a subcompact until you really test its limits. The front seats are wide and spacious, and the same goes for the rear. However as predicted, headroom back there isn’t great. Legroom on the other hand is acceptable for my six-foot frame. The trunk was also surprisingly large, and though we only had the 4-door to sample, we were allowed to hop inside the 5-door Accent Hatchback for a quick look.
(We weren’t given a hatchback to drive since they’re still in the pre-production phase and are set to be delivered in the early spring of 2018. We did have the opportunity to peek and have a seat inside one on display though, which was important as Hyundai predicts 65% of Accent sales will be with the hatchback)
The hatchback only differs with the rear sheetmetal and notable trunk space. Hyundai says that the hatchback has even more cargo space than some subcompact crossovers like the Nissan Qashqai and Jeep Renegade. However when it comes to storage ergonomics, I still believe the taller and arguably more grotesque Honda Fit still has the crown with its foldable and adjustable rear “Magic” seats, and clever use of its expansive and deceptive cabin space.
Piloting the Accent through rough roads on the outskirts of Montreal proved the worth of its sweet powertrain doused with a healthy dose of vigour. The 1.6-litre naturally aspirated engine may be a bit down on power from last year producing 130 hp and 119 lb-ft (as opposed to the outgoing 138 hp and 123 lb-ft), but Hyundai says there’s more of that torque on the low-end of the powerband, and is also 7% more fuel efficient than before.
We didn’t notice the power dip, and were surprisingly content with its energetic acceleration. The Accent is no slouch, and is a potent highway partner when you simply need to overtake the next vehicle or rush off the on-ramp.The six-speed automatic was a skillful assistant as well, shifting gears for us when the time was right. It sure beats the rubberband and noisy CVT that Honda installs into their Fit. Unfortunately we didn’t have any manual-equipped Accents to sample on our test drive, however the option is available on base Accents.
Hyundai says they’ve improved the ride and handling on the Accent with a stiffer and more rigid structure, and have also added better on-center steering feel and stability at higher speeds. I’d agree with all their points. The Accent is an enjoyable compact city cruiser but also has strong road manners on the open freeway when going triple digit speeds. We did experience a fair amount of wind noise seeping into the cabin, but it wasn’t overly intrusive to the overall experience.
One question that Jacques kept pestering us with was how much the new Accent was going to cost. We shrugged and said pricing wasn’t available yet, as per Hyundai Canada. He didn’t believe us and kept pushing our buttons before he eventually gave up and drove away in his own mint 2007 Hyundai Accent.
Having a price point would really give us a better perspective on how the Accent fits in this heated market next to the Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta, Chevrolet Sonic, and Toyota Yaris. Hyundai Canada was nice enough to mention that it would hover just a tad north of the current pricing due to all the standard features they are including. There are four trim levels: L (5-door hatchback only), LE, GL, and GLS. So we’re expecting a base price of around $14-15,000 and up to $22,000 for the GLS. Something tells me that as long as the price disparity isn’t wallet-crushing and the numbers stay attractive, the cult will continue to follow, and Jacques will be right behind them.