Test Drive: 2018 Hyundai Accent

At a glance, it looks like they shrunk down a Hyundai Sonata, and that’s just fine. The 2018 Hyundai Accent is a small car (compact, technically), but it’s also a real looker. It’s bold. Blocky. Edgy. Probably, nobody will say it looks “precious”. It looks like a big car, just smaller.

Be careful with your speed on the highway: here’s one of those cars that can easily sneak past the limit on the sly if you’re not using the cruise control.

At writing, the all-new-for-2018 Accent was the freshest, newest and most recently redone car on offer in its segment, and shoppers after the latest from the great big world of affordable cars should include it on their test drive hit-list.

For decades, small cars had the structural strength of a warmed and lightly buttered ciabatta bun. This is not the case with the new Accent.

A fun fact follows: Hyundai builds their own steel, in their own factories. Some of this steel is called Advanced High Strength Steel, or AHSS. This sounds fancy, but it just means “really, really strong steel”.

By building this super-steel themselves, Hyundai can use more of it, on the cheap, in the construction of cars like the new Accent. There are benefits, relating to the fact that AHSS is strong and light. One of these is that, by building key parts of the car’s skeleton from it, you wind up with a car that’s stronger and more rigid, but without becoming obese and heavy like a prenatal rhinoceros who enjoys routine poutines. Actually, the latest Accent is loads stronger and more rigid than its predecessor, and bigger, but only about 10 kg heavier.

You can’t see the Accent’s AHSS, though you can feel some of the benefits on a test drive. Most of these relate to refinement, ride quality, and noise levels. (For a quick demonstration of how AHSS works, be sure to watch the introduction of our video review.)

Accent’s mega-stiff structure enables a quieter ride, since the stiffened-up body resists deflecting over bumps which can pump air throughout the cabin and create a dull, drumming noise. It’s not Cadillac quiet, but head down a rough road, and it’s decently muted, with no rattles, and no sensation of flimsiness. Even at a good clip, it’s hush enough for front-seat pals to chat without voice raising.

On most roads, noise levels are kept nicely within limits. On the same rough roads that make some affordable cars feel like delicate rattle-traps, Accent feels hearty and sturdy, and ride quality remains fairly consistent. That’s because of another AHSS benefit: the stiffened structure allows engineers to more precisely tune the suspension that it rides on. So, for noise levels, and often ride quality, Accent typically feels like a bigger and heavier car.

There is one catch: the tester’s thin and sporty (winter) tires resulted in increased noise and jaggedness on severely neglected roadways. On perfect to moderately rough roads, ride quality and comfort are nicely dialled in towards a semi sporty-taut feel that’s more athletic than floaty. On the really rough stuff, though, there’s a good bump in noise and harshness, even though the overall feel of durability remains.

Drivers who appreciate a sportier and more athletic feel will find the ride quality to be just fine, but head to the roughest road available on your test drive to confirm where the ride quality of the Accent you’re considering lands within your preferred ride-quality spectrum.

Few will find issue with on-board space or functionality. The Accent feels bigger than it looks, each seat is easily accessed, headroom is generous, and the rear floor is free of a central hump which munches into passenger foot space. Four average sized adults should fit satisfactorily, and rear-seat legroom is more than suitable, though headroom evaporates quickly for the tall.

Heated seats are included in both front and rear. This is swell, because heated rear seats make your carpool friends like you more, so they’ll pay for your coffee at the drive-thru.

The driver perches behind a simple and tidy instrument cluster with a clean central driver computer display. There’s a proper armrest, which is great if you have arms, which is a thing that is likely. Numerous cubbies, bins, and compartments, as well as power points for juicing gadgets, are within easy reach.

The trunk is deep and wide and easy to access, so tackling a weekend road-trip for four and their gear should prove no problem.

Power comes from a 1.6L four-cylinder engine with a strong-for-its-size 132 hp. This year, some tweaks expand the range at which the bulk of the engine’s torque is available. From the driver’s seat, this means more responsiveness at lower speeds, and stronger, quieter responsiveness more of the time during gentle driving.

Punch it, and Accent is relatively peppy. Most shoppers will find performance to be adequate or better. Be careful with your speed on the highway: here’s one of those cars that can easily sneak past the limit on the sly if you’re not using the cruise control. The Accent has enough grunt, even if the sound doesn’t back it up: pushed hard, the engine sounds like it’s working harder than my heart after downing a family-sized bacon cheeseburger poutine. Don’t judge me.

Most of the time, you don’t even realize the six-speed automatic transmission is doing anything, since shifts are velvet-smooth and typically occur at low revs, where the engine isn’t yet making much noise. That’s a good thing, since the transmission often toggles heartily between fifth and sixth gear on the highway. Sixth gear keeps cruising revs down in the interest of your fuel bill but is only available when the Accent is under very light load. As such, even a slight hill or headwind triggers a downshift. There’s a lot of shifting going on while you cruise, but if you’re not watching the tachometer, you’d hardly ever know.

Brakes perform well in emergency stops. When engaged, the ABS system is a little noisy but smooth, and pulls the Accent down from speed quickly and with little drama or squirming. The action at the pedal is more precise than the norm in this segment – often a feeling like the braking system is made of wet shoelaces and cheese-whiz. Seems like engineers worked the brake pedal out to inspire confidence when a fast stop is required, and even on snow and ice, Accent pulls down from speed with appreciable urgency, in a straight line, and without making a scene.

Note that the tester was wearing quality winter tires. Without these, you’re about 734 percent more likely to skid into a bus or ditch during an emergency stop instead.

There’s a similarly fine-tuned feel to the handling. Should drivers find occasion to push the Accent a little on some winding roads, it performs eagerly within a wide comfort zone. Again, and like the brakes, it’s a touch more responsive and fine-tuned than average. Drivers who appreciate tidy handling and an alert and eager feel will appreciate the setup.

At low speeds, a feather-light steering feel and relatively small turning circle make Accent a cinch to manoeuvre around parking spaces and to zip through traffic in crowded areas. At highway speeds, your writer wished the steering was a touch heavier to help lock the car more firmly into place within its lane, and to reduce the need to issue corrections to its position. Engaging the “sport” drive mode recalibrates the steering (among other things), which seems to help.

A few other notes. The tested GLS-grade Accent flaunted some must-have upscale feature content. Favourites included (very powerful, like seriously) heated seats, a heated steering wheel finished in the sort of creamy-smooth leather that wouldn’t feel out of place in a twice-the-price ride, and Android Auto functionality, which effectively upscales key smartphone interfaces (including the “talk to Google” Android Assistant voice command system, and Google Maps), into the main screen. Elsewhere, the central command interface is straightforward, responsive, and highly logical to use.

The Accent also heats up appreciably fast when it’s very cold outside, and I can confirm that it starts like a champ without being plugged in overnight, even at 25 below.

Further, headlight performance is good – at or above average as small cars go – which addresses one of my biggest complaints of the last-generation Accent.

Gripes? Some will wish for a more upscale materials palette and a splash more colour in the Accent’s cabin. Much of this cabin is shaped nicely, but the colours are drab. Further, the trunk lacks an inner grab handle, so closing it in winter months will require touching gross salt.

End of the day, and once again, here’s a top test drive candidate for a small car that thinks big when it comes to space, a feeling of durability and density on real-world roads, and especially, styling and feature content bang for the buck.

At writing, pricing was yet to be announced, but should be in close to the outgoing 2017 unit. We will update this article when full pricing becomes available.

2018 Hyundai Accent GLS
Engine Displacement: 1.6L
Engine Cylinders: 4
Peak Horsepower: 132 hp @ 6,300 rpm
Peak Torque: 119 lb-ft @ 4,850 rpm
Fuel Economy: 8.3/6.2/7.4 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 387 L
2018 Hyundai Accent GLS
Base Price
A/C Tax
Destination Fee
Price as Tested
Optional Equipment None
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 8.0
8 Styling
7 Powertrain
8 Quality
8 Comfort
8 Practicality
8 Drivability
8 Usability/Ergonomics
8 Fuel Economy
9 Features
8 Value