April 09, 2011 By Kevin C. Limjoco Words and photos by Andy Leuterio & Kevin C. Limjoco

2011 Hyundai Accent

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Words and photos by Andy Leuterio & Kevin C. Limjoco

Only 10 years ago the very notion of a Hyundai – never mind what model – having the features of a premium German sedan and the ride qualities of the best from Japan would have seemed wishful thinking at best, and laughable at the worst. Oh yes, we had our biases then.

Ten years ago, most of us were driving around in compact sedans with around 1600 cc of displacement, “luxury” items like power windows and steering, and we were happy. If we wanted more power, we had a few choices in the mid-size market with average output in the neighborhood of 140 to 150 bhp… plus fancy little gadgets called “power folding side mirrors”. And of course, if you were on a budget you had to swallow your pride (no pun intended) and possibly live with roll-up windows, the cabin space of a sardine can, and just enough power to wheeze up a parking ramp.

If memory serves me correctly, Hyundai’s most locally desirable product was the 2-door Coupe/Tiburon, a respectable automobile whose only real competition was the Mitsubishi Lancer GSR. Then came the breadloaf-shaped Starex, which was then only available via the grey market.

How times change. Today, not only has Hyundai broken the customer’s psychological barrier of “Korean cars being inferior to Japanese or American cars”, it has also made its products desirable. That’s not an easy thing to do. With a little practice, and a lot of technology and discipline, you can possibly make something that won’t fall apart after a few years. But how about making something that people will actually want in the first place? That, is an art, and they have done it once again with the Accent.

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Over a long day of driving in Dubai with Hyundai’s newest small car, we got ourselves acquainted with the Accent’s finer qualities. The car has already been featured in the January issue (“Accent-uate the positive”), so I’ll only review what’s already out there. It has two engine options, a 108 bhp 1.4-liter and a 124 bhp 1.6-liter. Tere will be a 5-door hatchback to complement the initial offering of a 4-door sedan. Its otherwise conventional suspension layout of front struts and rear torsion beam has been tuned for responsiveness and all-day comfort. Finally, and probably most importantly, it looks positively compelling.

Credit Hyundai’s “Fluidic Sculpture” design philosophy for the last, which is a successful harmony of curves, character lines and geometric shapes to create the look of movement even while standing still. A strong character line runs up and back from the headlamps all the way to the back, and “eagle eye” headlamp clusters flank the hexagonal grille crowned by a concave center running down the hood.

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The look is a success. It looks good from just about any angle, which is rare for the class as most B-segment cars tend to have the styling blahs from the rear 3-quarters view. The interior lives up to the external excitement as well. Hyundai’s trademark blue instrument lighting provides a pleasant glow. The high quality plastics and fabrics have that “soft touch” look and feel. And, the fit and finish of every switch, knob and button easily match those from the rest of the world.

What’s the point of all this look-good feel-good stuff? To make you want to drive it, of course!

For this opportunity, Hyundai let us loose on a 340-km round trip from Dubai to Fujairah using the UAE’s world class highways. On roads such as Dubai’s, it pays to have enough horspower to hold your own against the big-engined machines favored by the upper class, like Lexus LS400s, Porsche Cayennes, and countless Toyota Land Cruisers.

It’d be too much to expect a B-segment car to race against those, but if it can at least maintain a steady 120-140 km/h without feeling like you’re strangling it to death then that’s got to be good enough. The Accent lived up to that minimum requirement. For those who are willing to really push the limit and have enough road for the task, Hyundai claims an impressive top speed of 190 km/h for the 1.6-liter.

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It gets better.

At the triple-digit mark, you will notice more road noise than wind noise. The “Fluidic Sculpture” design philosophy has also yielded a slippery drag coefficient of just 0.30. So even with the strong winds blowing across the Arabian desert, you hear nary a whistle or whine from the winds at 120 km/h. The only reminder that, yes, there is in fact a crosswind is when a strong one nudges the car to the side for an electrifying moment or two. The engine is also a smooth revver, only creating a booming noise past 4,000 rpm, an engine speed which you’ll only explore for the occasional merge or overtake.

As for comfort and handling, I had little to complain about with the suspension. It was neither pillowy soft nor rock hard with the 16-inch tires over the smooth roads of Dubai. I’d say it falls into the “just right” category for a reasonably agile feel in the curves and a stable, relaxing ride on long stretches.

The Accent has also come a long way since the previous generation’s taxicab look and feel. Seat cushioning is firm and reasonably bolstered. The cockpit is attractive and free of the cheap, tacky stuff that has made Armour All an industry in itself. The only econocar reminder I could spot was that the passenger side vanity mirror lacks a flap or sliding cover to hide it when the sunvisor is down. This car has really come a long way. In fact, the high-end variant even sports a few touches pioneered by high end cars: pushbutton engine Start/Stop, Bluetooth phone connectivity, backup camera, and AUX input, to name a few.

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Over the cumulative 6 hours of driving and riding that we did with the Accent, I couldn’t think of a single glaring shortcoming that would tell me this car would not be another home run for an ascendant Hyundai.

Is it an astoundingly superior car? Well, not really when you consider the 16-inch wheel setup that makes it look a bit under-tired. However nice as a 4-speed automatic, it still seems a bit archaic in this era of CVTs and 5/6-speed autoboxes. But when you change the question to “Is it a very good car for the money?”, then let’s take stock of what the Accent has going for it. Take away the nice-but-not-really-necessary stuff like the Bluetooth, the Start/Stop, and stick to the 1.4-liter engine with the stick shift and you have an attractive car that rolls out the showroom for just P588,000. Not bad, eh?

However, put back everything I just mentioned and go with the 1.6-liter petrol (or hold out for the CRD diesel) and the automatic and you have an Accent that looks, feels, and drives well enough to justify every centavo of that P808,000 sticker price. With the newest Accent, it simply makes nearly all the right noises and presses all the right buttons. It’s yet more proof that Hyundai is really, seriously playing with the big boys of the car industry now.

Who would have thought that a car first called the “Pony” in 1976 would evolve into such a harmonious blend of modern technology and aesthetic appeal today? The very idea of introducing a new small car in one of the wealthiest, most progressive cities on Earth must seem just a bit ambitious, but the Accent lives up to, and may even exceed, expectations.

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The Desert Experience

Sky, sand, sky, sand, sky… care to guess what’s next? We’ve all heard how impressive Dubai’s modern architectural achievements are like the Burj al Arab, the Jumeirah Islands and the Deira Clock Tower, but for the tourist who’d like a civilized version of the famed safaris of yore we took a half-day trip with “Arabian Adventures”. For a mere 300 AED or thereabouts, a group will take you on a “desert safari” in a fleet of modern SUVs for an afternoon of camels, dinner under the stars, and an hour and a half of riding up and down the dunes.

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Our Philippine contingent set off from the Movenpick Hotel — which was a beautiful landmark in itself — in a fleet of Chevrolet Tahoes and Toyota Land Cruisers. Favored by the tour group for their 7-passenger capacity, tall ground clearance, and four-wheel drive, we took the highway for an hour across the featureless landscape of Dubai before reaching the conservation area for the safari proper.

The dune riding experience itself is one of those things that must be a lot of fun if you’re doing the driving and simply entertaining. Otherwise nauseating, if you’re just the passenger. Following a strict convoy of SUVs so as not to get lost in the middle of the desert, we weaved ourselves up, over, and alongside countless of dunes and wadis.

“Arabian Adventures” must have this spot of the planet pretty much mapped out, because it’s very possible to crest a dune and end up tumbling down the other side if you don’t know what you’re doing. Abdul, our Pakistani driver, casually drove our Tahoe as if he did this sort of thing every day (actually, he does…) to the tune of Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift over the radio as we fought the rising tide of carsickness.

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Along the way, we spotted a gazelle and an emu while savoring the lethal beauty of the golden desert. I would hate to be stranded here in the middle of summer. In the evening, we were treated to an especially energetic belly dancer of Eastern European descent. She looked like she could crush my manhood with her thighs.

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Capping the night with a sumptuous dinner and a 5-minute stargaze, it’s just about the closest you can get to feeling like Lawrence of Arabia without the discomfort of having to ride a camel for weeks or dodging bullets and bombs from the Ottomans. At the end of it all, you go back to your nice, luxurious hotel to rest and recharge for Dubai’s other tourist attraction: shopping.

+: Inspired design. Quality interior materials. Well built. Punchy drivetrain and balanced ride and handling.
-: If a 4-speed is good, then 5 (0r 6) must be even better…
C! Rating: 9.5/10

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– Andy Leuterio

I have always wanted to drive in the Middle East. The allure is very compelling! Beautiful roads, a spectacular landscape, and of course the legendary extreme weather conditions, the bait was cast! It would be my first time to step out of the Dubai airport too! Well, two out of three isn’t bad, the weather in the United Arab Emirates in February isn’t brutal at all; in fact, it’s quite wonderful with temperatures ranging from an invigorating 14°C to a still very pleasant 21°C all day. There went the scorching conditions I had envisioned!

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Our gracious Hyundai hosts housed us at the fabulous Mövenpick-Ibn Battuta Gate Hotel in Dubai where we would spend the next few days in comfort, eating good food, and enjoying wonderful company both with our Philippine contingent and the Hyundai team. The original plan was to test the cars in Cairo, Egypt but for obvious reasons the event had to be relocated. At the time of our event in Dubai, our original test cars were still in Egypt so we drove the local registered UAE market cars.

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The next big deal was testing Hyundai’s exemplary new Accent 1.6 GLS Blue with the revised packaging which now includes the good looking and meatier 16” wheels shod with considerably stickier 195/50HR16 rubber up from the local launch car’s 14” wheel package we tested last December. I wanted to test, in OEM form, the new rolling stock. In our last intense testing the Accent had already emerged victorious against its most formidable component but on the T-rated 14” tires. The question was whether the improved rubber would improve driving dynamics or compromise it? The answer after a few hundred kilometers is that the upgrade definitely increased the Accent’s dynamic performance. The handling instantly felt a lot more planted and precise. The current best in class in my book. I do have some issues though.

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I still want either the 140 bhp 1.6 GDI engine, or better yet, the 128 bhp and 198 lb.ft of torque 1.6 CRDi powerplant packaged with the start/stop ignition button coupled with the proximity key system, reverse sensors combined with the reverse camera monitor in the rearview mirror, in blue and with two-tone tan leather interior. All of which are unavailable at the moment. Yes I want to buy one. It is such a practical, yet still fun and good-looking car boasting a very long list of standard equipment.

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Driving at variable speeds and conditions in Dubai, from city pace to sustaining over 190 km/h on the highway, there is no doubt in my mind that the Hyundai Accent has redefined the segment and has become the current very best in class even with the current 122bhp 1.6 liter engine. By the way, Hyundai Philippines is selling the 1.6 GLS Blue with the 16” wheels and added Bluetooth capability on all black interior with better cloth seats compared to the initial offering with grey half-leather upholstery at no extra charge! WOW!

Specification – 2011 Hyundai Accent GLS 1.6 Blue
Engine: Inline-4, 1591cc, dohc 16V, CVVT, 4-speed AT
Max power: 122 bhp @ 6300 rpm
Max torque: 115 lb ft @ 4200 rpm
0-100 km/h: (0-62 mph) 8.7 seconds
Top speed: 192 km/h (120 mph) Governed
Fuel Mileage: 8.0L/100 kms. As tested overall
Price as tested: PhP 808,000.00
+Best in class on all fronts
-The GDI and CRDi variants are even better
C! Rating: 10/10

– Kevin C. Limjoco

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