The standalone 2017 Hyundai Accent Sport takes bits of both of the existing variants, and combines them into a punchy and affordable offering in the light car class. Shame it's feeling its age.
Usually when a car comes out with a model name like this, one may question the company behind it – could it be trying to fool unsuspecting buyers with clever marketing tactics? But, the honest answer is, the 2017 Hyundai Accent Sport hatchback is pretty punchy for its price.
And price is vital – because the Hyundai Accent has long been seen primarily as affordable transport for people who want that, just that, and not much else.
We get it. With a start price of $15,490 plus on-road costs for the manual model, or $17,490 plus on-roads for the automatic, it seems a little pricey for what we’ve come to expect from Hyundai’s most affordable model. Indeed, we’re used to seeing the Accent at about $15,990 drive-away with the auto transmission.
We’re talking automatics because that’s what the vast majority of people buy in the Accent, and the segment generally. In fact, Hyundai says automatics account for 92 per cent of all Accent sales. Hatchbacks, too, are the biggest sellers in the class – the Accent hatch accounts for 82 per cent of sales.
It seems pretty logical, then, that we got our hands on the auto hatch. Now let’s consider what’s changed with the updated Sport model that rolled out midway through 2017 – six years into the model's life-span, which means it is definitely long in the tooth in a segment where most cars are overhauled or replaced within five years.
Before the Sport launched, there were two Accent options available – the Active with a 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) automatic, and the SR with a 1.6 and six-speed auto. Again, we’re just talking autos, because that’s what people buy.
The Sport keeps the latter’s direct-injection engine and auto ’box – meaning fairly heady levels of grunt for the segment, with 103kW of power at 6300rpm and 167Nm of torque at 4850rpm. So, it has about 40 per cent more power and 26 per cent more torque than the Active model.
To give you a further indication of where that sits, everything else within $1000 of the Accent auto has considerably less punch. The next best is the Renault Clio Life, with its 1.2-litre four-cylinder turbo auto drivetrain offering up a close-but-not-quite 88kW but a superior 190Nm.
The Accent’s extra punch comes at a $500 impost over the existing Active, so you’re really getting a good deal on that front. And you get more equipment than you used to in the Active as well, with 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear-knob.
That’s pretty handy stuff, but the thing that may appeal more to city car buyers is the new 5.0-inch touchscreen media system, which now has Apple CarPlay connectivity in addition to the usual Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, auxiliary and USB inputs.
The new media system is relatively easy to use, and the smartphone mirroring tech is a bonus, that’s for sure. Having your car read your text messages to you in the voice of a disinterested female bot, or play your podcasts by selecting them on the screen, is pretty neat, and a nice brag point at this price.
You don’t get all the stuff the SR had, though. There are halogen headlights on the Sport, for instance, instead of the old SR’s projector beam lamps with LED daytime running lights. There are no fog lights on the revised model, either.
Considering this is essentially the same car to look at as it was when launched back in 2011, some buyers may be looking elsewhere in order to get the most up-to-date styling and tech, and they’d have to – particularly if safety is a key concern.
For instance, there is no rear-view camera, nor any parking sensors fitted. You can’t get autonomous emergency braking at all, even as an option. But you do get six airbags (dual front, front side and curtain coverage).
The space on offer is good for the class – the Accent is a bit bigger than most of its rivals, and it feels it on the inside. We put it up against similarly priced rivals back in 2016, and it smashed them out of the park in terms of interior real estate.
That said, bigger bodies might struggle for knee-room in the back row, and the seat is quite upright, too. There is, however, good storage on offer – big door pockets in the back and the front, plus cupholders up front and a decent sized storage bin for your phone, too. The seats are a bit flat, and the interior finishes feel very much like they were conceptualised more than five years ago. It doesn't feel special inside, but should it, at this price?
The boot is bigger than some competitors in the next size bracket up, too, with 370 litres of cargo capacity. That’s easily enough for a couple of weekend suitcases or a pram and some kid luggage. If you have kids, the Accent’s three top-tether attachment points and dual ISOFIX points will no doubt come in handy.
Now, we made a bit of a deal of the Accent Sport’s new 1.6-litre engine, which is certainly punchy for the class, but it really needs to be worked in order to get the most out of it.
There’s not much low-down torque – I mean, a peak torque figure hitting at 4850rpm is pretty indicative – so you have to really rev it hard to get much out of it. And as a result the drivetrain can be a little bit busy at higher speeds, when you’re trying to maintain momentum up hills, for example.
It is decently refined, but certainly doesn’t feel as grunty as those figures may suggest, and nor is it the most refined engine in the class. The turbocharged powertrains of its slightly dearer Euro rivals, like the Volkswagen Polo or the Clio, offer more usable power, because those turbo engines offer the pulling power where you want it – lower in the rev range.
There's a bit of a price to be paid in terms of fuel use, too, with the brand claiming the auto model should use 6.7 litres per 100 kilometres, which is more than most cars it competes against, not to mention some in the next segment up. In reality, too, it is a bit thirsty – we saw 7.7L/100km during testing.
The Accent has never been a shining light in terms of driving enjoyment, but it certainly is fun enough to drive for a budget car. The steering is fine – it’s accurate enough to allow you to feel what’s happening when you turn the wheel, and the weighting and response is good, too.
It’ll allow you to zip between lanes quickly enough, and the response is light enough to make parking moves without any hassle.
If you drive on twisty country roads regularly, the Accent’s grippy chassis will offer you enough enjoyment. The suspension is aimed more at controlling the body in bends than it is at soaking up bumps, though it still does that without complaint thanks to the brand’s Australian ride and handling tune.
Over speed humps and sharp bumps it settles nicely, though it does tend to find imperfections in road surfaces that other cars might glide over.
The Accent is covered by Hyundai’s excellent five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty program, which includes capped-price servicing (every 12 months/15,000km) for the life of the car, and up to 10 years’ roadside assistance if you maintain the vehicle in-house. The average cost per service over the first five years/75,000km is just $265.
The 2017 Hyundai Accent Sport hatchback is only kind-of sporty, then, but it is – vitally – still nicely affordable, and decently equipped. Its component scores may suggest a higher overall rating, but it is ageing, and it isn’t as good as some of its newer rivals – not to drive, to sit in, or to look at. Crucially for customers in this class, though, it may well be better to own than any of the other cars it competes with.