Accent SE

The 2012 Hyundai Accent is available in both hatchback, above, and sedan versions. The Accent is the latest model to come from a company experiencing a white-hot 2011 in terms of sales.
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Apologies and all due respect are in order to a certain German automaker, but it seems the term "the people's car" has been appropriated by the 2012 Hyundai Accent.

The new bearer of the people's torch takes all the metrics that the auto-buying denizens of the world actually need and rolls them into one not-so-giant ball of pragmatism.

The car is affordable and efficient with both space and gas, and it manages to sprinkle in a bit of fun, though it could use a little more.

Aside from that, and some minor ergonomic issues, this sub-compact ride for the masses is a good one.

Available in both sedan and hatchback versions, the Accent is the latest model to come from a company experiencing a white-hot 2011 in terms of sales, and Hyundai says its cynosure is its cars' fuel economy.

The Accent continues that trend with its potent and clever 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine. Vastly outmuscling competitors including the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris, the Accent puts out 138 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque.

And it does so while getting the best gas mileage of its class — no small feat for this fuel-averse crowd.

The Accent is able to do this by being lighter and more aerodynamic than most. But it also wrings more miles per gallon out of its engine by using something called direct injection. Though it may sound like a Jose Canseco workout regimen, it's actually a nifty technological update that makes fuel injection more precise and efficient.

It does this by introducing the gasoline directly to the cylinder at the exact moment and in the exact amount that the engine needs to burn it, then mixing it with air. Normal gas engines combine the fuel and air beforehand, and that mix then goes into the cylinder.

The difference in effectiveness is like throwing a bucket of water on a match to put it out, versus using a well-aimed squirt gun.

The effect is noticeable at the pump. Whether Accent buyers choose the standard six-speed manual transmission or the six-speed automatic, the Accent's fuel economy stands at 30 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway, according to estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Over almost 300 miles of testing a $17,685 Accent SE, I averaged 26 mpg.

That chunk of change nets you a loaded Accent hatchback (or five-door in car-speak) for at least $1,000 less than a similar Ford Fiesta or Honda Fit. This includes the automatic transmission that's a $1,000 option, a flaccid six-speaker stereo system with MP3 playback, XM satellite radio and steering-wheel mounted controls, Bluetooth, alloy wheels and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.

One rung below is the Accent GS, also a five-door, that starts at $15,355 with the manual transmission. At the basement level is the Accent GLS, a sedan that starts at $14,995.

All Accents come with a 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty and a host of safety features including four-wheel disc brakes with ABS (unique for this segment), electronic stability control, six air bags and a tire-pressure monitoring system.

Although Hyundai deserves credit for the Accent's value proposition, it's in how they put it all together that the automaker really earns the people's respect.

The inside of the Accent is wonderful because of its simplicity. The dashboard layout is straightforward; Hyundai deliberately avoided the design flourishes seen in their Elantra sedan after critics (though not this one) chided it for being overkill.

Some might call it boring, but after one drives a Ford Fiesta or Honda Fit, which have interiors that push style over substance, the Accent is a welcome reprieve.

The construction and materials are also impressive; inexpensive cars are the raison d'etre for hard plastics, yet they're largely banished from this Hyundai. Think Chipotle assemblage on a Taco Bell budget.