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.
See full story (Hyundai)

Also noteworthy is how quiet the cabin is; road noise is appreciably low for a car of this size and weight, and the doors close with a solid thud.

Legroom and headroom will fit the people's tallest passengers, and cargo capacity on both the sedan and hatchback Accents is on the higher end of the segment.

One small drawback to the five-door Accent's interior is that although the rear seats do fold (all Accents come with 60/40 split rear seats), they don't fold completely flat as in the Honda Fit.

Yet my biggest qualm with the ergonomics is on the five-door Accents. The styling of the hatchback is such that the angled rear window opening is too small for worthwhile visibility. I felt like I was squinting every time I looked in the rear-view mirror.

Blame what Hyundai calls "fluidic sculpture," a design term meant to evoke constant motion that is now found on several of its recent cars and compact sport-utility vehicles. The Accent's glass hatch is so narrow because it's styled to follow the rising belt line on the side of the car. Also, the angles of this Accent's rear suggest some of that fluid sculpture may have frozen a bit.

Up front, the Accent looks like exactly what it is; the younger, smaller sibling of the Elantra with the same kind of bug-eyed smile.

The Accent's biggest design accolade goes to the sedan, which manages to be a well-proportioned sub-compact. This isn't easy to pull off; the Ford Fiesta sedan looks like a miniature hat you'd make your Shih Tzu wear.

On the road, the Accent drives and handles with straightforward purpose. The automatic transmission is clearly geared toward efficiency, and will upshift with according zest. Meanwhile, the manual transmission's shifter has a very light feel to it and would be an asset for those learning to shift or anyone rowing their gears through the sea of Los Angeles traffic.

Maximum horsepower comes at a high 6,300 rpm, so expect the engine to get noisy when you need to really push the car.

A Honda Fit will be more fun to drive in terms of initial pep and enthusiasm for corners, but Hyundai says it tuned the Accent for a wider range of drivers, and the car is certainly a competent, comfortable performer all around.

In fact, all around is an appropriate term for the 2012 Accent as a whole; it's all-around good. It's what the people need, in the form that they need it in.

If only what the people want were so easy.