When the final chapter is written on the themes of the automotive industry in 2011, fuel economy will be one of the dominant entries on that list. With good reason-high gas prices have stymied the automotive industry's recovery and caused plenty of pain at the pump for consumers.
Another dominant theme will be the continued emergence of Kia and Hyundai as rising companies in the industry. Both have used a combination of effective marketing and strong products to overcome a historical reputation as budget-friendly automakers that had little to offer in the way of interesting product (let's not forget Hyundai's past reliability concerns). Hyundai has rode the strength of a redesigned Sonata mid-size sedan and Elantra compact to increased sales, and now it's time for the subcompact Accent to go under the knife. Additionally, the upscale Genesis sedan has a few new tricks up its sleeve.
Las Vegas may seem like an unlikely setting for a carmaker to unveil a new fuel-sipping subcompact along with an updated version of its mid-luxury model, given the city's reputation for sin. Not even the most partisan Hyundai fans will think of subcompacts as sexy and sinful, but that didn't stop Hyundai from allowing journalists to put the new Accent and updated Genesis sedan (including the new R-Spec, complete with a new 5.0-liter V-8) through their paces in and around such iconic desert settings as the Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, and the Valley of Fire.
We'll start with the redesigned Accent, which was unveiled at the 2011 New York Auto Show. Following Hyundai's "fluidic design sculpture," the Accent's styling apes that of the bigger Elantra and Sonata. Available in hatchback and sedan flavors, the Accent offers three trims-GS (hatchback), SE (hatchback), and GLS (sedan)-and a sole engine: A 1.6-liter four-cylinder that puts out 138 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque. Hyundai is promising 30 mpg city and 40 mpg highway with both of the available transmissions: A six-speed manual and six-speed automatic.
Pricing starts at $12,445 for a manual-transmission GLS and maxes out at $16,795 for an automatic-transmission SE, not including the $760 destination charge.
We spent our morning in a hatchback (five doors only, please) with the manual transmission. We were impressed by the firm, sporty steering and the relatively upscale interior. Interior materials looked lively and fun, although they still felt a bit downmarket at certain touch points.
The ride was firm but not punishing, with enough pleasantness on smooth Nevada roads. Acceleration leaves something to be desired, although the Accent is hardly alone in the subcompact class in that regard.
Those who want to shift for themselves might be disappointed, the shifter has long, light throws, and the clutch has an extremely high take-up point. A brief spin in an automatic later in the day showed that the gearbox was relatively smooth and well-matched to the engine. As much as your author prefers stick shifts, only the most hardcore would want to select the row your own option over the automatic gearbox. Rear seat space was adequate, although taller riders might be crunched if the front seat is pushed back too far. Cargo space appeared livable if not super spacious.
Wind and road noise are relatively muted, but some tire noise slips through, and the engine gets loud and buzzy above 3,000 rpm or so.
Exterior styling follows the swoopy lines of the Accent's bigger brothers, and the look is pleasant to the eye. Certainly the Accent has some verve-the days of the plain, boxy subcompact appear to be over.
As for the Genesis sedan, the big news is the addition of direct-injection to the 3.8-liter V-6 (horsepower moves to 333 from 290), the addition of an eight-speed automatic transmission to all models, and a new R-Spec model, which gets a 5.0-liter V-8 that makes 429 horsepower. This engine is essentially a bored-out version of the 385-horsepower 4.6-liter V-8 that carries over. Fuel economy numbers are as follows: 19/29 for the V-6, 17/26 for the 4.6, and 16/25 for the 5.0.
The R-Spec also gets unique 19-inch wheels, dark chrome headlamp inserts, and sport calibrations for the transmission, steering, and suspension.
All Genesis sedan models get a styling refresh that focuses on making the car look a little sportier.