Performance

Subcompact buyers have been treated poorly in the performance department. Inexpensive engines and transmissions have resulted in subpar mileage numbers despite the fact that the subcompacts weigh less than compact cars.

Like the Ford Fiesta, the new Accent gets an advanced engine. Hyundai has direct injection in its new 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, good for 138 horsepower. That's a lot of power in this segment. And it gets class-leading EPA-estimated mileage of 30/40 mpg city/highway when teamed with either the standard six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. The Fiesta is closest, with ratings of 28/37 mpg. You can choose a Fiesta SE hatchback with an automatic and optional SFE Package to get 29/40 mpg, but that will cost $16,990. The Accent's highest configuration price is $16,795. The Honda Fit is far behind at 27/33 mpg, and the Toyota Yaris resides somewhere in the middle at 29/36 mpg.

While the Accent has more power than others in the class, I wouldn't call it fleet of foot. When accelerating from a dead stop, the Accent strained, as do most in this class, and I was ferrying two other average-size adults in the car. It struggled even more up hills, but on the highway it passed with plenty of assurance.

It felt livelier than the Fiesta, especially when using the manual feature on the six-speed automatic I was testing. Few cars in this class have that feature or hill start assist, which is standard on automatic models. While stopped on an incline, it keeps the car from rolling backward when the driver's foot moves from the brake to the gas.

Only the Fit might be quicker, but the Fit falls far short in a very important department that makes the Accent exceptional: It has a soft, comfortable ride that is rare not only among subcompacts but also most compacts. Road noise is also exceptionally quiet. My test route on the roads around Las Vegas and the Hoover Dam was made up of mostly fresh or smooth blacktop, but even over the rare concrete highway segments I encountered, it was easy to hold a conversation.

Steering is as crisp as you would expect from a car this small. I did feel that the low-rolling-resistance tires didn't offer enough grip when making sharp turns, however. The car didn't exhibit much of the body roll you sometimes encounter in this segment.

Add that to terrific brakes Ч standard four-wheel discs Ч and the Accent exudes a sense of safe travel, which is something that is often hard to come by in a subcompact.

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