Performance

A horsepower rating of 110 doesn't sound like a lot of power to anyone these days, but it was only a few years ago that a Honda Civic produced only 115 hp. The Accent's four-cylinder never felt underpowered, which says a lot for the little hatchback. It moved nimbly in city driving and handled itself well on the highway, too.

The Accent felt well-planted at high speeds and was relatively quiet for a car in this class. Besides some loud engine noise, the overall sound level reminded me just how far this class of cars has come in the past 10 years. The ride was pleasant, too. It wasn't too firm, like the Honda Fit, while not being quite as comfortable as a Nissan Versa.

The 2009 Accent SE tested is rated at 27/33 mpg city/highway, and after 220 miles of morning and afternoon commutes through bumper-to-bumper traffic, side streets and suburban sprawl, it registered exactly 31 mpg, which is faithful to the ratings.

The one issue I had with the economy car's performance was the manual transmission in my SE. It's the same stick found in sub-$10,000 base models, and let me tell you, it is one annoying manual.

The clutch itself takes some getting used to, releasing much higher than most drivers would expect. The real issue, though, is the shifter. Each shift between gears is broken up by a huge "clunk" as the stick literally gets stuck mid-throw before reaching the next position in the traditional H pattern. Every single person who drove this car commented on it — with pained expressions. After a long commute, my right elbow was sore from all the hard shifting.

Acceleration in 1st and 2nd gears is quite brisk, and I would even call it enjoyable. If it weren't for the slightly zippier competition in the Yaris and Fit, the Accent's quickness would have come as a bigger shock.

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