There is real competition at the bottom of the automotive food chain, and two South Korean automakers - Hyundai and Kia - are among the strongest combatants. The Hyundai Accent in its most base form stickers just under $10,000 - a very realistic value for those wanting a new car at a rock bottom price. The tested GT is more a "driver's" car. And it trumps rivals in several features. Prices: US $9,999 base; as tested, $12,002. Warranty: 10 years/100,000 miles powertrain.
By some measurements, Hyundai might be considered a new company. It only began production of vehicles in 1967. But the little Accent didn't debut until 1994. A year later it was named a Canadian Best Buy. Today, the 2004 Hyundai Accent is one of the few new cars available under $10,000, a vehicle that can seat five passengers and carry a good deal of luggage in a spacious trunk. But it's fair to say Hyundai didn't earn an instant reputation for quality. Early Hyundais, in fact, suffered from spotty quality and low trade-in value. It wasn't until the late 90s that Hyundai properly focused on quality automobiles - and began to turn its reputation around. Plus, it automated its production to a degree previously impossible. Today, many of its models, including the Accent, vie for best in class. And Hyundai offers the longest warranty in the business, assuring buyers it will stand behind its cars for years to come. Denting the Japanese reputation for quality won't be easy, but Hyundai is betting that its faith in its cars, backed by a warranty longer than most buyers will own them, should win over the masses.
2004 Hyundai Accent GT InstrumentsÂ© Robert C. Bowden
The 2004 Hyundai Accent GT is a two-door coupe with a hatchback lid, but the Accent is available as a four-door sedan without the GT badging. The GT model, starting at $11,399, adds stiffer suspension, 14-inch wheels and a little spoiler on the rear. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard - and that's the only way to maximize power from the 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. Our tested 2004 Hyundai Accent GT had what is called the "popular equipment package" for $500. That added power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, and an AM/FM stereo CD player with six speakers. A cargo net cost $33 (and proved its value while shopping for groceries) and carpeted floor mats were $65. But standard equipment was plentiful, including air conditioning, dual front air bags and dual side air bags. Those side air bags, proven in real-world crashes to be life-savers, set this Accent apart from competitors. In crash tests conducted by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, the Accent received a top five-star rating for the driver and four stars for the front passenger. Side crash tests returned four-star ratings - very good in this class. Anti-lock brakes were not part of this bargain, however.
On the Road
The 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine produces 103 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 106 foot-pounds of torque at 3,000 rpm. The clutch engages easily and the Accent has plenty of pep to merge easily with traffic. On the tachometer, part of easily-read black-on-white instruments, redline is 6,500 rpm. In reality, the little four runs out of breath at about 6,000 rpm, stumbling badly if rpm is maintained or increased. Fuel efficiency is the disappointment for this, pegged by the EPA at 29 city and 33 highway. While that sounds good with soaring gasoline prices, the competing Toyota Echo returns 35/43. How can the little Hyundai be so far behind? At least it's a notch better than the competing Kia Rio, another South Korean car, with figures of 26/33. Beyond that, the 2004 Hyundai Accent GT was a pleasure to drive, with a singular exception: The front seat felt lumpy; akin to straddling a padded log. The gear shifter is far to the rear of where one might expect it to be, making this car easy for short folks to shift. The steering wheel tilts and the seat slides and tilts. Shifting is sure and easy, with only a light throw required; the car can be easily shifted without lurching. It's a fun car to drive pedal-to-the-metal.
2004 Hyundai Accent GT HatchbackÂ© Robert C. Bowden
Two things might tilt a frugal buyer toward the 2004 Hyundai Accent GT and away from similarly priced competitors: the longest warranty on any subcompact car, and standard side air bags. No competitor offers these and both are invaluable to buyers. It also helps that Hyundai's reputation for quality vehicles is rising, thanks to the success of models like the great Sante Fe and Sonata. It doesn't hurt this writer to know that his son-in-law bought a new Hyundai Accent within the past year - and loves it. And it doesn't hurt that this writer has recommended Hyundais to co-workers happy with their choices. In fact, the 2004 Hyundai Accent - a terrific commuter car - would be fine for all but extended vacation travel. The tester lacked cruise control, essential for long travel. Bottom line: If you only have $10,000 to spend on a new car, the 2004 Hyundai Accent deserves serious consideration. If you can find better transportation value with four wheels and a roof, buy it.