Leading the way


By Andy Leuterio  www.philstar.com

If you should ever find yourself driving in Dubai, a friendly piece of advice: Watch out for the camels. This is because when a 1,300 kilogram car slams into a jaywalking camel on the 4-lane highways, the laws of physics dictate that both parties lose.

CamelDriving back to the city, we saw a poor beast lying dead on the road after having walked into the path of a compact sedan possibly doing at least 100 km/h. To the benefit of the passengers, everyone seemed none the worse for wear. The car and the animal, of course, were write-offs. So pay attention, folks. You never know when a camel will choose you for its out-of-body experience.

Apart from that rather sad encounter on the road, Hyundai Motor Company could have done worse than introduce the newest version of its small car in one of the Middle East’s most progressive cities. In fact, the very idea of choosing Dubai as the launch venue for an entry-level car from a Korean manufacturer might have seemed delusional as little as two model generations or around 8 years ago. Yes, Dubai, workplace of many of our tireless OFWs, home to modern day wonders like the Burj Al Arab and the Jumeirah Islands, where Porsche Cayennes and Lexus LS400s are as common to the locals as Toyota Innovas and Honda Civics are to us.

But if you’ve been paying attention lately, Hyundai is clearly on an ascendant path. With the mission of becoming one of the world’s most loved brands (and not just the best selling), its latest products like the Tucson and Genesis Coupe have integrated a charming combination of style, performance, and value that has worked wonders for the bottom line.

With the Accent, Hyundai is squarely taking aim at the entry-level B-segment populated by the Honda Jazz/City, Toyota Vios/Yaris, Mazda2, and Ford Fiesta. It pulls no punches, either. From nearly any angle, the Accent draws unanimous praise for its sweeping lines and evocative curves. And beneath the sheetmetal lie a pleasing combination of power, comfort, and handling prowess belying its small car genes.

Similar to the Tucson SUV, Sonata, and Genesis Coupe, the Accent has an aggressive “face”that makes it stand proud in a sea of conservative designs. Highlights include the “eagle eye”-inspired headlamps that flank the hexagonal grille, while L-shaped foglamps placed low and wide on the bumper give it a wide stance. In profile, the sweeping roofline, high beltline, and character line that runs uninterrupted from the front bumper all the way to the back give it the look of motion even while standing still.

From the back, an artful symphony of curves from the trunk lid, taillamps and bumpers complete the aerodynamic look. It’s all quite functional, too, as Hyundai claims a slippery drag coefficient of 0.30. And if you think the sedan looks good, one can only wonder how much better the 5-door hatchback will be (due later this year).

In the horsepower race, the Accent now rules the roost for the local competition with a 1.6-liter engine. Sporting twin cams, 16 valves and variable valve timing it smoothly churns out a class leading 124 bhp and 115 pound feet of torque. Transmission choices are a conventional 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic with sequential manual override.

Like other B-segment cars, the Accent rides on front struts and a space-saving rear torsion beam axle suspension. Stopping power is provided by four wheel disk brakes with ABS. Even on the high speed roads of Dubai, the Accent holds its own against the V6 and V8-powered SUVs and luxury cars of the elite, easily maintaining 140 km/h. Top speed is a claimed 190 km/h and we’re inclined to believe them. Even at an indicated 160 km/h on the speedometer, the Accent is still accelerating strongly. More importantly, repeated high speed runs and frequent accelerations don’t feel particularly stressful; the chassis feels solid and planted on the road, and wind noise is very low. The engine has a Honda-esque snarl at the lower rpm’s, only turning “boom-y” past 4,000 rpm. While a 5-speed automatic and paddle shifters a la Honda City would be icing on the cake for the Accent, the 4-speed works well enough. You’ll only miss an extra gear or wish for closer gear ratios in particularly technical roads. The “Motor Driven Power Steering” feels hefty at high speeds and nimble at lower speeds, with lots of road feel to tell you what’s happening under the tires. A 1.6-liter, 128 bhp diesel may also become available.

Applying its philosophy of “Modern Premium” to the Accent, Hyundai has bestowed on it a healthy standard equipment list. High-end variants come with Bluetooth phone connectivity, engine Start/Stop feature, AUX input, and backup camera option. Even the entry-level variant car already has a respectable 1.4-liter engine rated at 108 bhp and the expected array of comfort and convenience features. The monocoque chassis utilizes high-tensile steel and a Collision Load Dispersion mechanism to distribute the force of a frontal impact in three ways, minimizing floor deformation and maintaining cabin integrity. A ring-type structure in the center pillar area provides enhanced side impact protection. Aside from standard ABS and dual SRS airbags, there is an optional 6-airbag system.

Sit inside the Accent and you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for a compact car. It is 70 millimeters longer than the previous model, with front row legroom of 1,120 mm. comparable to a midsize sedan. It is also longer and wider than its predecessor by 5 mm. and 90mm., respectively. However, the roof is slightly lower by 13 mm. to preserve its coupe-like profile. Most passengers a hair under 6 feet will still have reasonable headroom.

Just as important as the aesthetics and features is the pleasing attention to fit and finish. Like its pricier siblings, the Accent has a blue-lit cockpit with a Y-shaped center console and smooth, high-gloss plastics. The seats are well bolstered and amply cushioned for long drives. While it’s still a largely “Function First, Form Second” interior, it’s light years ahead of the taxicab look and feel of the old Accent.

Over nearly 400 kilometers of driving through the deserts and hills of Dubai, the Accent demonstrated a newfound confidence and prowess that should please any demanding driver. The drive train and chassis perform solidly and smoothly, fit and finish are right up there with – if not better than – the best from Japan and the US, and it’s all wrapped in a body that’s pleasing to the eye. With the way it makes all the right moves and all the right noises, we wouldn’t be surprised if this is one Accent thousands will pick up in no time at all.