Hatchback Lacks Muscle, but Not Charm

CORNWALL, N.Y. — Rosa Parks Brown, our chocolate Labrador, prefers subcompact cars. We think it’s because subcompacts force humans to sit next to her. Parks, as we call her, loves humans, craves them. She hates being left alone in the rear compartments of large trucks, crossover utility vehicles or sedans.

In that regard, the subcompact Hyundai Accent SE hatchback, seemingly the least likely of vehicles to transport three adults, a large dog and all of their stuff, turned out to be ideal for our 320-mile journey here from our home in Northern Virginia.

Parks did the whole trip resting her head in the lap of her true master, our daughter Binta, or sticking her face as close as possible to the open front passenger window ostensibly to catch a breeze, but really to lick the back of the neck of the woman in the front passenger’s seat, my wife, Mary Anne.

Other than my wife’s occasional protests against being neck-slurped, it was a pleasant, easy trip — surprisingly pleasant and easy.

The little Accent is the most affordable car made by Hyundai, a South Korean manufacturer that prides itself on the design and production of affordable automobiles. At Hyundai in the 1980s, that meant motorized trash, such as the now-defunct, seldom mourned Hyundai Excel subcompact.

Today’s Hyundai no longer makes trash. In fact, the company has been reaching upscale and doing so successfully with models such as its new Genesis sedan. Next year, Hyundai will roll out its Equus sedan, a super luxurious automobile designed to compete with Mercedes-Benz’s S-Class and BMW’s 7-Series.

The only people laughing at the prospect of Hyundai taking on Mercedes-Benz and BMW are those who haven’t been paying close attention to Hyundai.

I have written here and other places that Hyundai has mastered the art of Wal-Mart marketing. Some of you have taken that as an insult. It isn’t.

To people who shop regularly at Wal-Mart, as we Browns do on our East Coast road trips, it is high praise. We get products and service we want with the quality we want at prices we consider unbeatable.

Hyundai understands that. It is committed to the proposition of high value for dollar, even in its least expensive car, the front-wheel-drive Accent hatchback.

The Accent is a subcompact with wiggle room, arguably with as much usable interior space as that offered by the more expensive Toyota Corolla. Fit and finish are as good as anything offered by Hyundai’s Japanese rivals. In terms of air-bag count, standard safety equipment is better. You get standard side and head air bags in the Accent. You don’t in the Corolla.

The Corolla has a more powerful four-cylinder engine — 1.8 liters and 132 horsepower vs. 1.6 liters and 110 hp for the Accent. That makes the Accent more of a right-lane car than its Japanese rival. But both cars can exceed the top 65 mph speed limit on the New Jersey Turnpike with the same unhappy result: an expensive conversation with a New Jersey state trooper.

Still, I would’ve preferred a larger engine in the Accent. And here’s hoping that Hyundai creates a special iteration of the Accent with, maybe, a turbocharged 1.8 liter, four-cylinder diesel. That would make getting up Mine Hill Road here a lot easier than struggling along in second gear, which is what we had to do in the gasoline-fueled four-cylinder Accent SE used on this trip.

But Parks didn’t mind the second-gear stuttering. With a fuel efficiency of 27 miles per gallon in the city and 33 mpg on the highway, using regular unleaded gasoline, we saved enough money to buy her some gourmet dog food.

Perhaps that’s really why she prefers subcompact cars.

By Warren Brown
Washington Post

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