By Jim Bray
It must be tough being Hyundai and trying to overcome the Rodney Dangerfield
Its tough to get respect, that is. After all, while Hyundai may be
Koreas largest automaker, its facing a real challenge in a marketplace
teeming with terrific cars; it has to offer quality and value comparable to
longer-established marques whove had decades to refine even their entry
Fortunately, it seems to be doing a pretty good job of it. While Hyundais
entry level 2003 Accent may not have quite the refinement of a 2003 Honda Civic
or Toyota Corolla, its probably as good as those cars were within recent
memory - and it manages to hold the price down in comparison.
Which means the Accent has plenty to offer for the person who may be purchasing
his first car, or who just wants something economical and inexpensive that
wont make them suffer for their purchasing decision.
Its tough to make an entry level car thats any good, that doesnt
rattle or transmit huge amounts of wind noise at highway speeds - or that doesnt
lack power, fit and finish, or otherwise skrimp on the quality and quality
control. This is one of the reasons why, if given their druthers and they can
afford it, most people would opt for a Mercedes Benz over a Yugo.
So the Accent has a tough job in not only competing but, with its Hyundai
stablemates, in helping to build the companys reputation as a real player
on the world stage.
Hyundai has been doing a pretty good job of it over the past few years, as
witnessed by its rising star in the J. D. Powers world, and has for the most
part managed to erase the publics memory of such unremarkable cars as
the Pony and the Stellar.
I first drove the 2001 model year Accent and thought it was a nice little
car. This time around, Hyundai let me play with two models in two different
trim levels, the $15,000 Canadian/$11,500 US GSI three door hatchback and the
$16,000 Cdn/$13,000 US GL four door sedan (prices are approximations). The
GSI sported the five speed manual transmission, while the four door was saddled
with the optional four speed automatic.
Three guesses as to which I preferred, and any guesses that include the word
automatic wont be counted.
Okay, neither version is going to be something you want to take to the race
track, but either version (especially the 5-speed) will do a good job of providing
you with reasonable and basic transportation on just about all kinds of roads.
The Accent, in GSI or GL spec, comes with a 1.6 liter, 16 valve double overhead
cam engine rated at 104 horses @ 5800 rpm and 106 lb.- ft of torque @ 3000
revs. The base model GS trim levels engine loses a valve per cylinder,
.1 of a liter, 14 horses and 10 lb.- ft.
None of these specs will set your world on fire, but I found during my test
period that the 1.6 liter version is just fine for most applications. It leaves
something to be desired if youre prone to passing in short spaces on
two lane blacktop or trying to climb steepish hills in top gear, but even there
its at least as peppy and pleasant to drive as my wifes bulletproof
1992 Toyota Corolla - plus, because its a decade newer, its tighter,
more up to date, and more refined - and it has a full warranty.
The front wheel drive, unit body Accent also comes with power-assisted rack
and pinion steering, includes independent MacPherson Strut with coil springs
and stabilizer bar suspension up front and dual link suspension with coil spring
and stabilizer bar in the back. This makes it handle well under most driving
conditions, as well as contributing to a relatively pleasant driving experience
for the person holding the wheel.
The steering wheel contains no audio or other ancillary controls, but its
designed to encourage a perfect 9-3 oclock driving position and is comfortable.
The drivers seat adjusts manually and though the seat backs a
tad narrow itll work all right for an all day cruise, which my usual
mountain road loop proved.
That mountain road loop heads from my home town to the Rockies along a beautiful
twisty and hilly secondary road and then back via multi-lane freeway, so its
a pretty good test of a vehicles mettle. We only got a chance to take
the 5-speed Accent on that loop, and even then the weather was really crummy
in places (slush, snow, and rain), but it performed fine, providing a pleasant
and workmanlike drive with no fuss and no surprises. The variable intermittent
wipers worked fine (and came in really handy) and the all season (P185/60R
14) tires proved, if not excellent, entirely adequate when things got a tad
We didnt have to perform any panic stops, and the road conditions when
I had the Accent didnt really allow simulating such unless I wanted to
get reckless (Which I didnt! I prefer wreckless.) but in
everyday driving the Accent stopped as well as it went. The brakes are power
assisted ventilated discs up front with a pair of self adjusting power drums
The fourteen inch aluminum alloy wheels are okay; the four door model has
full wheel covers.
Inside, the seating is comfortable for four, with adequate legroom and headroom
in the rear, at least for those who arent too large. Only the driver
gets an airbag, so if youre planning to have a head on collision its
best to either travel alone or with someone you dont like too much.
Other safety features include seatbelts with pretensioners: 3 point seat belts
with height adjusters (though they didnt make me any taller, dammit!)
up front and two point lap seat belts in back.
The rear seat splits 60/40 and folds down for extra storage space. Seats
are cloth upholstered (with sport cloth in the trim levels I drove) and theyre
quite handsome considering the entry level status of the car. The insert design
is repeated on the doors.
One thing I didnt like on the GSI was the remote adjustment
for the drivers side exterior mirror. It was very difficult to get the
mirror to go where I wanted it to. The 4 door had power mirrors, so this made
things much nicer.
The last Accent I drove had a horrible stereo as far as its ergonomics were
concerned, with tiny little buttons and labels on the AM/FM single disc CD
player. The new model, for which the CD player is also optional (cassette is
standard), is much better in this regard - though some of the buttons (power,
for instance) are strangely placed. Audio quality is okay; this stereo does
not thunder, but what do you expect from an entry level vehicle? If audio is
really important to you, look for an after market upgrade for both head unit
The GSI also came with a nice, popup sunroof with a ceiling-matching fabric
insert you can use in the winter. I made the mistake of assuming it slid back
and forth when I tried removing it at a red light, only to have it drop onto
my head when I detached the connector. Theres nothing wrong with this,
its just not something you want to do while youre driving!
Heater and ventilation were fine; the car warmed up quickly and the defoggers
worked fine. In fact, this Accent blows the doors off our Corolla in this regard.
Theres also a rear window wiper on the two door, which is handy - though
on our mountain loop trip we found that the cars aerodynamics generally
kept the rear window clean anyway, at least at highway speeds.
The instrument panel lighting is a pretty blue, though I wished the brightness
control offered more flexibility.
There are plenty of storage spaces, including door pockets, a reasonably
sized glove compartment, and dual retractable cup holders up front.
Overall body styling is a tad bland, though Ill be the first to admit
that beauty is in the eye of the beholder (otherwise I could never bear to
look in a mirror!). It does remind me a bit of a Honda Civic of one or two
generations ago, though not as sleek and not enough to get Hyundai sued.
Other than its automatic transmission, I preferred the four door version
because of its extra practicality and the power toys it included. Those options
(other than the extra two doors) are available on either model.
The 2003 Accents fuel economy is EPA rated at 29/33 (City/Hwy - US figures),
with the automatic rated at 26/35 (same parameters). This isnt bad.
Looked at fairly and trying to compare apples with apples, the 2003 Hyundai
Accent comes off as a decent set of inexpensive wheels that appears to be well
built and is more enjoyable to drive than I youd expect - though my experience
with the 2001 model had prepared me somewhat.
And what more can one expect from an entry level car?