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Hyundai steps up with a fine-tuned kick of a car

Accent GT comes out of Korea with a lot to commend and little to complain about for $12,500.

September 01, 2004|Steven Cole Smith | Orlando Sentinel

Well, this is a pleasant surprise: A fun, attractive little coupe with far more equipment than you'd expect for a sticker price of $12,547 -- and there's a factory rebate on top of that.

How much equipment? Air conditioning, fat P185/60HR-14 tires with alloy wheels, a six-speaker stereo with a compact-disc player, carpeted floor mats, a cargo net, fog lights, a rear spoiler, a rear window wiper, a leather-covered steering wheel and shift knob, and power windows, locks and mirrors.

And get this: front and side air bags. If you could add cruise control, which, unfortunately, you can't as a factory option, I could happily live with this car for a long time.

Of course, a nice list of equipment, regardless of price, isn't enough unless it all works in harmony. The Hyundai Accent GT is a tight, well-constructed car with a taut suspension, surprisingly comfortable sport bucket seats and a willing 1.6-liter engine mated to the best manual transmission I've driven on a Korean car.

Fuel mileage -- 29 miles per gallon in the city, 33 mpg on the highway -- is more than acceptable. That, coupled with Hyundai's warranty -- which covers most everything for five years or 60,000 miles, and the powertrain for 10 years or 100,000 miles -- make the Accent GT an inexpensive, dependable commuter car. Certainly, it's at its best darting around in city traffic, but it's a pretty competent highway cruiser, and the Accent GT can be entertaining on winding back roads.

Problems? Not many. The rear seat is small and not that easy to get to, but there is a four-door Accent. Unfortunately, this GT model is available only with two doors. The trunk, at least, is bigger than you'd expect.

The engine is not as smooth or quiet as the better small four-cylinders from some Japanese or German manufacturers, but it's an improvement from Hyundais of five years ago. This chassis could handle more than the engine's 103 horsepower, but that's what you get.

The Hyundai is priced $2,223 less than the Ford Focus, another inexpensive-but-fun small coupe that's comparably equipped. The absence of obvious cost-cutting is the most commendable aspect of this Accent GT; there's little you can point to that says "cheap," except for the sticker price.

Nicely done.

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