Hyundai Accent

The Accent is comfortable, cheap to run... and much better than before

These days, the accent is firmly on quality at Hyundai, with its latest Santa Fe fighting it out at the top of the compact SUV sector. But this new supermini lacks a distinctive design, and the interior features too many cheap plastics, so it isn't up to the standard of the best in its class. Still, in its favour, the Accent is comfortable, cheap to run... and much better than before.

Superminis are growing. As buyers increasingly demand space and refinement from their small cars, manufacturers are adding centimetres to every dimension. Hyundai has jumped on the bandwagon with its Accent, which is now larger than a Ford Fiesta, but not as big as the Volkswagen Golf.

So while the Korean model won't lose out in the space race, will it measure up in other areas? Its predecessor was never a big hit in the UK, due to its low-rent feel, yet Hyundai's latest crop of models are in a different league.

Designed ahead of the company's recently launched Santa Fe and Elantra the Accent isn't as striking as either of these offerings.

Inside, the lines have been given a bit more thought, but they still won't excite. The seats are very comfortable and the dashboard is sensibly laid out, although the lack of reach adjustment on the steering wheel will spoil the ergonomics for some drivers.

What's worse, cheap, hard plastics are fitted throughout the interior. At least the build quality seems excellent, with no squeaks or rattles, and the Accent is very well equipped.

While four and five-door versions are produced for Korean markets, only the three-door variant will be imported to Europe. Practicality is limited, with the decent boot restricted by a high loading lip. Our test car was powered by the manufacturer's 1.5-litre diesel engine, which develops 108bhp. It's a powerplant that works best when driven gently, delivering impressive economy and refined cruising.

Performance isn't its strong suit, with 0-62mph taking 11.5 seconds. However, this model will be a popular choice for budget-conscious buyers, as Hyundai claims real-world fuel returns of more than 60mpg.

On the road, all the controls feel soft. Don't expect taut handling, either, as company engineers have put the emphasis on comfort. Unfortunately, the over-assisted steering won't appeal to keen drivers looking for feedback through the wheel.

Already on sale on the Continent, the Accent hits showrooms in the UK next month. Sold as a special edition only, the three-door Accent Atlantic is a stopgap model which will be offered only until an all-new hatchback - along with a complete line-up of models - replaces it in spring next year.

The previous Accent is set to become a distant memory. The Atlantic won't make it to the top of the class, but offers a five-year warranty, solid build quality and decent value.

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