2018 Hyundai Accent SE: Bargain Shopping By Cliff Leppke Hyundai’s Michael Evanhoff claims the Accent, its smallest auto, is one of its largest. It’s a big seller. Since 1995, 1.244 million American shoppers picked this model. For 2018, the fresh fifth-generation Accent four-door sedan offers a compelling reason to think small: it’s roomier; more efficient. Not long ago, many motorists sought fuel-sipping little cars to cut transportation costs, augment a family’s fleet or thwart conformity symbolized by oversized Baroque Detroit dreamboats. The 2018 Accent remedies one foible that drove people from subcompacts—cramped interiors. According to the EPA, the Accent’s people space now rivals a compact car. Hyundai, furthermore, addresses another small-car stigma—the spartan rental-car image. You can, for a price, get an upmarket Accent SEL or Limited with premium-car gadgetry including forward radar assist, automatic climate control and push-button start. My tester: the staid “SE” model arrived with a six-speed automatic transmission. The bottom line: $17,005 before discounts. Often mini autos look like they’ve been squeezed from a Crest tube into potato-like lumps—not the aero-sleek Accent. It’s a nicely proportioned fastback. Its svelte shape employs a trick—black plastic panels make the roof pillars appear thinner. Likewise, there’s a chin-spoiler bumper with faux turbocharger intercooler grilles. Hyundai’s tidy sedan sports the brand’s latest rhinoplasty—a cascading grille, which resembles a foundry ladle pouring molten metal. That’s an homage to the company’s steel-making history, says Hyundai’s Miles Johnson. Due to increased use of high-strength steel (up 28.7 percent) and body-cavity blocking, this Accent is stiffer with better crash protection. Inside, it’s a Tupperware party, a firm-plastic sea with unyieldingly hard armrests. One comfort concession: front-door fabric inlays. Contoured pebble-gained plastics, however, are trompe l’oeil. They look expensive. The nattily clad cloth front seats provide thigh and back support. The left throne is height adjustable; there’s a tilt-only steering wheel. Drivers can tailor a decent driving position, although a long right foot can snag an under-dash heater duct. Pedal placement is good; the highlighted center-console shift-lever mode is easy-to-read. Sun visors extend to cover side windows. The 60/40 split-fold way-back row is adult friendly, if front friends slide forward. Overhead, there’s a low-rent ceiling comprised of cardboard-like material with visible fasteners. The rudimentary, deep carpeted trunk lacks cubbies and stowage hooks but has a spare tire. Nice items: intuitive switchgear (knobs click like a vintage Pentax K1000 camera), handsfree Bluetooth phone pairing and steering wheel remote controls. The standard rearview camera provides dynamic guidance overlays. You witness this on a five-inch color touchscreen radio display. Sano analogue-style gauges supply driving info. Fuel economy is the Accent’s strong suit—I observed 39 mpg overall. EPA figures: 28 mpg city, 38 highway, 32 combined. And the Accent is relatively zippy. It’s powered by a direct-injection 1.6-liter four-cylinder mill that pumps out 130 hp--enough go for worry-free expressway merging. A cooperative six-speed automatic transmission helps. There’s a selectable drive-mode that alters the transmission’s shift algorithm to up zip, while increasing steering effort. Choice is good, but not necessary: the transmission’s normal programing works well. The Accent isn’t a buzz-bomb penalty box; the engine spins a calm 2,000 rpm at 60 mph. In fact, my trek from Milwaukee to Chicago proved pleasant. Furthermore, the steering is accurate aided by 15-inch Continental tires. The tiller, while appropriately weighted, is numb. Wind gusts alter the Accent’s direction. This isn't alarming; the owner’s manual advises reducing speed. Despite the deluxe Kenmore Catalyst Elite washing machine-like quiet pack (under hood insulation), the mill imitates Ben Raphel activating Jeopardy’s buzzer. It whines after cold starts and gets around town by massaging the floor, as if in spin cycle. Once you work your way through those rough moments, the Accent’s pep and economy satisfy. Ride-wise, the Accent nails firm. Bumps, however, turn this otherwise nifty appliance into a festival of snaps, jolts and slams. Frost-heaved secondary roads induce constant jiggling. Hyundai claims it improved roadworthiness by changing the rear shock absorber angle to increase suspension travel. Row it yourself with a six-speed manual (SE trim only); you save about $1,000 for starters. A high-performance 17-inch tire/wheel combo (Limited) is available. One reason you cannot buy an Accent with a manual transmission and upper-trim driver assistance, which includes autonomous braking, is the clutch pedal. Someone must push it, when stopping. Collision alert without braking isn’t offered. How does the improved Accent rate? It gets an A for effort, a B for presentation and an honorable mention for execution. Small-car shoppers, add this one to your list. Others worth a look: Toyota’s spunky Yaris iA (a Mazda2 clone) sedan. Honda’s hatchback Fit, Chevy’s Sonic and the Accent’s corporate cousin—the Kia Rio. Ford’s Fiesta steers well but has a problematic self-shifting transmission.