The term ‘subcompact’ wasn’t designed to fill you with excitement — you knew exactly what you’d be getting from cars in this class, that being the most basic mode of transportation. However, it’s hard not to conjure images of terrible plastic interiors, tinny bodies and screaming little engines straining to muster up the oomph to overtake the girl on her bicycle when it comes to cars in this segment but Hyundai is aiming to change that notion with its new fifth-generation Accent. Having spent some time with the small saloon, it’s clear that this one has quite a lot going for it. Affordability doesn’t necessarily have to mean bare-bones commutes.

Starting with the redesigned exterior, it stands out a lot more than the predecessor thanks to the new, bolder styling. The sculpted body lends it an air of confidence and sophistication with the sweeping roofline and sharp character lines both smart touches. The signature cascading, chromed grille is flanked by large wraparound headlights and it rides on 16in alloys that fill the wheel arches nicely. It features side mirror LED turn signal indicators that go some way in adding an upscale feel to the car. It’s more aerodynamic too (it has a new front lip, lower ride height and sculpted chassis) which helps it achieve a drag coefficient of 0.308.

 

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Photos: Stefan Lindeque

So, aesthetically it is smarter than before but the Accent has grown in dimensions too which don’t just give it a bit more road presence, it also yields proportional dividends in passenger comfort and cargo space. The wheelbase has been stretched from 2,570mm to 2,600mm and the width has increased by 29mm too which creates more room for those seated in the back. Front seat passengers will benefit from 35mm more head room (1,033mm) and 38mm more leg room (1,120mm). The cabin mimics the modern look of the exterior with a driver-oriented layout and intuitive controls. And when you combine the improved roominess with the high-quality soft-touch materials along with the premium technology features, it’s evident that Hyundai has raised the standard in this segment.

The control panel has been logically grouped, meaning all you need is five minutes to intuitively access all of the Accent’s features and functions. It has dual USB charging and auxiliary input jacks, standard Bluetooth and smartphone integration and a backup camera system that relays a clear image.

Some of the standard safety features include Electronic Stability Control, Traction Control and ABS, as well as Emergency Stop Signal which automatically flashes the brake lights when the driver brakes heavily, Formula One style. A lot more effort has been made to ensure you’re safe inside the Accent; it has six airbags while the front side members and inner side sill have improved collision protection and the front crumple zones have been increased. Since we know it isn’t only crash test dummies that will, sadly, experience a prang, it’s good to know Hyundai has tried to increase passenger protection.

 

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Photos: Stefan Lindeque

How does it ride? Pretty well; it’s smooth and nicely damped and thanks to the expanded use of ultra-high tensile strength steel and industrial adhesives, its torsional rigidity has been improved as well. Through key developments in the suspension (including raising the rear roll centre and increasing the leverage ratio of the rear shock absorbers) the new Accent’s handling is superior to that of the predecessor too.

It doesn’t do anything poorly — however it’s still hard to think of this as anything more than a mere transportation device. The motor-driven power steering is nice and light which makes manoeuvring in tight spots a breeze but when it comes to power, you probably weren’t expecting to lay a fresh set of elevens down on the tarmac — and you won’t be able to. The 1.6-litre four-cylinder mated to a slick six-speed auto that our tester came equipped with is only blessed with 121bhp and 151Nm of torque and when pushed hard the motor sounds rather buzzy after it passes 5,000rpm.

It isn’t thrilling and won’t blow your hair back when you bury the throttle (it won’t even mess up a strand or two) but it is efficient and that’s what counts in these hard times; with a multi-point fuel injection system and dual overhead camshafts, the Accent sips back a claimed 7.3 litres per 100km.

With prices starting from as little as Dh44,900 for the 1.6-litre, the Accent boasts plenty of quality and value. When you throw in that expressive and striking design, tidy cabin, efficient powertrain and improved driving dynamics, it’ll make the rest of those budget cars stand up and take notice.