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If you read last week's review of the 2018 Toyota Yaris, you might think I have something against cheap cars.
I don't. The subcompact class has made big strides over the past few years, with a handful of models offering full-fledged driving experiences at a fair price, with reasonable compromises.
The 2018 Hyundai Accent is one such car.
Despite an as-tested price of just $16,005 — the lowest manufacturer's suggested retail price ( MSRP) of any car I've tested for CNBC — the Accent delivered a refined experience with reasonable equipment. With great fuel economy, a chuckable chassis and fantastic pricing, the Accent is easy to recommend.
The Accent isn't a luxury car, but it feels sturdy in a way that's typically found in larger, higher-quality cars. Despite the plastic on the dashboard — required to get the price this low — the interior switch gear still looks and feels high-quality.
Metallic plastics are used to brighten up the mostly-black interior, which I liked. My Accent also came equipped with a simple, 5-inch touchscreen for playing music. It doesn't have navigation, apps, CarPlay or anything else, but the simple interface for switching between Bluetooth audio and radio — the only two things I ever use anyway — was a cost-effective way of getting the job done.
The Accent really sheds its cheap-car feeling on the road.
It feels like a modern car. It's relatively quiet, with the only major disturbance being engine noise that permeates at wide-open throttle. The ride is fantastic for the class, while the handling is light but highly-tossable.
The tiny 1.6-liter puts down 130 horsepower, so merging requires some planning. Still, the combination of a six-speed manual, a light car, tossable dynamics and low power meant I constantly felt encouraged to throw the little Hyundai around corners with my foot on the floor. At the limits of grip and having lots of fun, I still wasn't breaking the speed limit.
As they say: Better to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow.
Naturally, sacrifices needed to be made to get to a $14,995 starting price. You're losing out on some basic necessities like a telescoping steering wheel, center console storage box, and a display for the exterior temperature.
You also get rear drum brakes — antiquated compared to the disc brakes you'd expect — and no active safety equipment is available until you step up to a higher trim. I'm not a fan of model requirements for safety tech, so I'm disappointed that Hyundai requires you to pay for heated seats if you want forward collision avoidance. Even then, lane-keeping and radar cruise control aren't available.
Finally, one more note on materials. As mentioned, this price class demands cheap plastics. It's how you use them that matters.
For the most part, Hyundai saves the nicer and more substantial plastics for the volume and climate knobs. That's great, because it means the things you use most are nice to operate. But there's one glaring omission. The gear shifter, which you use constantly, is shrouded in black plastic that's so cheap and scratchy it wouldn't pass quality control at Nerf.
You should probably stick with the base model.
While the automatic headlights, 7-inch screen with Android Auto/CarPlay, heated mirrors and more on the SEL model are nice for livability, only the base SE offers the manual transmission.
Plus, that SE manual only costs $15,880 — our tester had extra-cost floor mats. That low cost is the best argument for the Accent — affordability — so stepping it up with small options that aren't necessary would betray the mission.
I've often tested vehicles that have more than $16,000 in options alone. A complete delight to drive, with puppy-dog playfulness and a refined ride at an absurdly low price, the Accent is a gem, and it reminds us that cheap doesn't have to mean dreary.
Driving Experience: 4
Price as configured: $16,005