The cars we loved.
The Accent is Hyundai’s entry level car, sold in some parts of the world as the Excel, the name it used in the US at its introduction in 1985. The Excell was the first widely available Korean car sold in America. No one car best illustrates Hyundai rise to prominence in quality than the Excell/Accent. As the first model in the US lineup, it had the unfortunate reputation for poor quality partly due to mechanical issues and mostly due to ownership by people who had no experience maintaining a car and probably should not have owned one in the first place.
As the Excel matured it was eventually renamed the Accent in 1995 in its second generation. Excels were based on old Mitsubishi hand me downs and the new Accent was Hyundai’s effort from the ground up. Accent quality had improved significantly over the Excel but Hyundai still had to prove to the public that its cars Korean built cars had the same quality they expected in other imports, mainly those from Japan. Hyundai’s answer to this marketing dilemma was the wildly popular and later copied 100K mile warranty. By the mid 90’s the bumper to bumper warranty was offered on all Hyundai products and boosted sales of the Accent.
The Accent line was composed of two models, a four door sedan and a two door hatchback coupe. The sportiest and most desirable variant of the coupe was simply called the “GT”. The GT designation was mostly cosmetic. After all, anyone buying an Accent was doing so because they needed a cheap, fuel-efficient car. This was made all the more obvious when looking under the hood. The GT
had the same engine as other Accents: a 1.6-liter DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder. With 104 hp, and a 0 to 60 time of 10 seconds, the Accent GT was no sports car but offered surefooted handling in city traffic and parking lot maneuvers.
More importantly to most GT buyers, the ground effects package gave the GT a sporty and distinctive look along with bigger tires and wheels. Bigger was relative, 15’ aluminum instead of the 14’ plastic wheel covers on other models. Other luxuries awaited inside including some nice options that were either rare or unavailable on other Accents like air conditioning, power windows/locks, CD stereo and a rear window wiper. Most were sold with an automatic transmission, making the car feel somewhat sluggish. The other transmission option, a 5 speed manual, described as having a rubbery feel by Car & Driver, offered more lively performance from the small engine.
Just before the introduction of the next generation Accent in 2006, Hyundai released the Accent SR, a concept car designed to show the possible design direction of the Accent and drum up interest in the upcoming factory car. Only a few design cues made it to the actual production car. By the time the next generation production car was available in 2006, it had become a solid choice in the lower end of the market. Still, all Accents featured the same 1.6 liter engine now producing 110 hp. The Accent was still short of being a sports car, but had improved performance with a sub 10 second 0 to 60 time.
There was no longer a GT model, but many cues from the SR concept car slowly found their way to dealerships, mostly as third party kits and options. With the GT gone, the sportiest Accent was now the SE. The new aerodynamic shape of the Accent gave it a cute, but sporty character that earlier models lacked. The appearance of the coupe and sedan was now closer than they had ever been in the past. Even as sales of Accents increased over time, the coupe is still hard to find as a used car. Sedans seemed to have sold four to one over coupes, making a 95 to 00 GTs a rare find.
It’s not like these cars will ever increase in value or desirability in time, but they do make for a fun to drive economy car that can he cheap to buy and maintain. There are even a fair amount of aftermarket products to make your Accent sportier looking and better handling. Maybe the SR concept will become the next GT, as Hyundai seems to be aiming higher in other segments with its Genisis cars and Sonata. Being on the high-end of the low market seems to have its benefits.