All right, you readers who carp that all I test drive are Benzes, Bimmers, Lexi and other ultra-posh, high-end rides, this column's for you.
Take the 1998 Hyundai Accent hatchback I've been driving this past week . . . please.Sorry, I couldn't resist. With all the problems South Korea has been having, stuck as it is in the midst of what has become known as the "Asian Financial Crisis," its largest car company is an easy target for lame jokes.
But maybe South Korea deserves it. A lot of former Hyundai owners, specifically former Hyundai Excel owners, the first car Hyundai imported to the United States back in 1986, haven't forgiven the Koreans for that sub-par conveyance that sold big based solely on its $5,000 price.
Those buyers found out you really do get what you pay for, and they've had a grudge against Hyundai ever since.
Which is too bad, really. Everything else that Hyundai has shipped here over the past 10 years has been vastly superior to that first Excel, proving once again the importance of first impressions. Once bitten, most buyers won't go back despite all the improvements in quality control Hyundai has made in the interim.
The Accent three-door coupe is a good example. The little hatchback is reasonably fun to drive considering its tiny 1.5 liter engine, offers a surprising amount of utility (as do all hatchbacks, being mini station wagons), gets 28 mpg in city driving and 36 on the highway (good but not great for a car of this class) and - drum roll here - has a sub-$10,000 base price. Not many of those around anymore.
Specifically, the coupe is base priced at $9,899. Air conditioning adds $994, very necessary, as are carpeted floor mats, mud guards and a trunk cargo net for $153. Not necessary is the rear spoiler for $395, but it's kind of cute and teen drivers will like it.
With destination charges the bottom line of my test car was $11,441. Haggle room with dealers? I would think so.
For an econobox, the Accent is nicely equipped. It has a first-rate dead pedal for the left foot, an item I think is really important but is often lacking on Detroit machines costing twice as much. It also has a separate (digital) clock, not a dual clock/radio station display, which General Motors loves and I find annoying.
Most important of all, the fit and finish of this car is quite good, maybe not yet up to Japanese standards, but not way off. Hyundai seems confident that it has solved its quality control problems of the '80s and it puts its money where its mouth is with an exceptional warranty of three years/36,000 miles bumper to bumper, and five years/60,000 miles on the powertrain. That has to help a lot in the buy/no buy decision.
The Accent is also available as a four-door sedan. The hatchback comes in three models: L, GS and the sporty GSI which includes power windows and mirrors, alloy wheels and speed rated tires, and a sporty suspension setup.
Again, for a car of this class, I was surprised at how quiet and vibration-free the Accent was. The Koreans really are trying to make up for their past sins.