New Accent Launching Amid B-Car Slump

Subcompact cars have experienced the steepest decline of any light-vehicle size class this year, but Hyundai wants to keep its used-car alternative around.

September 28, 2017

5 Min Read
Accent now sedan only new for 3918
Accent, now sedan only, new for '18.

Hyundai debuts the new U.S.-spec Accent subcompact today at the Orange Country auto show in California.

The timing couldn’t be better, or worse, depending on how the situation is viewed.

WardsAuto’s Lower Small segment is down the most of any light-vehicle segment this year, with a 21.7% volume drop through August. To put it in perspective, the segment’s 351,652 sales are just 11,702 units shy of the number of Chevy Silverado large pickups sold in the same period.

The new version of the Accent, whose outgoing fourth generation declined 31.9% through August, either could spur sales or be dragged down by the group, which includes slumping models such as the Chevy Sonic (-39.1%), Chevy Spark (53.5%) and sister-brand Kia’s Rio (-55.0%).

Even Kia’s Soul, which has been a juggernaut for most of its eight years on the market, is experiencing a 16.4% sales decline in 2017. However, the Soul’s 80,228 deliveries still make it the Lower Small group’s No.1 seller, placing it 9,000 units ahead of the Nissan Versa. Sales of the Versa, also typically a steady B-car, have fallen 25.0%.

While Accent sales have declined sharply this year, the model is important in Hyundai’s U.S. lineup as an alternative to used vehicles, Mike O’Brien, Hyundai Motor America vice president-corporate, product and digital planning, tells WardsAuto.

“There’s about 40 million-plus used-car transactions occurring every year, and unlike a lot of other products people consider used (vehicles) against entry (new vehicles) quite frequently,” he says.

“When you think about it from that perspective, there’s a lot of people that want to buy a new car and affordability is a challenge, so this product has a good role.”

The decline in subcompact cars is not unexpected given still-historically low fuel prices coupled with the growing dominance of CUVs. In recent years, the number of small CUVs – both B-platform-based and C-size – has increased strongly.

While the group had just a few entrants a few years ago, WardsAuto’s Small CUV group now numbers 19 nameplates such as the Chevy Trax, Honda HR-V, Jeep Compass and Toyota C-HR. Hyundai’s C-segment Tucson is the top seller in the group through August, with 72,721 deliveries.

Next year Hyundai will release a B-CUV in the U.S., the Kona, while Ford will field a reworked version of its developing-market Eco Sport CUV.

O’Brien doesn’t see dropping the hatchback for ’18 as a preemptive move to protect Kona, as only 15% of the 80,000 Accents sold last year were hatches.

He won’t comment on the possibility of an A-segment CUV replacing the Accent hatch. Former HMA CEO Dave Zuchowski told WardsAuto in January 2016 such a model was under study.

Accent Techier, More Rigid

The fifth-generation, sedan-only Accent is set to arrive at U.S. Hyundai dealers in November.

The B-car retains its 1.6L gasoline direct-injected 4-cyl., a 2012 Wards 10 Best Engines winner, but it sees slight output decreases. However, as has been the case in other redesigned or refreshed models, Hyundai says low-end torque is improved in the Accent.

The Accent’s 1.6L goes from 137 hp and 123 lb.-ft. (167 Nm) in the ’17 model to an estimated 130 hp and 119 lb.-ft. (161 Nm) for ’18.

Hyundai promises a 7% increase in Accent fuel efficiency, although it doesn’t cite EPA figures in press materials. The ’17 Accent averaged 31 mpg (7.6 L/100 km) in manual-transmission models and 30 mpg (7.8 L/100 km) in cars with an automatic.

Both the 6-speed manual and a 6-speed automatic carryover for ’18, although Hyundai notes the 6AT was redesigned to remove 4 lbs. (1.8 kg) as well as “improve operational efficiency.”

The 1.6L engine also is redesigned, now using low-friction piston rings and updated engine-control-module software.

Another friction-reduction measure is found in the ’18 Accent’s braking system, which sees improvements to return springs to limit drive friction.

Hyundai claims the subcompact’s driving dynamics are “remarkably improved,” as is noise isolation, thanks to a 13% increase in the use of advanced high-strength steel (54.5% AHSS content) and a 32% jump in torsional rigidity.

Suspension upgrades yielding better ride and handling include a raised rear roll center and an increase in the leverage ratio of rear shock absorbers, Hyundai says.

The sedan’s overall length, width and wheelbase rise slightly, while height remains the same.

As it’s been six years since the fourth-gen Accent debuted, the new model has vastly more technology.

New for ’18 are a standard rearview camera and available forward-collision-avoidance assist, the latter a lower-cost system than Hyundai’s traditional FCA, O’Brien says.

Infotainment additions include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (as part of an optional 7-in. [18-cm] display-audio system) and Hyundai’s optional BlueLink telematics service with a free three-year subscription. As with most new Hyundais, BlueLink integration with Amazon Alexa and Google Home is possible, enabling remote starts and interior temperature changes.

Exterior design updates to the 4-door B-car include Hyundai’s new signature cascading grille and sharp character lines that extend its length, meeting optional narrow LED wraparound taillights.

The more sculpted Accent achieves a 0.28 coefficient of drag, down from 0.30 with the outgoing sedan and also aided by a lower ride height and new front-lip spoiler.

The increased exterior dimensions and wheels pushed to corners lead to a bigger interior, Hyundai says. Total volume rises to 103.9 cu.-ft. (2.9 cu.-m), up 0.5 cu.-ft. (0.01 cu.-m).

Interior surfaces get an upgrade with “premium, soft-touch materials in key points,” the automaker says.

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