For small families, Hyundai Accent is affordable, stylish

2012 Hyundai Accent 2012 Hyundai Accent Photo Credit: Tribune Media Services

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I can't help but smile when I see a child-safety seat in a small car's backseat. I like to think of these folks as rebels proclaiming to the world that having a family doesn't relegate them to a life of minivans. If you also have a desire to buck the system and drive a smaller, more economical car with a child (or two) in tow, the redesigned 2012 Hyundai Accent is an attractive option.

Combined with great fuel economy and a low sticker price, the 2012 Hyundai Accent gives parents an affordable car that doesn't sacrifice style or personality.

Sure, the Accent won't be feasible for many families, rebellious or not. If your family has more than four people, this subcompact won't even be in the running. If you've got older kids, an outing with the entire family might lead to legroom complaints. However, the Accent's size wasn't a problem for my family of three, and it really got me thinking about how I could get used to driving an affordable car.

My hatchback test car with a standard six-speed manual transmission was fun to drive for the first couple of days. I was almost convinced that I could ditch my crossover and become a rebel mom, too, but after taking the Accent on the freeway, I knew I wouldn't be heading to the dealer for a trade-in any time soon. The Accent was responsive and handled well around town while I was running errands, but at higher speeds, it seemed like it would blow off the road at times. I wouldn't go so far as to compare it to a tin can tooling down the highway, but the car did feel lightweight.

The Hyundai Accent comes as both a hatchback and sedan, which has a starting MSRP of $12,445. The base GS hatchback starts at $14,595; my test car, a SE trim hatchback, had a $15,925 sticker price.

Exterior

With an all-new body style for 2012, the Accent is a real standout in the subcompact class, and it definitely looks more expensive than its price. From my test car's bold Marathon Blue paint to its sporty, fluid styling, this modest five-door is a looker. I could hold my head high when parking in a crowded lot or pulling up to any destination as people surprisingly exclaimed, "That's a Hyundai?"

The five-seater has a low step-in height, making it easy for kids to enter and exit it. Adults will want to watch their heads, though. I'm just 5 feet 4 inches tall and when standing next to the Accent I could see over its roof.

The hatchback body style gave me better access to the cargo area and made loading things like my stroller into the back a little easier, thanks to a deep-set space. Full disclosure: I had to remove one of my stroller's wheels to get it in the back, but it fit along with a couple of grocery bags and a shopping cart seat cover! If I wasn't so lazy, I could've folded the 60/40-split rear seats for even more cargo space.

What I really liked about the Accent was filling up the gas tank for not a lot of cash. Its 138-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine gets an EPA-estimated 30/40 mpg city/highway with regular unleaded gas. Saving money is always a welcome scenario for a family, and it felt great to check the trip computer and revel over the gas mileage I was averaging. Just the fuel economy alone had me thinking about how nice it could be to put an Accent on permanent family duty.

SENSE AND STYLE

Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair

Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some

Interior

With its low price, you wouldn't expect there'd be much to say about the Accent's interior, but there are a lot of surprises when it comes to its cabin. Hyundai managed to make the inside of this small, inexpensive car look much more spacious and expensive than it really is. Small details such as piano-black surfaces surrounded by silver-painted trim were a welcome sight compared to the usual cheap plastic wasteland usually found in econo-cars.

The Accent's biggest surprise was its roominess. It's still small, but somehow all my passengers riding shotgun with a rear-facing child-safety seat behind them claimed to not feel cramped. There was room for the infant seat without having to pull the front passenger seat all the way forward. This is a considerable feat!

Cupholder enthusiasts should be warned that there are only two in the Accent. Backseat occupants will just have to hold their drinks. In the front row, there's a decent-size upper bin intended to store sunglasses that can be used for other items if you're feeling creative, and the cubby below the center stack can hold a smartphone and lip balm with room for spare change.

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

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Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Puny

Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair

Safety

The 2012 Accent received the top scores of Good in frontal, rear and roof-strength crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It got the second highest score of Acceptable in side crash tests. In crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Accent received an overall rating of four stars out of five.

The Accent has standard front-wheel drive, all-disc antilock brakes with brake assist, an electronic stability system with traction control, active front head restraints and six airbags, including side curtains for both rows. The best feature is that the base model and the top-trim Accent have the same safety features, which adds to its values for families -- no matter their price point.

I was concerned I'd have to become a human pretzel when it was time to install my daughter's rear-facing infant-safety seat in the Accent, but it went much better I than expected. Thanks to the Accent's roomy interior, I had a little wiggle room and the process was relatively painless. The two sets of lower Latch anchors were quickly located, though buried deeply between the seat cushions, and the car seat was installed and ready for use in minutes.

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