Rotten Rental Car Review: Hyundai Accent SE

I recently returned from a breathtaking backpacking trip in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park and the neighboring Never Summer Wilderness, part of the Arapaho National Forest. It was three, adrenaline-filled, heavenly days of backcountry exploring through deep forests of lodgepole pines and aspens, raging chilly streams and towering snow-capped mountains. Every time I embark on some kind of outdoor adventure, I strive to drive my own car, especially because nothing is more embarrassing, wasteful and foolish than paying for a rental car and then simply parking it for a seventy-two hour period at the trailhead. If only rental car companies could comprehend the idea of pay-by-the-mile, then I’d only have to swipe my credit card for a few hours of driving to-and-from the national park. And, to carry-on with this rash rant, why can’t US-based rental car companies follow suit with international rental car companies and offer manual-transmission cars for a cheaper price? Last year in Iceland, My wallet was heavier in cash when renting a five-speed Suzuki Jimny 4×4 rather than its two-pedal cousin. Keep dreaming.

When I reserved my rental with Advantage in Denver months back, I selected the cheapest possibly option as per mentioned, the majority of the rental agreement would have the car parked stagnant while I’d be collecting miles in my Timberland hiking boots. Since my trip out to Colorado would be right in the shoulder season of fall, I chose a compact car. Let’s just say this – after dropping off this little Korean appliance with a tired engine at the airport before my flight out, I regretted not using a few vacation days just to drive my own personal beloved Saab 9-2x out west instead. Hooniverse writer Ross Ballot also had a recent “joyful” experience with a similar rental.
Hopping off the shuttle bus, putting down a $200 security deposit (on a $148 rental), swiping the keys and hauling my bags to spot C23, I didn’t look at car keys in hand out of surprise’s sake. Then a “Oh, at least I’ll get good gas mileage,” thought came across my mind as I unlocked a polar white four-door Hyundai Accent SE. I guess that’s what you get for clicking the “Economy Car” option. I lugged my Gregory Baltoro 65L backpacking pack and a small wheelie suitcase into the generous sized trunk and hopped up in the driver’s seat. I was relieved, however, to see standard controls for the stereo and air conditioning. Knobs, buttons, and twist-dials. My biggest gripe with the vast yearbook of new vehicles on the market today is their infotainment/climate control setups. Stupid touch-screen, haptic-touch this, swipe for that, pinch for here,  go into this menu to turn that on- it’s all just overly complicated, distracting garbage. You shouldn’t have to repeatedly drag your smudgy finger up and down a screen just to change a song or turn the volume up. You shouldn’t have to hover over this button with some rotary dial or touch-pad control, to switch on the rear window defroster or heated seat. I just shake my head at this obnoxious myth that nearly automaker thinks all ‘millenials’ like myself (ew that word makes me just cringe), are begging for iPad-esque cars. False. Remember a few weeks back when nearly every news outlet was talking about the rise in distracted driving risk from connected in-car technology? Exactly. Thankfully this Hyundai’s only real saving grace is that, it’s simple to use climate controls and stereo. I was impressed at how quick, easy and intuitive it was to connect my circa 2008 iPod Nano to the stereo via the center console’s USB and Aux inputs.
For a new, 2017 car with only about 17,000 miles on it I found it a wee bit scary how loose the steering was. I felt like a Pong ball on the highway, trying to keep this subcompact car car in between the white lane lines. I have to give the stereo even more praise for pumping out decent sound quality in a desperate effort to drone-out the horrendous road and tire noise that screamed into the car’s cabin. I noticed this almost immediately hoping on I70 to do dart up to Winter Park, sounds that made me think I had been dragging some old refrigerator or heavy jagged scrap metal underneath the car. It was terrible and I quickly tried to seek out another positive to offset this ear damage. Oh wait, there’s an arm rest! An actual, fold-down arm rest that sits just right for my 6ft’2 height. Make arm rests great again.
On the highway at 70mph, I started feeling around the button-less steering wheel to engage cruise control, nope, not on this trim level. Wonderful. Then I nearly clipped a big black Chevrolet Tahoe trying to change lanes by fault of the Accent’s midget-sized side mirrors that don’t do anything. Shaking my head, I continued down I70 into the mountains. As elevation gained and the highway started to rise, the Accent’s engine refused to keep up. On a good day, its 1.6-liter four-cylinder burps out maybe, maybe, maybe 137 scorching horsepower though I had the hardest time being convinced of that number because this little clown car drove like it had half that. I constantly was having to floor it to keep up with traffic….then I’d grab the steering wheel, rock back and forth in the used-furniture store quality driver’s seat and say out loud “Come on little Hyundai, go, go, go! You can do it.” No dice, and I’m sure everyone passing me with a more potent car looked over and laughed. The engine teams with a six-speed automatic (you can get three pedals too, as an option) that i was fortunately able to manually shift going up and down steep Berthoud Pass which takes you up to almost 12,000ft at its crest. Aiming for optimism and any kind of “spirited” driving feel, I was engine braking like mad on my way down the pass into curves. Those poor little tires were squealing around corners loud enough to trigger an avalanche. It’s only a rental, right? Right.

Speaking of avalanches, let’s reflect on the car’s exterior styling. Well, there isn’t any, unless you get turned on by bland household appliances. Thankfully the Accent doesn’t look as awkward or overly-aggressive as its other small car counterparts and I applaud Hyundai for offering a hatchback model. Keep doing that. I nervously hoped while sadly attempting to fling the Accent around mountain curves that one of its 14-inch plastic hubcaps wouldn’t go flying off the steel wheel and attack a moose. I can’t even begin to fathom how much a rental car company would charge for a replacement hubcap. The car’s “Century White” paint isn’t anything special and blends in nearly perfect with any snow on either side of the roads. That white color also fearfully means if you skidded off the road in a blizzard, you’d probably need an avy beacon to be found because there’s nothing about this car’s looks that would scream to search and rescue crews. Let’s be honest.
Maybe I’m too hard on the lil’ Accent? I don’t hate it, it’s just not for me. At a $14,745 starting cost (eek), it would be an ideal car for someone only looking for a piece of transportation to get you from point A to B, on flat ground, in a city. It gets good gas mileage (high 30/ low 40mpgs), isn’t horrible looking, has a decent trunk, is easy to drive and has simple, straightforward controls that don’t require you to remove your eyes off the road for more than half-a-second. You can option it up to make it more comfortable and attractive and the fact you can get it as a hatchback with a row-your-own gears shifter is so great. But for me, for someone who likes to drive and constantly seeks outdoor adventure? I’d rather pilot my twelve-year-old, all-wheel-drive wagon I bought for $9,000 that now has 203,000 miles on it.

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14 responses to “Rotten Rental Car Review: Hyundai Accent SE”

  1. Papa Van Twee Avatar
    Papa Van Twee

    I’ve recounted this story on other car sites, so I apologize if you’ve read it. In 2015 we planned a summer vacation in Nashville. A part of that was renting a car, because our cars are older, and a bit tired. I selected “Ford Focus” or similar from Budget, as it was the same price as “Hyundai Accent” or similar, fully expecting to get a Ford Focus (I always got the Focus, they stock them deep).
    The day came to go pick up my car, and they handed me keys to a KIA Rio. Um, sir, this is not a Ford Focus sized vehicle. “Oh, sure it is, they’re upsize from what they used to be, and you’ll get 40mpg easy!” I should have driven straight to the airport and exchanged it for the right vehicle, but we needed to get on our way, so I swallowed my pride, and hit the road.
    It was not a bad car. Some may call it gutless, but I wasn’t trying to “keep up with the pack”, so it did just fine. I don’t expect an economy car like this to be a Porche. The stereo worked via Bluetooth, so I didn’t even have to take it out of my pocket to listen to my tunes. I didn’t have any issues with how it got down the road, and it had around 40k miles on it at the time.
    But 40mpg? No, that didn’t happen. I stayed around 70mph on the highway down and back, and maybe was lucky enough to get 30mpg. In the city, it wasn’t much worse. I missed having cruise control. And since it was small, we left a stroller behind we could have used (my then 3 year old still didn’t want to walk much). A little complaint email got me a $50 refund, but it was a rather minor victory. A Focus, even with the bad DSG, would have been a much better vacation partner.
    This year I asked for a full size (we switched to Hertz) and got a Sonata. We averaged better MPG on the trip than we did with the Rio (with 36mpg to New Jersey, and 40mpg back, with around 27mpg for the mixed driving the rest of the trip). I read recently that Hyundai/KIA updated the 1.6; engine in the Accent/Rio, and it’s better on gas. But without cruise on the base, and the need of more space for the two kids, I don’t see myself getting forced into one anytime soon.

  2. boxdin Avatar

    Yea the electric power steering has a dead spot in the middle, I got used to it quickly along w variable assist steering on my 2016 Elantra. I’m sure the car isn’t as bad as you make it sound, being a “critic” and all. Kia/Hyundai are topping charts worldwide because they make better cars. No airbag recalls coz they make their own, timing chains instead of belts, the list goes on. Their motorsports division is on fire, not that you would know. Seen their WRC team?
    I’ve got 147 hp in a 2800 lb Elantra and when you get “on the pipe” as we used to say it really flies. Almost the same power in a 500 lb lighter car would be faster.
    Rotten review of a nice car for the money.

    1. Maymar Avatar

      I think the Top 40 charts are a good indication that what’s popular isn’t necessarily an indicator of what’s better. I think H/K make decently styled cars (with a few exceptions) that’re decent value, and are just durable enough to not hassle the original owner (I’d start getting wary somewhere just past the 8 year/120k mark). The Accent is a good deal more miserable than the Elantra, as well (or if you’d prefer, not nice enough over the Versa Note to justify the premium).

  3. Maymar Avatar

    Sadly, I doubt you’ll ever see a mainstream rental car with three pedals in North America ever again. I work for a rental company, and we’re concerned with a few major factors – how cheaply we can run the car (re. purchase cost less selling cost), how quickly and easily we can resell the car once we’re done with it, and how little downtime it can incur. There’s not a huge resale market for tiny cars with manual transmissions, so it’d probably end up costing us more (taking a bigger hit in resale) to run the stick shift option, and would have to work harder to sell it off. Plus, they’d have to spend a lot of time sitting around waiting for the rare customer who could and was willing to rent it (and then we’d have to hope they didn’t burn up the clutch, especially because that’s the sort of damage that’s harder to charge back to anyone).
    In my experience with the Accent, I’ve never had a huge problem with the steering, and the power is what it is (I’d refuse to buy the automatic just for that reason), but the suspension tuning is sort of weird and bouncy. Like you say, A-to-B transportation when you just don’t care.

    1. nanoop Avatar

      Thanks for shedding some light on the business mechanics. I tend to compare car rental companies with airlines: I grasp the primary product/service, but how prices and secondary businesses work are quite a mystery – AirBerlin tanked, and now I now what “wet leases” are, and why “slots” are the main attraction of buying the leftovers.

  4. wunno sev Avatar
    wunno sev

    many of us car enthusiasts talk about how we wish we could get “just basic transportation” and how we miss “honest cars”. here is your basic, honest car. it’s not good and it never was. the fun, honest cars you remember from your youth were fun because you were a kid with a car, not because they were simple.

    1. Maymar Avatar

      I think there’s truth to the “basic, honest car” sentiment, but the fact that the car has to be good stripped of frills is sort of implicit. I know I’ve mentioned my Mazda2 before, and although there are things I’d change (a little more low-end grunt would be nice, and eventually I’ll Dynamat the damn thing), I can drive “nicer,” more feature-laden vehicles, and get back into my little buzzbomb and not feel like I’m missing out.

      1. wunno sev Avatar
        wunno sev

        i think i was just being a curmudgeon that day. i didn’t mean that simple cars have to be bad, though that literally is what i said.
        a good car is good whether it’s simple or not. Mazda 2? good car! i haven’t driven one, but the base Fiesta is pretty similar, and it’s great because it’s well-engineered. i spent a few days in a Versa Note and it was drudgery from start to finish, despite being even more sparsely-equipped than a rental Fiesta. chintzy interior, dull engine, awful transmission, bland chassis. i did not like it.
        the Focus RS is a very complex machine by comparison, but it seems universally well-regarded for the most complex of its elements, the drivetrain and chassis. it’s because they did a good job with the engineering. that’s what counts. that’s what counts! it’s the engineering! any car you’ve ever loved probably had a doppelganger with a nearly-identical spec sheet that was complete butthole shit because the manufacturer didn’t care how the parts fit together, as long as they ticked all the boxes.
        i guess i just get frustrated when i hear people talk about the good old days when all the cars were simple and fun, not like today when we don’t have any honest cars blah blah blah. cheap, simple cars aren’t fun today, and they weren’t fun then. fun cars are fun, wherever on the complexity spectrum they lie.
        or maybe nobody is wearing the rose tinted glasses like i think they are. maybe i just want to argue but there’s nobody to argue with. i don’t even know anymore. i’m rambling again. time for bed.

        1. wunno sev Avatar
          wunno sev

          also, re buzzbomb:

  5. Brent Simmons Avatar
    Brent Simmons

    When a tree fell on my beloved Miata, the insurance company comped me an Accent while I shopped for a replacement. I have to say that while it is definitely an economy car, I was very pleasantly surprised by the amenities. Yeah, it’s boring as hell, and I have found Hyundai’s electric power steering to be disconcertingly ‘notchy,’ but in terms of comfort, convenience, and amenities, it still managed to beat out my NC Roadster. That’s maybe a low bar – Miatas have never been great on the NVH front – but when I turned the car back in, my overriding immersion was that econoboxes have come a hell of a long way.

  6. Roland Alfonso Avatar
    Roland Alfonso

    Got the gist, but…my entire point of a rental is that if the vehicle has a problem, they come get it and give you another. If you get in a accident, same thing. (Oh, and pay the premium for the Collision Damage Waiver- No Third Party to deal with. No questions asked) Ok, your car; in a minor accident but it’s undriveable? Find a shop, rent a car or fly home, and fly back when they call only to discover the repair was unsatisfactory. Break down? Hey, it can happen to anything. Same thing. Wanna spend your vacation time, sitting around while your car gets fixed? Or rent a car in the first place.

    1. nanoop Avatar

      That’s part of it indeed: you pay, and get to drive from A to B (and back to A, often). They don’t sell you a mobility assurance, though, in my experience: when the car breaks, friends were refunded, not proceeded. “Oh, you didn’t get the service you paid for, here’s your money back, and a USD100 voucher for your next rental”…
      The travel insurance paid the replacement car, since that was cheaper for them than booking new flights for four people.

  7. nanoop Avatar

    Isn’t it strange that I always get US-only models when I’m visiting? Every. single. time. = once. or. twice. a. decade.
    The budget solution here in Europe would be a VW Up or equivalent, the equivalent being a Ford Ka, Opel Adam, Fiat 500, Hyundai i10.
    Last Call: while “researching” for this comment, google suggested to go to a site that’s comparing the Honda Fit to a Pagani Huayra. I think it’s not fair, since the Honda is four years newer.

    1. Vairship Avatar

      The Honda scores more points and more “likes”, so must be the better car!