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.