And with three 1.3-litre models with three- and five-door body styles and a 1.5 five-door model to choose from at prices ranging from £7,699 to £9,999 on-the-road - the range-topper featuring air conditioning, alloy wheels, electric front and rear windows, twin front airbags and ABS as standard - the 'bangs for bucks' philosophy is almost impossible to fault. Accent product manager Dan Draper said: 'Hyundai in the UK is making the cars that it can sell, not selling the cars it can make. We are providing motorists with a C-class-sized car for a B-class price. The added specification means that even with price rises - the Si is the same as the outgoing model - the new Accent is 10% better value than the model it replaces and is 15% better value than competitor models.'
Hyundai UK will be selling the car with the strapline 'more than you would expect for less than you think' and at the press launch, company bosses came out with a string of comments aimed at substantiating their claims for the new car.
However, the Koreans have not gone to town on the exterior. Internally, Hyundai can point to a new dash design, new fabrics and larger seats and all the knobs, dials and instruments are within easy reach. But, on the 1.3 Si I drove, there was significant wind noise around the A-pillar on the driver's side - a problem which a Hyundai spokesman admitted it was aware - while on the range-topping 1.5 CDX there was an annoying vibration around the radio/cassette unit.
Two other gripes include the flimsiness of the air vents and a ridiculous manual/tilt sunroof arrangement which sees the removable sunshade having to be stored in a bag in the boot. Hyundai chiefs opted for this arrangement in preference to the more expensive electric sunroof with sliding sunshade which could have meant leaving out other features. Alternatively, they need not have bothered with the shade.
But, those moans apart, the new Accent is far from unpleasant - what do you expect for less than £10,000? On entering the car, the doors shut with a solid clunk and the rake-adjustable steering wheel coupled with the multi-adjustable driver's seat on all but the entry 1.3i should mean drivers of all shapes and sizes can be comfortable. While the engines - the 1.3 84bhp producing 114Nm of torque at 3,000rpm and the 1.5 88bhp 132Nm at 2,900rpm - are carryovers from the old Accent, both have been tweaked, with fuel consumption improved by 12%.
The 1.3 performs an admirable job and in urban areas provides a pleasing driving experience. With the power output of the 1.5 little different to its smaller sister, you might ask why bother with the larger unit, but it is on open roads where the 1.5 really comes into its own. Ride and handling qualities meant that even on potholed French roads, driver and passenger were not suffering unduly. Only a somewhat clunky gearbox on the 1.3 spoiled the drive and, while greater soundproofing would be ideal, the value-for-money proposition makes such wishes seem idiotic.
Space for front seat passengers is excellent and those in the rear have little to grumble at in either the leg or headroom departments. Luggage space is also competent. Specification has been developed using Hyundai's 'design tracker' system which asks customers to prioritise design and equipment features they would want and expect on a new car. Safety features were the number one priority, hence twin airbags as standard across the range, central locking on the Si upwards, and ABS brakes on GSi and CDX five-door models.
Hyundai is hoping sales will increase on the strength of the new Accent competing in the 2000 World Rally Championships. A MVi badged 'hot' Accent will be launched around June powered by a 1.5-litre 100bhp-plus DOHC engine and an Accent with rally car features including a 2.0 200bhp engine and four-wheel drive could also be added. It is expected some 15,000 Accents will be sold next year - about a third going to corporate customers - with the entry-level 1.3i being the best-seller, taking about a third of sales. The 1.3Si and GSi are projected to take 22% each, the 1.5 CDX about 19%.
However, fleet managers and company car drivers will not be opting for the Accent because of its rally capability or its looks or its performance. They will opt for it because it is difficult - if not impossible - to find a better value-for-money car on sale in the UK. With residual values on the new Accent likely to be little different to those of the old - about 30% after three years/60,000 miles - and with a three-year unlimited mileage warranty, including roadside recovery, it looks as though Hyundai has the accent right, from corporate and retail perspectives, in an increasingly price-sensitive market.