My automotive history is made up of mostly economical compacts. The first car my wife and I owned between us is no exception.
We each brought a car into the relationship, one of which is still with us. But the first car we owned together was a Hyundai Excel.
In the 80s the United States got its first taste of the burgeoning megacorporation that is Hyundai. We'd never heard of Hyundai before in spite of the fact that a lot of the rest of the world had been contending with Hyundai for decades. We were so unfamiliar with them, they made a point of correctly pronouncing their name in the commercials ("rhymes with Sunday"). And when they came to the US, they brought one product to the hotly contested entry-level market: the Excel.
The Excel was available as a three-door hatch, a five-door hatch, and a four-door sedan. I never saw many of the sedans. It came with one engine, an anemic 68hp four cylinder that drove through either a five-speed stick or a dreadful three-speed auto. My experience with the five-speed was that the Excel was not designed for races, I wonder how people saddled with the slushbox felt.
It was also sold as the Mitsubishi Precis for a few years. One wonders what Mitsubishi was thinking to smear their own name like that.
My Excel colored my experience of Hyundai so that to this day, 15 years since I saw it last, I still don't trust Hyundais. I don't care how much better they're supposed to be, what I remember is how awful they were. In its time with me, the Excel went through three front axles, a clutch, assorted ignition problems. It's supposed to be an economy car? It might be good for someone's economy, but it was pretty hard on mine. The fuel mileage wasn't even that good.
The Excel had a couple of things going for it. It had air conditioning that worked. In east Tennessee that's pretty important, and when you've got a couple of little kids it's almost a necessity. Of course if the air conditioning was on when you went up a hill, you could just about forget any gear higher than third, unless the hill was pretty shallow. I learned to treat the car almost as a glider, gathering momentum on the downhills to swoop farther up the uphills. It helped, but 68hp was the limiting factor. It wasn't a powerful car.
The design of the trunk was excellent. Excellent. In spite of its diminutive outer dimensions, the Excel's trunk was capacious. It wasn't until a later experience with a Chevy Malibu that I started to consider it small. And being a hatchback, the Excel had a trunk cover that rose with the hatch, unless you removed a couple of little tethers. Then it stayed put. Remember that couple of little kids I mentioned? Yeah: that trunk cover was perfect for changing diapers, fixing snacks, all kinds of stuff. And the hatch worked as a kind of awning to work under, so if you were changing diapers in the rain, you got it done and stayed dry.
It's weak praise when the car's most positive feature is its luggage compartment cover.
Since then Hyundai appears to have discovered that minimalist econoboxes aren't the path to riches, at least not in the US. The Accent which was introduced to replace the Excel is by all accounts a better car and has been since the first day. The base engine in this year's model is actually a little smaller than the engine that was in mine, lo all those years ago. But it makes a lot more power. In 2008, JD Power and Associates named the Accent the most dependable sub-compact car.
But I'm not having one. I still don't trust Hyundai.