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In Hamilton, 2008 Hyundai Accent is a star

When I got a turn with the Hyundai Accent, Wheels' long-term test vehicle, I decided to stage my own version of driving with the stars.

When I got a turn with the Hyundai Accent, Wheels’ long-term test vehicle, I decided to stage my own version of driving with the stars. I cherry-picked a group of prominent Hamiltonians to see what they thought of Canada’s cheapest car.

The Star took delivery of the $9,995 three-door stripped-down Accent in June.

Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger said yes before I finished explaining what I was up to. He’s a green kind of guy, pushing for a light rail transit system and more bike paths for Hamilton. He has always had small cars and right now a Mazda3 is in his fleet.

Eisenberger grooved on the Accent’s aesthetics as we drove down to Hamilton’s waterfront.

“This feels secure, it seems functional, I think it would be a great city car,” he said.

Though Eisenberger is long and lean he wasn’t cramped in the Accent. “The legroom is fine for me.”

The elegant Louise Dompierre is president of the Art Gallery of Hamilton and is usually surrounded by beautiful art. A permanent installation at the AGH is a vintage Volkswagen minibus covered in a surrealist village of people and animals.

She immediately zeroed in on the design of the Accent’s hatchback. “It’s not very distinctive but it’s not unpleasant.” She found the inside roomy, and liked the uncomplicated layout of the console.

Dompierre drives a 10-year-old BMW, which she finds solid, and it made her wonder about the safety of the Accent.

“Do you get blown around by trucks on the highway?” she asked.

The answer is no.

Hamilton interior designer Jan Speziale was next to ride in the Hyundai. “I couldn’t drive an ugly car,” she warned me as she sized up the Tango Red Accent in her driveway. “I like the colour, it’s cute, it’s nice to see something besides silver and beige.”

And she discovered more to like as we drove off for a shakedown cruise. “There’s good leg room, the seats are comfy, I like the touch of stainless around the dials, but it could use more trim.”

The occasionally noisy 1.6-litre engine didn’t annoy her. “I like the road feel, and I like the manual transmission, it keeps you involved.”

Hamilton orthopedic surgeon Justin de Beer, all 6-foot-1 of him, was eager to check out the Accent’s ergonomics. He bounced around on the front seat and hopped in and out of the back seat.

“There’s no problem for a tall guy with a bad knee to get in and out of this car,” he said.

De Beer discovered the front seats provided good support for the back and good side-to-side support.

“The interior is utilitarian, but I’ve got lots of legroom and headroom.”

All my guests came to the same conclusion as I did: You get a decent car with some driving flair, enough horsepower at 110 to get around safely and save at the gas pump, and frills like an MP3 input as standard equipment.

It set a benchmark for small cars that has me asking every time I test drive a vehicle: “How does this compare to the cheapest car in Canada?”

Freelance auto reviewer Kathy Renwald can be reached at krenwald@sympatico.ca

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