It’s cheap chubby and kind of cute. The base model Nissan Micra is $9,998, once everything is paid to put it your driveway the total is $11,398. That’s a bar tab for some people.

The base designation strips the Micra down to a vow-of-poverty level. No air conditioning, no power locks, mirrors are adjusted manually, the car is shifted manually, and the windows only roll down with arm power.

Last year I took an up market Micra with many more features for a trip around Rice Lake and loved just about everything about it. Somehow Barton Street seemed like a fitting expedition for the stripper Micra as they call it in the business.

I decided to shoot photos of the Micra first. A perfect spot was the shuttered Target store on Barton. The goofy red balls in front of the store made perfect bookends for it.

Looking at the short, stubby car I thought how many you could fit in that cavernous empty store, 500 a thousand? That has to be one of the most forlorn shopping experiences in Hamilton. Acres of empty parking lot, and heat rising in waves off the pavement, it makes the old Centre Mall seem like a pleasure palace.

I thought I could tough out the no AC-Micra, but it’s a sweatbox. Two windows have to be open to get any breeze, that means leaning across the passenger seat to roll down the window. It’s irritating.

From Target I rolled back westward and stopped at a favourite place-541 Eatery and Exchange. The food is always good, the light is always streaming in through those big bank windows, and it always feels happy. On this day there were two women softly plucking away on ukuleles. Can it get any more homegrown than that? And now there’s another reason to go to 541 Eatery, two doors east there’s a new used bookstore called The River Trading Company at 559 Barton Street East. It’s well organized, displays are thoughtful, and the books are a joy. Art, architecture, and literature can be found, and a friendly cat roams the isles. The River moved from the Parkdale area of Toronto, to Barton Village in June.

From The River, I carried on in the Micra toward James Street North. At one point there was an agitated character behind me in a Porsche Cayenne . He thought he could push me, but I rustled up all 109 horsepower of the Micra and waggled down Barton out of his reach. That’s the thing about small cars, you can squeeze in tight spots, and  dart around more easily than can be done in big tanks. The 5-speed manual utilizes the 1.4 litre engine deftly so that even on the highway passing and merging isn’t too stressful.

It’s a very easy shifting car, the clutch is light, and the gearbox though a bit gelatinous, is decent. The clutch release is a odd though, so that shifting in and out of first gear requires finesse.

Next stop was another bright light on Barton, The Butcher and the Vegan restaurant at the corner of Barton and John Street. We had lunch there and the food was inventive and delicious. It had just been open a week. From a window seat you can watch the never-ending drama of life on Barton Street. The Butcher and the Vegan is a great addition to the street, I just hope they move beyond their thrift store interior decor, that trend is getting tired.

Last stop in the Micra was Mark Preece House. I’d always loved the heritage stone building and was so happy to see it restored and given new life as a place for people to stay when family members are in hospital. It’s just a short walk away from the General Hospital. As a regional trauma centre, patients who are critically ill may stay for extended periods. Family, especially from out of town can find a home away from home at Mark Preece House. The interior common areas, dining room, and bedrooms are beautiful. They reflect the heritage of the building and create a restful and welcoming space. Volunteers cook meals, and others come in with baked goods from home for families during their stay. I’d been a donor to Mark Preece, but after the tour I’m hoping to volunteer. It’s a remarkable program.

And that was just one day meandering on Barton in the Micra, a fine car for to use for poking around. Though it’s short, it’s tall, and the big windows give it an airy feeling in the front and the back. Visibility is excellent, it’s fun to drive, and fuel-efficient. I averaged 6.5-litres/100 km during my week testing. If you’re the kind of hunter-gatherer who can live without AC and  power windows and locks, than the  base Micra is an attractive deal. I’d still choose the better equipped SR model and then I’d be perfectly happy in the midget-sized Micra.

Kathy Renwald

Providing a Fresh Perspective for Burlington and Hamilton.

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