Smaller cars making big comeback in U.S.

LOS ANGELES Some of the newest cars have big-car features inside small packages.

Ford made a proclamation a few years ago that it was shifting its focus more toward cars instead of trucks.

One of their new non-truck stars is the European-derived Fiesta, part of a wave of smaller cars hitting the market, a trend that's a response to changing times.

"The best way to get a vehicle to get better fuel economy is to make it smaller. And it's the easiest, fastest way to do it, so by starting by making vehicles smaller, manufacturers get the best fuel economy," said Dan Hall, marketing executive at AutoPacific.

Hot on the heels of the Fiesta is the new Mazda2, which has already had success in Europe and Asia. The Mazda3 used to be the smallest car we could buy in the U.S., but the 2 comes in one size smaller, and for less money.

There's still lots of room inside, and while the engine's meek 100 horsepower doesn't exactly live up to Mazda's "Zoom-Zoom" slogan, it pays off in being really good with a gallon of gas.

If you do go down one size class in your next vehicle, you could probably save 10 to 20 percent per year on your fuel bill. If you start doing some math, you can see that over the course of a lease or your car payments, the savings can really add up.

Just about every car maker is coming out with something smaller in order to help meet federal fuel-economy standards.

In Buick's case they also reached over to Europe for their new Regal, based on an Opel from Germany. Still large by small-car standards, but small for a Buick, and four-cylinder power exclusively for good fuel economy.

"Small" used to mean unpleasant to drive or ride in, but not anymore. These new small cars have most every feature that bigger ones have, and buyers might be surprised by what automakers are offering.

"When they get consumers behind the wheel, first at the dealership, and then driving, I think they'll find that things are not what they used to be," said Hall. "Adding the right features that people are used to seeing on the current vehicle that they have, or features that are, quite frankly, better than features in their current vehicle, they could be swayed to go that way.'

In the wake of higher gas prices and many people re-evaluating their personal finances, "small" may become the new "big."

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