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By Ilyse Gordon & Friends

Small is the new big thing. Economy cars are affordable, they don't guzzle gas, and they come in a variety of retro sizes and colors. Some even have three-row seating and free navigation systems! Manufactures are giving away a lot to make sure these small voices get driven.

While it is true you must give up the pleasing exterior look of a large-size SUV or sleek sedan, you are not necessarily giving up comfort. Some economy cars, like the Honda Fit, feel roomy and comfortable. And no one can argue there is something vintage-cool about a Mini Cooper.

So before you think your friends are going to start calling your ride a clown car, take a closer look at what's really going inside an economy car. Here are five picks:

Econo-Car Pick #1: 2009 Honda Fit. A sweet rear spoiler and bright-cherry red color elevate this 29-mpg economy car from geek to chic. For under $19,630,it's a more affordable economy hatchback than many competitors and remains to be a highly reliable vehicle in Consumer Report's reporting. The 117-horsepower 1.5-liter 4-cylinder is s confident and the acceleration onto the highway is bold for its engine size.

Econo-Car Pick#2: 2009 Mazda5 Grand Touring. Think Scion but more: three rows, mini-van style sliding rear doors, leather seating, a navigation system, a moonroof and rear spoiler. That's all for a total price of $25,695. You'll forget you measure just 181.5-inches from bumper to bumper. A peppy, capable 4-cylinder gets an average of 24-25-mpg – better than what a bigger V6 engine gets, but not as good as a hybrid.

Econo-Car Pick #3: 2008 Toyota Prius. You get a very futuristic feel when you sit behind the driver's seat of a Prius. A key fob replaces a turnkey, "Park" is a button, and the automatic shifter is micro-small. The $27,899 price tag includes leather trimmed steering wheel and seats, a voice-activated navigation system and Bluetooth. It's one of the highest-priced economy cars on the market, but gets the best gas mileage at 46-mpg. EPA calls the 2008 Prius the most fuel-efficient car sold in the United States.

Econo-Car Pick #4: 2009 VW Tiguan. This 4-cylinder 2.0-liter turbo-charged 200-horsepower engine is loaded with 8-way power seating, navigation and the power panoramic sunroof for $33,165. The Tiguan has an amazing panoramic sunroof with 13-square feet of open space. Responsive and peppy, VWs are fun to drive – even more so if it has a turbo engine. You'll experience good road grip, responsive brakes and low engine noise


Econo-Car Pick #5: 2008 Suzuki SX4. The 143-horsepower 2.0-liter engine with 4-wheel drive showed immediate acceleration in tight situations. For $16,870,you've got a 4-door economy car that is easy to park and ready for the snowy mountains. Gas estimations are 21 to 22-mpg overall. I like Suzuki's 100,000 miles/7-year powertrain warranty, 24/7 roadside assistance, and the fact they give you a repair courtesy car.

Other worthy picks include the Mini Cooper Clubman, the VW Rabbit and Scion xB. Like any other car, regardless of size, you just have to get inside. Test the climate controls, audio system, rear visibility, and technological packages before you judge a book by its small paperback cover. Begin your search here on The Auto Channel to find out what small-sized vehicle gives you the best bang – interior features, technology and gas mileage – for your limited amount of bucks!

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