"Less is more." That phrase first gained traction in the 1970s, when Americans first began downsizing their cars in the wake of rising gasoline prices and fuel shortages.
Ever since, the degree to which we've still embraced that philosophy has largely depended on the state of fuel costs. And when those prices spiraled to well over $3 a gallon in 2006, many Americans once again began trading in their larger rides in favor of entries that were a lot less fuel-thirsty.
There are other good reasons to "go small" besides fuel costs, of course. If you're an urban dweller, for example, driving a smaller car makes it much easier to maneuver in gridlocked traffic -- and squeeze into those coveted parking spaces. And a small car's higher fuel economy is more environmentally-friendly.
The automakers, both foreign and domestic, have responded to consumer demand for smaller cars by delivering a host of downscaled new models the last couple of years. Following are five small cars that are brand new for the 2008 model year -- the Scion xD, BMW Series 1, Mini Cooper Clubman, Nissan Rogue and Saturn Astra -- plus another five of our favorites that have launched over the past few years.
2008 Scion xD
MSRP: $14,550 - $14,550
The Scion xD is based on the European design of the Toyota Yaris. A five-door hatchback, the xD is being described by the folks at Scion as an "urban subcompact." Its vertical rear tailgate is all the rage across the pond, while the xD's 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine boasts "Variable Valve Timing with intelligence" (VVT-i) that delivers 128 horsepower. Buyers can choose between a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.
2008 BMW 1 Series Coupe
Price: $28,000 - $36,000 (Estimated)
This long-awaited performance coupe, which rolls out in the spring of '08, is inspired by the fabled BMW 2002 model that was built in the 1960s - '70s. It's a rear-wheel-drive number that delivers dynamic handling. The Series 1 comes in two editions, the 128i and the 135i, both of which are powered by a 3.0-liter 6-cylinder engine. The 128i delivers 230 horsepower, while the 135i's twin-turbocharged edition herds over 300 ponies.
2008 Mini Cooper Clubman
Price: Starting in low $20,000s. (Estimated)
Mini Cooper once made a Clubman woody that sported actual wood trim. But the brand-new modern edition -- which launches in early '08 -- features contrasting painted trim around the doors instead. Distinguishing it from the regular Mini -- which has a hatch door -- the Clubman utilizes side-opening cargo doors and a rear-opening half-door on the passenger side. The 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine comes in two incarnations -- a naturally aspirated number that delivers 118 horsepower or a turbocharged plant that puts out 172 horses.
2008 Nissan Rogue
MSRP: $19,250 - $21,870
Also new for 2008, the Rogue arrived in showrooms in September. As an entry in the small-crossover-utility segment, it's aimed at the small-car buyer who wants some extra storage space. It also boasts sporty styling and a zippy 2.5-liter, 170-hp, four-cylinder engine, hitched to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). It comes in two versions, the Rogue S and SL.
2008 Saturn Astra
MSRP: $15,375 - $17,875
New for the '08 model year, the Astra hits the showrooms in December. Astra borrows some of its styling cues and design elements from European models -- and the suspension is Euro-bred as well. It's powered by a 1.8L Ecotec four-cylinder engine that delivers 140 horsepower. The five-door model comes in two trim levels -- the XE and the more up-market XR -- while the three-door edition (XR) was designed for sporty types.
2008 Ford Focus
MSRP: $14,075 - $16,375
The '08 Focus has received a lot of press for its use of the Sync system -- a high-tech, voice-activated, communication and entertainment system that integrates the functions of cell phones, media players and other electronic devices into the vehicle itself. The Focus comes in two body styles -- the new two-door coupe and the established four-door sedan -- and is available in three trim levels: S, SE and SES. Under the hood is a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine.
2008 Mazda3 & Mazdaspeed3
MSRP: $13,895 - $24,055
The Mazda3 has been causing hearts to flutter since it debuted in 2004. And it offers something for just about everyone. For the 4-door edition, you can choose between the Mazda3 i Sport or i Touring, with its 2.0-liter 148 horsepower engine, and the Mazda3 s Sport, s Touring or s Grand Touring, whose 2.3-liter plant delivers 156 horses. The 5-door hatchback version also comes in s Sport, s Touring or s Grand Touring trims with the 2.3-liter engine. For those wanting a bit more, the turbocharged I4 engine in the performance-tuned Mazdaspeed 3 hatchback cranks out a hard-charging 263 ponies.
2008 Honda Fit
MSRP: $13,950 - $15,270
The '07 edition of the sporty Fit hatchback made Car & Driver magazine's "10 Best" list. Carried over for '08, the Fit is powered by a 109-horsepower, 1.5-liter engine that uses VTEC technology to boost power and torque and the Drive-by-Wire throttle system to control power delivery and provide smooth acceleration. The Fit Sport model comes with an eye-catching body-colored underbody kit and rear roofline spoiler
2008 Toyota Yaris
MSRP: $11,300 - $13,675
The Yaris may be an entry-level model, but its design conveys a winning insouciance, and its 1.5-liter 106-hp engine delivers perky performance. It comes in both the sedan and hatchback configurations, and the S edition targets the sportier crowd. The interior cabin is quite handsome, and, since the hatchback and sedan were designed separately, each has a distinctive look, inside and out.
2008 Chevrolet Cobalt
MSRP: $13,675 - $18,875
General Motors boasts that the Cobalt is the quietest, most refined small car the company has ever sold. Helping deliver on those promises is a stronger and more rigid platform, which is critical to its ability to offer deft handling and a more comfy ride. The Cobalt comes in many flavors -- either two-door coupe or four-door sedan -- and in three different model configurations: LS, LT, and LTZ, each with its own suspension. Engine choices include a 145-horsepower 2.2-liter engine; a 171-horsepower 2.4-liter plant and a 205-horsepower 2.0-liter.