A recent study by J.D. Power and Associates found that a remarkable 27% of new car buyers are downsizing their vehicles -- meaning that they are choosing a car that is smaller than their previous one. And they are finding their choice to be a very good one.

According to a release by the venerable consumer ratings group, these car buyers have been finding smaller cars to be just as appealing as their larger alternatives.

"New-vehicle buyers who downsize are not making the sacrifice that they once were," said David Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power and Associates. "Automakers are heavily focused on providing the U.S. market with appealing smaller models, and buyers may be surprised at just how good some of them are."

The reality is that small cars are much safer, quieter and sportier than they once were. Combine that with their superior fuel economy in a time of rising gas prices and it makes perfect sense for so many people to kick big cars and SUVs to the curb.

Today, there's no shortage of options for solid compact and sub-compact vehicles. In its recent APEAL study, which measures (surprise) a vehicle's appeal to consumers, J.D. Power and Associates found the following small cars to stand out from the rest of the pack. If you, like many Americans today, think the bigger-is-better mantra has been put to bed, check these cars out first.

Best Compact Premium Sporty Car: Mercedes-Benz SLK

Best Compact Premium Sporty Car: Mercedes-Benz SLK

MSRP: $42,900 - $67,990
Invoice: $39,897 - $63,231
Fuel Economy: 22 mpg City, 32 mpg Highway

The SLK-Class is the baby roadster in the Mercedes-Benz line-up. Now in its third generation, it was the first 2-seater on the market with a retractable folding hardtop, the benefit being coupe-like security and comfort, along with easy top-down functionality. The SLK250 is the entry-level offering with a new direct-injection 201-hp turbo four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed manual or optional seven-speed automatic. A more powerful SLK350 boasts a 302-hp direct-injection V6 teamed with a paddle-shifted seven-speed automatic. The SLK55 AMG tops the class with a 415-hp hand-built 5.5-liter V8 that uses automatic stop/start and cylinder deactivation to improve fuel economy.

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Best Compact Multi Purpose Vehicle: Kia Soul

Best Compact Multi Purpose Vehicle: Kia Soul

MSRP: $14,400 - $19,900
Invoice: $14,090 - $18,985
Fuel Economy: 27 mpg City, 35 mpg Highway

The Kia Soul is a trendy five-door "urban crossover vehicle" based on the Kia Rio. The styling, standard equipment, value price, and overall usefulness, all contribute to make the Soul very appealing, especially to the youth market. There are three variations of Soul's to choose from: Base Soul, Soul +, and Soul !. The Base front-wheel drive, five-passenger Soul is powered by a 138-hp 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with power being delivered through a six-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic transmission.

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Best Compact Crossover SUV: MINI Countryman

Best Compact Crossover SUV: MINI Countryman

MSRP: $21,750
Invoice: $19,657
Fuel Economy: 27 mpg City, 35 mpg Highway

The MINI Cooper Countryman is the newest addition to the MINI line-up. The Countryman looks to offer compact crossover flexibility and space in a unique MINI way. The four-door, four-seat hatchback features a 121-hp 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed manual transmission or optional six-speed automatic. Standard safety equipment includes six airbags, traction and stability control and anti-lock brakes. A wide variety of interior trim materials and colors are available.

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Best Compact Car: Chevrolet Volt

Best Compact Car: Chevrolet Volt

MSRP: $39,145
Invoice: $37,579
Fuel Economy: 101 mpg City, 93 mpg Highway

The Chevrolet Volt is a four-passenger, five-door compact hatchback plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. For (up to) the first 40 miles, the vehicle drives gas- and tailpipe-emissions-free using electricity stored in its lithium-ion battery. When the Volt's battery runs low, a gas-powered, engine/generator seamlessly operates to extend the driving range another 300 miles on a full tank. The Volt is powered by an 115kW electric motor and 16kWh lithium-ion battery pack, enabling it to travel approximately 40 miles on a charge. The 1.4-liter gasoline range extender generates electricity and provides an additional 300 miles of driving.

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Best Compact Sporty Car: MINI Roadster

Best Compact Sporty Car: MINI Roadster

MSRP: $24,350
Invoice: $21,997
Fuel Economy: 27 mpg City, 35 mpg Highway

The MINI Roadster provides the driving enthusiast with a combination of fun-to-drive performance, engineering and unconventional attitude. The Roadster features a 121-hp 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed manual transmission or optional six-speed automatic. Standard safety equipment includes six airbags, traction and stability control and anti-lock brakes.

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Best Sub Compact Car: Chevrolet Sonic

Best Sub Compact Car: Chevrolet Sonic

MSRP: $14,200 - $21,485
Invoice: $13,845 - $20,411
Fuel Economy: 26 mpg City, 35 mpg Highway

The Chevrolet Sonic combines a fuel efficient engine, seating for five and ample cargo space; it competes in the sub-compact market. The front-wheel drive Sonic is offered in two body styles; sedan and hatchback. All models come standard with a 138-hp 1.8-liter engine mated to a five-speed manual transmission. There are two available transmissions, a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic. A 138-hp 1.4-liter engine is also available on the LT and LTZ trims, and standard on the RS trim.

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