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Since money is tight right for many people right now, our writers looked at the most frugal mini-cars on the market. They are not always cheap to buy, but they are certainly cheap to run and better for the planet, especially compared to any SUV fossil-fuel consuming monster you may still be driving.

In the article, the miles per gallon is for a US gallon (3.785 liters) rather than imperial gallons (4.546 liters) and estimates are based on a combined cycle figure including both urban and highway travel.

The Toyota IQ is one small vehicle from a big manufacturer. It is about 2/3rds the size of a Toyota Yaris but still can carry 4 people, or two people and grocery bags for a week. The 1.0-liter petrol engine version gets 55 mpg (23.3kms/litre) and a 1.4-liter turbodiesel gets 57 mpg (24.1kms/litre).

The Smart Fortwo diesel is a two-person vehicle that has been around for a long time in Europe, so they have a proven track record for economical driving. The CDI sips diesel and gives 70mpg (29.6kms/liter) fuel consumption. The gas powered Smart Fortwo gets 36mpg (15.2kms/liter).

The Nissan Pino is a 650-cc engined, 2-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive, with a 49.7mpg (21km/liter) consumption (2-wheel, 3 speed version). Other versions available in its Japanese home market, are 4 and 5 speed, 4 wheel drive with electronic braking force distribution (EBD), anti-lock braking system (ABS) and brake assist (BA). All models of the Pino are certified to be ultra low-emission vehicles.  Why can’t we have it in North America as it sounds like a fun car and gives great mileage?

The Nissan Cube is a small car with lots of go, with 0-60mph (0-96kph) in 10 seconds and based on the popular Nissan Micra, also another mini-car. The has a 1.3 or 1.5 liter engine in most markets but might come with a 1.8 liter engine to North America, and the vehicle has a continuously variable transmission. Some versions have a simple 4-wheel drive system and there is also an all-electric version currently under development. You might start seeing them on the streets in North American in the spring of 2009 when Nissan have said they will officially launch it.

The Mini One with a gas-powered engine gets 38mpg (16kms) to the liter, while the Mini diesel (which unfortunately is not available in North America) has a Peugeot 1.6-liter diesel engine with 110hp and gives a combined 60.7mpg (25.7km/liter, 23.8km/liter for an automatic). The 0-60mph (0-100kph) is in 9.9s (10.3s for the auto) and has a top speed of 122mph (195kph).

The Ford Ka has been popular in Europe since the mid-90s and can carry four people, with a 1.3 to 1.6 liter engine. There is even a convertible option. The new version has 1.2, 1.3 and 1.4 liter engine options, including a diesel variant. The 1.3 liter diesel gets 56 mpg (23.7 km/liter). This vehicle, most likely in a gas-powered rendition, may find its way to North America.

There are many other small car vehicle options not included in our list, including the Fiat 500, the Citroen C1 and C2, Renault Twingo 2, Honda Zest, Volkswagon Up and Hyundai i10.

Electric vehicles are coming onto the market in increasing numbers and from mainstream manufacturers who are finally putting investment and research into an automotive technology that can give us fun and economical transportation without impacting so much on the environment. It all depends how  ‘dirty’ the emissions are from your local electrical energy provider, but electric vehicles can be at least 40 to 60% less polluting than a gas-powered vehicle. Here is a selection of some of our favorite electric vehicles available around the globe.

The Mini-E is a good performer, giving 0-62mph (0-100km) in 8.5 seconds, maximum speed of 95mph (152kph) and providing a 150mile (240km) range with regenerative braking system. Five hundred of them are on special lease to check out the technology. The only downside is the battery takes up the space for two passengers.

The Subaru R1e is an all-electric demonstrator produced in limited numbers, with 2 seats, a 40kwh battery, 104kph speed and a 80km range with a super fast recharge time of 80% in 15 minutes using a high amperage charger.

The Tango is a funky two-seater electric powered sportscar with a 0 to 60mph (96kmph) in only 4 seconds for the top of the range model, with a 80miles (130kms) range on lead acid batteries and over 150miles (240kms) on lithium ion. Full recharging takes only 3 hours from a regular power outlet.

The handbuilt NmG electric car’s acronym stands for ‘No More Gas’. The NmG is a single-passenger, three-wheeled vehicle with outstanding acceleration, a range of 30miles (48kms) between charges and a fuelling charge (at 11 cents per kilowatt) that costs about 55 cents. The pollution-free NmG fully recharges in 6 to 8 hours at 110V and half that time at 220V. The NmG comes in dazzling exterior colors and includes an audio system, adjustable bucket seat, accessory outlets, 6-cubic-foot trunk, power windows, and a heater. The NmG is US Highway legal and can travel at speeds above 75mph (120kph).

The ZENN (Zero Emission, No Noise) is a front-wheel drive, two-seat, electrically powered conversion of a European gasoline and diesel-powered micro-car. ZENN Cars have delivered more than 200 electric vehicles to the US. The ZENN is classified as a neighborhood electric vehicle (NEV) and is limited by some US states to a top speed of only 25-35mph (40-56kph), with a 30-50mile (48km-80km) range after a 4 to 8 hour recharge.

The REVAi is a fun to drive all electric vehicle that is classified as a quadricycle in Europe and can be driven on city roads as a low speed urban commuter carrying two passengers, with a full charge range of 50miles (80km) after 7 hours of charging. It is manufactured in India, with over 20 million miles (32 million kilometers) clocked by REVAi owners. A protective steel cage and damage resistant plastic outer panels with dedicated crush zones provide passenger safety.

The NORDIC Think City is a two seat electric vehicle with a 112mile (180km) range and a 62mph (100kph) top speed. Complete with anti-lock brakes, a shock impact absorbing frame and side-impact bars, the Think City complies with both American and European safety standards. Made in Norway, it is a low pollution, cheap to operate, city commuter vehicle.

The Tazzari ZERO has a top speed up to 55mph (88kph) and 0-30 mph (0-48kph) acceleration in less than 5 seconds, a 140km driving range and sporty-handling with an ultra low centre of gravity, wide wheelbase with 15” wheels and 175/55 tyres, a light, fully recyclable aluminium casting frame, electro-assisted brake system with 4 disc brakes and eco-leather seats.

The Wheego Whip is due to be sold in North America in 2009. The RTEV (Ruff & Tuff Electric Vehicles) and Shuanghuan Automobile Company makes the Wheego Whip, which is a two-seater, and is capable of 95kph (60mph), but will be limited to 25-35mph (40-56kph) dependent upon local state regulations and comes with a 50 mile (80km) range.

Other electric vehicles include the Mitsubishi i-MIEV, a high tech electric vehicle with an 81mile (130km) range that can carry four people, with a top speed of 80mph (130kph) – and hopefully it will make it to North America in the not too distant future, along with many other cool mini-cars.