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Small Cars Equal Big Gas Savings

MIAMI (CBS4) - Melissa Larrame's looking for a new, small car.

"We're looking for space, and good gas mileage... some luxuries, style's definitely important," said Larrame.

She also wants something that's roomy, drives well and gets the best fuel economy possible.

"It's definitely very important because I commute 20 minutes each way so I'm looking for something that's going to save on gas as well," Larrame told the car salesman.

The base-model of this new small Chevy gets up to 40 miles per gallon with a 6 speed manual transmission.

The upgraded model Melissa's checking out is an automatic averaging about 35 miles per gallon.

Melissa said that saving money at the gas pump is a major goal of new car shoppers.

"I definitely think they are going to go small being the way the economy is and people are trying to cut back in certain areas and fuel is one area they can cut. It is something they are definitely going to cut those costs in," said Larrame.

Car makers are slowly introducing a whole new series of high-mileage mini-cars and SUVs to meet the growing demand for better fuel economy and lower operating costs, Carlos Rodriguez of Planet Fiat  told CBS4 Chief Consumer Investigator Al Sunshine.

For example, the new Fiat 500 is the "New Chrysler's" latest small car, offering up to 38 miles per gallon.

"The vehicle gets great gas mileage. It's a brand new product and has a high-end feel to it."

While larger cars, trucks and SUVs are still selling... serving businesses and big families... dealers know the latest small car trend will only get bigger.

As the economy remains tight, shoppers are trying to squeeze any extra savings they can find from their gas budgets.

"I hope it'll be a trend. We have taken in big Range Rovers on these cars as trade-ins, so people are downsizing," Rodriguez told Sunshine. "Not because they have to, but because they want to better gas mileage."

Carmakers are also starting to offer some larger vehicles capable of getting up to 40 miles per gallon without sacrificing convenience or performance. But their prices are higher too.

So what's next?

GM just announced its' small,  all-electric car to go along with its bigger Chevy Volt-hybrid.

Ford's also working on its electric car and just announced a 3 cylinder small car, capable of approaching 50 miles per gallon.

Melissa Larrame's paying a lot of attention to the new U.S. made small cars that are competing with foreign carmakers. But she's still not sure what's right for her.

"American cars are definitely on the up and up," said Larrame. "At this point would you rather buy American? I haven't decided yet."

Most of the new, smaller models include the latest safety technology and have done pretty well in their crash tests.

Another bonus for buyers:  financing rates are at historic lows according to bankrate-dot com.

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