2011 Ford Fiesta (© Ford Motor Company)

2011 Ford Fiesta

Despite America's distaste for anything small, the compact segment is about to explode in a big way. Credit the need for automakers to meet ever-tightening fuel-economy standards, a still shaky economy and the inevitable rise in the price of fossil fuels. But regardless of why it's happening, it's happening.

The most interesting benefit of this shift is that the days of economical transportation with dull-as-dishwater driving dynamics seem to be on the way out, replaced by a wave of fuel-thrifty small cars with plenty of personality and pep. Using technology such as direct injection and turbocharging borrowed from their larger, more expensive siblings, this new generation of compact fuel misers promises to offer everything people love about big cars in a more efficient package.

Here are our picks for the top 10 fuel misers, in alphabetical order, costing less than $25,000.

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Chevrolet Cruze

Click to enlarge picture2011 Chevrolet Cruze (© Chevrolet)

2011 Chevrolet Cruze

Until now, General Motors' approach to the small-car market could be described as apathetic at best. With the arrival of the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, you can forget all of that. Its amazingly efficient and smooth 1.4-liter 138-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder engine provides more than 40 mpg highway. On top of that, the company has gone to great lengths to improve interior quality, and as a result, the Cruze's cabin is easily as well-trimmed and comfortable as any of the larger Chevrolet sedans, and at a base MSRP of $16,275. It's remarkably quiet, too — a characteristic that has never exactly described the small-car segment.

Video: Chevrolet Cruze — First Look

Ford Fiesta

Click to enlarge picture2011 Ford Fiesta (© Ford Motor Company)

2011 Ford Fiesta

Ford has flooded the Internet with a clever social-media marketing campaign to help build awareness of its new subcompact car. We're sure the move will help to put the car on the radar of tech-savvy 20-somethings — but for the rest of us, the car pretty much sells itself. With sleek European styling, a starting price of just $13,320 and a peppy 1.6-liter 120-horsepower 4-cylinder engine, the 2011 Fiesta is a bargain, no matter how you slice it. The car also offers one of the best interiors in this class and 40 mpg highway.

Compare: Ford Fiesta vs. Scion xD vs. Chevrolet Aveo

Honda Fit

In a way, Honda helped to usher in the small-car renaissance with the introduction of the Fit. Though quirky-looking, the little hatchback offers an amazing amount of interior space. Even the tallest drivers have no problem fitting comfortably inside. The car can seat four adults and has adorable looks, while returning 33 mpg. Its interior may be outclassed by newcomers to the segment, but it remains a bargain buy at $14,900.

Read:  Small on the Outside, Big on the Inside

Honda CR-Z

Click to enlarge picture2011 Honda CR-Z (© Rick Dole)

2011 Honda CR-Z Sport Hybrid Coupe

Until now, hybrids have typically been designed with the mindset that boring is better. Buyers willing to sacrifice style, driving dynamics or comfort for fuel economy have their choice of any number of battery-operated cars. Fortunately, Honda is looking to stand that philosophy on its head with the CR-Z. With a design that borrows heavily from the old CRX and an advanced hybrid-electric drivetrain, the CR-Z might just be what's next for the hybrid world. The car packs a total of 122 horsepower from its 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and integrated electric motor, which work together to return 39 mpg highway. The 2011 CR-Z starts at $19,200.

View Slideshow:  The Good, the Bad, the Luxury Hybrid

Kia Soul

Until Kia launched the 2010 Soul in late 2009, the Korean automaker hadn't exactly been known for stylish people movers. But with a reverse-rake roof, a tough front fascia and a youth-oriented interior, the 2010 Soul proved the carmaker could do cool. Buyers can option their Soul with any number of interesting interior patterns, including our personal favorite — houndstooth accents on the seats. With a base price of $13,300 and 30 mpg highway from an optional 2.0-liter 142-horsepower 4-cylinder engine, the Soul is small reimagined.

Video: 2010 Kia Soul