These days you don't have to be paranoid about rising fuel prices to opt for a smaller car. Forget the annoyance of having to make do with wind-up windows and tinny-sounding stereos (or no stereo at all). Those days are long gone. This new breed of small car has style and attitude to match frugal running costs and easy-to-park proportions.

We've chosen six of the best small cars here at the 2011 Chicago Auto Show. They range from a sporty "3-door coupe" to an Italian city car that's cuter than a basket of puppies. An American manufacturer also makes the cut, despite the long dominance of foreign automakers in this highly competitive segment.

Want to spend your money on things other than hefty fuel bills and sky-high insurance rates? Here are some of the smartest small cars on the market (or coming soon).

More Coverage: 2011 Chicago Auto Show

2012 Hyundai Veloster

Click to enlarge picture2012 Hyundai Veloster (© John Lamm)

2012 Hyundai Veloster

The looks are unique and, to be honest, we're not even sure what to call it. The 2012 Hyundai Veloster is hard to categorize and that's why we think it could be a hit when it arrives this summer. It might look like a coupe, but the Veloster actually sports three doors: one on the driver's side, and two on the passenger's side. It's much less strange than it sounds, and credit Hyundai for making the asymmetrical design look so cool.

There's a lot going on in the shape, with perhaps a few too many air intakes and scoops (some of them fake) in the front. Yet we believe many people will love the Veloster simply because it takes a chance at being different. Hyundai says the direct-injected 138-bhp 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine will offer "at least" 40 mpg during highway driving. With an estimated base price of $17,000, the Veloster should have plenty of buyers willing to take a chance on this funky 3-door.

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2011 Ford Fiesta

Click to enlarge picture2011 Ford Fiesta (© John Lamm)

2011 Ford Fiesta

Nimble, attractive and fun to drive. For years you might have automatically associated "foreign-built" to these fine attributes. The 2011 Ford Fiesta hatchback and sedan are bucking the long tradition of weak-willed domestic small cars. Designed with the global market in mind, the Fiesta has a handsome shape (especially in hatchback form) and driving manners that meet, or exceed, the competition.

With a starting price of just over $13,000, the base Fiesta is a bargain that doesn't sacrifice its driving soul for economy. The 120-bhp 1.6-liter 4-cylinder is efficient (39 mpg on the highway) and offers enough power to keep you zipping along in traffic. Higher up the Fiesta food chain, you'll find options like a power moonroof and Ford's Sync in-car connectivity system, which permits hands-free calling and voice controls for other vehicle functions.

Compare: Ford Fiesta vs. Honda Fit vs. Mazda Mazda2

2012 Fiat 500

Face it; nobody is going to buy a Fiat 500 because of its power. The 101-bhp 16-valve 1.4-liter four is fine, most of the time. But passing another vehicle on a two-lane road should only be done with plenty of patience and lots of room. So what does the Fiat 500 have more than the competition, or even cars costing double its price? The answer: style. Sure it can get cramped with four onboard, but this adorable little 2-door can't help but make you smile when you see it.

A Mini Cooper has sharper steering, but the softer ride and handling combination of the Fiat 500 is still plenty fun. And like a MINI — or Toyota's youth-oriented Scion brand — one of the keys to the Fiat 500 is its high degree of customization. You can add stripes, larger alloy wheels, Italian flag decals, and even an in-car perfume dispenser. Fuel economy in the mid-30s is also pretty good. Just be wary with the options since range-topping 500s can break the $20,000 barrier.

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