A foursome of fancy - but fuel efficient - 2001 models have put the sass back into a thrifty driving experience.


After a decade of languishing in the shadows of SUVs and minivans, fuel-efficient cars are cool once again, thanks to the spike in gas prices. Problem is, the things that make a car fuel-efficient - small engine, light weight, lack of accoutrements - tend to make it a yawner to drive. Until now.

Car manufacturers have gotten hip to this conundrum, turning their attentions toward creating models that combine thrift and thrills. It's a juggling act, but one that's getting more polished with every model year. The following quartet of '01 models do a mighty impressive job of keeping all the balls in the air.

VOLKSWAGON BEETLE TDI
$17,900
www.vw.com or (800) 374-8389
Fun Factor: 8
Fuel Factor: 10
Fashion Factor: Your call
Personality: 9


Volkswagen's updated version of its bulbous classic has you either lost in a haze of patchouli-scented reminiscence or looking for a car-size can of Raid. If it's the former, don your beads, man, and groove on down to your local VW dealer for a test drive in the TDI (turbo diesel injection).

The TDI gets a kick in the pants, courtesy of a 1.9 L, turbo-charged four-cylinder direct-injection diesel engine, which boots it from a standing start to 60 mph in 11.9 seconds. No, you're not going to mistake it for the space shuttle, but considering that the TDI milks as many as 49 miles out of a gallon of diesel, it's pretty darn impressive. The front-drive Beetle's a real road hugger, too, thanks to its diminutive wheelbase (98.7 inches), low center of gravity, and McPherson strut suspension.

NOTE: If the Beetle, um, bugs you, look for Volkswagen's TDI technology in the Golf and Jetta models.