• Five Reasons To Keep Your Gas Guzzler
  • Why Buying A Hybrid Might Not Save You Money
  • Why Green Cars Are Not Always Saving Machines

With the automotive market tanking and a gallon of gas hitting new highs everyday, you'd be forgiven for wanting to dump your car and go straight for a bike. But with a little searching, you can trade in your money-hungry road tank for something more economical and efficient, without sacrificing comfort, performance, or looks.

The first thing to consider is that you don't necessarily have to go the hybrid route. Studies have shown that hybrids are not always cheaper in the long run than their gas-powered counterparts, and hybrid models are often plagued with poorer performance.
For those of you that still want the total driving package but aren't quite ready to go completely green, here are a few alternatives that will keep you happy without breaking the bank:

Mazda 5
A minivan is certainly the last thing you'd expect to see from a company(MZDAF) whose tagline is "Zoom, Zoom," but the Mazda 5 is still an admirable effort to appeal to families looking to move away from the costly SUV. It strikes a good balance between van and crossover sport utility, featuring minivan amenities such as seating for six and sliding rear doors, but all in a package that feels more like a small car.

Designed on the same platform as the smaller and quicker Mazda 3, the 5 series is agile and provides a smooth ride, but can sometimes feel a bit sluggish with the 4-cylinder engine. The big selling point isn't performance, however, but savings at the pump.
With an estimated gas mileage of 22 city/28 highway, it's one of the best in the minivan/SUV market. That alone makes it worth a look for the large family ready to ditch the gas-guzzler, and even with performance that lags by car standards it still offers a quicker ride than most conventional family vans.

MINI Cooper
Always worthy of consideration for the urban warrior is the unbelievably compact Mini. Even for the owner of a regular sedan the Cooper may make more economic sense, as its 28/37 miles per gallon are nearly unmatched in the automotive world.
"We're seeing people coming to the dealership and trading in other vehicles all the time now," said BMW spokesman Jan Ehlen. "Not necessarily vehicles that are part of the Mini's competition, either."
BMW estimates that Mini sales are up 50% last month alone, and projections figure that trend to continue as more drivers look for a cheaper commute.
The Mini Cooper has notoriously fun handling and zip, all attributed to its miniscule size, mean you won't be giving up performance either. And with the new slightly larger Clubman model, you can even haul your friends in relative comfort.

Ford Escape
The Escape is more of a true SUV than the Mazda 5, which makes it a better option for the driver that needs cargo room but doesn't want to look like they're taking the kids to soccer practice. Even more importantly, its 23/28 gas mileage put it at the top of the SUV class. Combine that with the sub-$25,000 base price tag and you can be sure you'll get plenty of bang for not a lot of buck.
For the 2008 model year, Ford(F) has chosen to redesign the Escape to be more in the vain of its larger, less wallet-friendly counterparts the Expedition and Explorer. So while you'll be driving one of the smallest SUVs on the market, you'll feel like you're in a full-size and won't know the difference until you leave the gas station with a little extra money in your pocket. If that's not enough, consider that car ratings and information site named the Escape its Editors' Most Wanted for compact SUVs, truly an endorsement that deserves notice.

Nissan Altima Coupe
As one of countless entries into the compact sedan market, it can be easy to dismiss the Altima Coupe as just another rehash of the same old thing. But look a little harder and you'll find that this car will replace your clunky regular sedan and not miss a beat. Based on Nissan's(NSANY) long-lived Altima family sedan, the Coupe model is an economical everyday car with a hidden wild side.
When upgraded to the V6 engine, the coupe will put out 270 horsepower while still getting you a respectable 27 miles per gallon on the highway. To save even more at the pump and on the car itself, downgrade to the 4 cylinder, which gets 23/32 fuel economy and also costs only $21,000.

The slight hit in performance is warranted by the money that will stay in your wallet, a fact that leads a Nissan spokesperson to state that the 4-cylinder model will account for over 60% of all Altima Coupe sales.

Since it's based around the regular Altima sedan you're assured of a comfortable ride, too. The coupe feels more spacious than tradition two-door cars, and while the headroom is lessened there's still plenty of space to move around. No wonder Edmunds called it "one of the best options out there for ride comfort, fuel economy and interior space."

What Not to Consider
If you're interested in trading in a vehicle for a less-costly choice, there are just as many models to stay away from as there are to look into.

First and foremost: pickup trucks. If you're not doing the kind of work that requires a heavy-duty truck, you can do just as well with a compact SUV or sedan.

The most fuel-efficient pickup on the market, according to Environmental Protection Agency ratings , the 4-cylinder Ford Ranger, gets mileage of 21 city/26 highway. That's nothing to scoff at, but when you consider that you'll only be able to haul half as many people in the compact cab, it's not the best buy out there.

Also worth watching out for is the trap of the large sedan with the powerful engine. The Dodge Charger, Chrysler 300 or Chevy(GM) Suburban may boast powerful V8 engine options, but their 15 miles per gallon in the city will drain your bank account and leave you wondering why you didn't just go for the small SUV to haul the family.

If performance is more your thing you can do just as well going a bit smaller (and cheaper) and putting a V6 in a Honda(HMC) Civic. Still less horsepower, but you'll feel every bit of power in the smaller Civic and still be able to carry passenger and the golf clubs just as easily.