With the turn of events in the price of oil, there's a burgeoning interest in fuel-sipping vehicles. Everyone is looking to save on gas.
That's the reason I jumped at the opportunity to visit Portugal and drive an array of vehicles produced worldwide by Nissan. You might think Nissan only builds a few variations of what they make available in the U.S. Not so dear soul. Nissan produces such an array of vehicles that it took two days for me to drive the most intriguing and interesting vehicles that I felt I needed to evaluate.
My evaluation centered on several questions. First and foremost, would I be comfortable driving this car on American streets and highways? Surprisingly, nearly all seemed to meet the basic demands we Americans might place on each vehicle.
Of course, there are plenty of other questions that come to mind. Would enough of you be willing to sacrifice some luxury or comfort to get 40 mpg or more of fuel? My answer was a resounding yes, with a few exceptions.
I centered my attention on the smallest and most unique-looking vehicles known as the micro-cars. These little vehicles are equipped with either small gasoline or diesel fuel engines. No fancy fuel cells, plug-in electric or hybrids. You see, Europeans have been paying more than $6 to $7 a gallon for fuel for years. That means these folks have been driving small gas savers for many decades.
This subset includes tiny cars with names such as Micra, Pino, Otti and Cubic. First up the Micra, which I drove in two configurations: the four-door sedan (yep folks, these little cars can even have four doors) and the cute retractable hardtop convertible. The sedan had a surprising amount of interior. I could have been comfortable even in the back seat. Granted, I would not want to remain in the back for hours on end but for jetting around town to dinner or a movie, I could do it.
The Micra C + C convertible is downright adorable, perfect for running around any beach community. This little car would be the hip ride to have. It would push the Ferraris and Bentleys out of the front parking area of all the top restaurants. Both models are powered by 1.6-liter, four cylinder engines that produce admirable 110 horsepower and 30-plus average mpg.
The Moco was next on my list and, although not as cute as the Micra, it delivers more headroom and about the same cargo space. However, it's powered by a 0.66-liter gasoline engine. OK, it is not a powerhouse but the 54-hp engine performed well on the streets of Portugal cities and is easy to maneuver and park. Perhaps, I wouldn't recommend the Moco as a great commuter car but for inner city or just cruising around suburbia, it would be great.
Along the same vein is the Otti, which also has a squarish look but is fun to drive and provides plenty of room for a couple of people and lots of stuff. It's also powered by a 0.66-liter engine and would fit in all the places I could see the Moco.
One vehicle that would probably not work on American streets but would sure help working types is the Clipper mini truck. You may have seen similar trucks around your local golf course or five-star resort because they are the type of vehicles used by maintenance crews. I could see the Clipper used in small towns or inner-urban areas where zipping about through narrow streets would be an advantage.
I could go on and on about the offerings we never see but I think I have given you a glimpse of what could be if only we stretched our imagination a bit and looked beyond the obvious. Let me know what you think. I'll be sure to pass on your comments to Nissan and the other auto companies. You could be part of a revolution in transportation.