Those of us who were around in the 1970s during the last spike in oil prices can remember the ancestors of today’s economy cars. Fuel-efficient vehicles of the time were typically two-door liftbacks. Rearwheel drive was the norm, as were manual windows. There was no such thing as remote keyless entry. And most of these cars lacked A/C.

Pontiac VibeCharacteristicsFord Focus
67.9Width (in.)69.4
58.6Height (in.)60.9
102.9Wheelbase (in.)102.4
1.8-liter, 132 hp, 128 lb-ft torqueBase engine2.0-liter, 140 hp, 136 lb-ft torque
Five-speed manual overdriveBase transmissionFive-speed manual overdrive
2,588 lbCurb weight2,855 lb

That brings us to today’s class of fuel misers, among them, the 1.8-liter Pontiac Vibe. The four-door, fivepassenger Vibe we drove was just redesigned. It carries a 32/26-mpg rating, and you can boost that further by going retro: Eliminate the A/C and power locks/windowscruise control, both of which come as $950 options. We suspect most people will want these refinements, and that goes even for those who scream about the “bells and whistles” carmakers add that hamper mpg figures. News flash: A/C and remote locks have a mileage penalty.

But we digress. The Vibe is a nice-riding, nice-looking small car. It shares a number of mechanical components with the Toyota Matrix, though its styling is completely different. Our 132-hp in-line fourcylinder review vehicle was the base model. It comes with a standard five-speed manual tranny. Other versions include an AWD and a GT with a bigger engine.

The Vibe is easy to drive. The shifter comes out of the dash, rather than from the floor, but it is in just the right place for quick shifts. We also liked the Vibe’s method of shifting into reverse gear; it goes straight in, without any pull-up, push-down, or other machinations to remember. A little engine revving is in order on to keep from stalling on start-up, however, because the car idles at a low speed, presumably to save gas. Another plus: Despite my size- 12 shoes, I had plenty of room for clutching and brake-pedal action.

The Vibe’s acceleration is about what you’d expect from a normally aspirated 1.8-liter car. Look elsewhere if you want something that pushes you back in the seat. But we suspect that’s not an issue with most potential buyers. More important, Vibe standard equipment includes OnStar, ABS on its four-wheel disc brakes, stability control, tire pressure monitors, and a full complement of six air bags. As of this writing, the redesigned Vibe has not yet seen Insurance Institute crash testing.

Dash-panel controls were big and easy to use, even with gloved hands. Our only real gripe with the car was the limited visibility out the rear-view mirror.

Our review vehicle came in at $17,940, a price that included $2,045 options consisting of the A/C, power doors and windows, cruise control, and a radio/CD player. (Interestingly, power outside mirrors are standard though power doors are not.)

The surviving econo hatchbacks of 40 years ago are currently being reborn as cult drift cars. We wouldn’t be surprised to see future generations put the Vibe in the same cult category.