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Meet Hastings' smallest car

Mike Dahlen is the proud owner of what has to be the smallest car in Hastings. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in economy.

At 45 miles per gallon, Dahlen is spending half as much money a month on gas now, compared to when he was driving his Oldsmobile Alero to work in Plymouth. He drives 90 miles round trip a day, and the new car cuts his annual fuel expense in half, from $4,000 a year to $2,000 (based on $4/gallon gas).

So, what is it? It's a "smart fortwo." It's bright yellow, just 8.8 feet long and 5.1 feet tall.

When Dahlen purchased it from a dealer in Bloomington, the mechanic there suggested he get tinted windows.

"You'll get sick of all the people looking at you," the mechanic told Dahlen.

Turns out, the mechanic was right. People definitely stare.

"Reactions are all over the map," Dahlen said. "There's people laughing. I had an older lady give me the thumbs-up. I had a kid in Hastings hanging out of the passenger side of a truck, yelling that the car was cool. Some people even take your picture with their camera phones."

Dahlen did his research before pulling the trigger on the pint-sized auto. He learned the smart fortwo earned the highest ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for front and side crash-worthiness. That fact apparently sits well with insurance companies, according to the research Dahlen did.

"I looked into other cars," he said. "They get better gas mileage, but the insurance would have been double what I was paying on the Alero. The money you save in the gas tank, you'd end up giving back to the insurance company."

At about $13,500 or so for a smart fortwo, the car is about half the price of a well-equipped Toyota Prius, the No. 1 selling hybrid vehicle on the market.

The car has a 71 horsepower, 3-cylinder engine, and it is capable of traveling up to 90 miles per hour.

"It's got some pep," Dahlen said. "It ain't a Ferrari, but it drives well. It's a neat car. It's not what people think. People think when you're driving down the highway and a semi passes you, it's going to blow you off the road. It's not like that.

"I get on the highway with it every day."