Historically, North-Americans didn't have access to the most fuel-efficient small engines that were the bread & butter of European and Asian models. But all that has slowly been changing in the past few years, with an important turning point taking place after hurricane Katrina caused oil prices to spike.
A good example of a European-style small car that made its way to the U.S. is the Ford Fiesta. It's small and fuel-efficient, but it's not a penalty box. And it's about to get even better for the 2014 model year because Ford is bringing its 1-liter, 3-cylinder EcoBoost engine to North-America.