The passing year has seen us testing cars which are, with the odd exception, unbelievably fuel efficient. Driving a new family hatch which returns 70mpg has become a fairly normal occurrence.

As the quest for economical and safe motoring continues, there’s every chance your next car will have both a combustion and electric motor, and be able to do an emergency stop before you do. There have been incredible advances in tech in 2012, so which are the most likely to affect you?

Engine downsizing

When fuel was cheap and plentiful, it was less important how much power an engine could muster from each sip of fuel. Now it’s one of our most expensive commodities, engineers are designing engines to do more with less. The most impressive example so far is the award-winning Ford 1.0-litre EcoBoost petrol, which has 123bhp and can average 65.7mpg in the Ford Fiesta supermini. It’s already being offered in the Focus, C-MAX and Grand C-MAX and will even power the next Mondeo. Expect your next car to have a small turbocharged engine with two, three or four cylinders.


Cylinder deactivation

Some of the best ideas are the simplest. Cylinder deactivation effectively turns off half the engine when it isn’t required, saving fuel when you are gently cruising or driving downhill. It isn’t new, but like so many advances, it’s just filtering down from luxury cars into the mass market. You can now buy a Volkswagen Polo BlueGT ACT with 138bhp that can get from zero to 62mph in a sporting 7.9 seconds and average 61.4mpg.

Infotainment

Until 2012, most cars which could connect to your mobile, only allowed you to make and receive calls. Now, most major manufacturers have cars on the road which integrate with your smartphone and can let you browse the internet, check emails, update Twitter and post to Facebook. Audi has incorporated Google Earth into its top sat-navs to help you get your bearings and in a crash there are now cars which will alert emergency services to your exact location on your behalf.

Range-extenders

When the Vauxhall Ampera and Chevrolet Volt arrived in the UK in 2012, they brought with them a whole new way of getting from A to B. Both models are powered by electricity, but have a small petrol engine which acts as a generator. The idea is, you plug the car in to the mains overnight to charge the batteries, which gives you around 50 miles of pure electric driving – more than enough for most daily commutes. But, should you have a weekend trip or far afield meeting, you fill the small petrol tank and increase your range to over 300 miles. Vauxhall claims an average of 235mpg…not bad.

Crash mitigation

This is another piece of car tech which arrived in smaller, cheaper cars like the Volkswagen up in 2012. Using forward facing sensors, models equipped with this potentially life-saving wizardry, build a picture of the world in front of them, and can slam on the brakes if they sense an imminent collision with another car or a pedestrian. According to US insurance claim data, third party damage claims for the City Safety equipped Volvo XC60 were 27 per cent less frequent than for similar cars without the electronic safety net.

Added lightness

As cars have become bigger, better equipped and safer, they have also got much heavier. So, while they are much happier places to be, more power and fuel is needed to get them to perform well. That is unless you re-think the materials used to build the car in the first place. Hardened steels – which can be thinner but just as strong – as well as aluminium and composites like carbon fibre can all make cars lighter. The new Range Rover is now built from aluminium and weighs 420kg less than the previous model.

And in 2013?

Those who thought eco-cars would sound the death knell for high-performance motoring couldn’t have been more wrong. 2013 looks set to be the year of the hybrid supercar, with the McLaren P1, Porsche 918 Spyder and Ferrari’s Enzo replacement all featuring smaller engines than supercars of old, with extra power coming from electric motors. The downsizing trend is set to continue transforming the industry too, with notable cars including the forthcoming new Ford Mondeo which can be fitted with a 1-litre engine.