• Automakers are adding complexity.
  • Many automakers are looking for EV enhancements.
  • Most new technology is designed to boost fuel economy or keep drivers connected.

Although automakers rolled out several impressive technological advancements last year, we're even more excited for 2012. That's because automotive technology is rapidly moving forward, and the new year promises to be among the best ever. We've outlined some of the new items we're most eager to see in 2012, taking special note of clever features designed to boost gas mileage and interactive technology that helps keep consumers connected even when they're on the move.

Long-range electric vehicles

Although the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MiEV impress us with their ability to run on pure electricity for distances that exceed most Americans' daily commutes, we're looking forward to improved battery technology that allows EVs to go even farther between charges. According to California-based Tesla Motors, that technology is coming in the form of its sleek new Model S sedan. Priced at $57,400, the base-level Model S can run up to 160 miles on a single charge, while higher priced models with larger batteries can achieve ranges of up to 300 miles. Those are amazing figures that will make the dream of EV ownership a real possibility for even more Americans in 2012.

Fewer cylinders, more power

Although we saw it in 2011, the trend of small engines that make big power will reach new heights in 2012. Both Ford and General Motors revealed tiny 1.0-liter three-cylinder powerplants scheduled to be released in many markets around the globe, and even high-performance cars like the BMW M5 and recently announced Mercedes ML63 AMG are ditching massive engines utilized by previous models for more restrained, turbocharged motors that achieve similar performance with boosted fuel economy. In fact, we think 2012 will be a wakeup call for die-hard gearheads who still believe there's no replacement for displacement.

More gears

Just ten years ago, the five-speed automatic transmission was viewed as a cutting-edge replacement for the four-speed many automakers utilized for decades previously. In 2012, vehicles still using five-speed automatics will be considered obsolete, as seven- and eight-speed transmissions that combine exciting performance with impressive fuel economy are the new norm in the auto industry. Additionally, automakers from Ferrari to Ford are switching to dual-clutch transmissions which further boost fuel economy and performance while providing lightning-quick, undetectably smooth gear changes. While transmission technology is often overlooked in favor of improving engines and alternative fuels, recent advancements are making transmissions more important to the average consumer.

Wireless recharging

While many device makers already sell charging pads that can juice up iPods, cell phones or cameras without plugging them in, the automotive industry hasn't yet adapted the convenient technology to recharge electric vehicles. But several automakers including Audi, Mercedes and Rolls-Royce showed off prototype charging pads that can be mounted on a garage floor and inductively transfer energy into an electric vehicle's battery system. Although the technology is far from perfected, enough automakers are experimenting with electric vehicle charging pads that it's certainly worth adding to our wish list for 2012.

Infotainment

Although 2011 was the year many automakers rolled out interactive infotainment systems, we expect 2012 to be the year the technology proliferates. After the release of Ford's pioneering SYNC system, automakers like Chevrolet, Hyundai, Kia and Toyota rolled out their own infotainment systems that often include touch-screen technology, smartphone integration, voice commands and the amazing ability to allow drivers to be connected in virtually any situation. We expect to see interactive infotainment technology on more new cars than ever before in 2012, and we don't think it's unreasonable to predict the technology will find its way into nearly every new car sold by the end of the decade.

Electronics

Although the proliferation of electronic driver aids is inevitable, we expect nearly every car sold in 2012 to feature at least a few gizmos that weren't available even ten years ago. From stop/start technology that improves fuel economy by shutting down the engine at traffic lights to tire pressure monitors, hill-holder clutches, advanced traction control systems with roll stability control and infrared monitors that automatically slow a vehicle down if it's approaching an object too quickly, the automotive industry is clearly engineering increasingly complex cars for an increasingly complex world. Our advice: don't drive off the lot with a new car in 2012 before each feature is explained in detail.

What it means to you: If you get excited about gadgets, now is a great time to be looking for a new car.

author photo

Jeffrey Archer is fortunate to have turned a passion for cars into a career. His wide-ranging automotive experience includes work for automakers and dealers in addition to covering the news. When not writing, he spends his time searching for unique cars on AutoTrader.com.

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