Some new 2012 small cars offer both top safety and great fuel economy ratings for first time ever

Advancements in technology mean for the first time ever American drivers can get great gas mileage without sacrificing on safety.

And that couldn't come at a better time considering that thanks to higher gas prices, Americans are buying more small cars than ever.

Now those smaller cars can provide a big bonus beyond better gas mileage—greater safety.

The new 2012 Chevrolet Sonic , for example, was just named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) .

The Chevy Sonic has an EPA rating of 40 MPG in highway driving and the highest possible scores in crash tests for its class.

The new Sonic is rated good, the top rating, in frontal offset tests, side impact tests and roof strength tests.

To get a Top Safety Pick rating, cars must get the highest possible score in front, side, rear and rollover tests.

For the first time ever, six small cars have received a Top Safety Pick designation from the IIHS.

The 2012 Ford Focus and Honda Civic also boast the pairing of safety with fuel efficiency.

According to CBS , the top rating for the Sonic, which covers both sedan and hatchback versions, is a big improvement from the small car it replaces, the Aveo, which got marginal ratings in three out of the four tests.

Chevy says the Sonic has standard side airbags with electronic stability control to help prevent rollover accidents.

In the rollover test done by IIHS, the Sonic supported 5.37 times its own weight; four times is the minimum required for a top rating.

The 2012 Ford Focus has both the stability controls and side airbags along with new technology called torque vectoring control that provides additional braking force to one side of the car when drivers are trying to negotiate sharp curves.

The new Ford Focus also offers an optional rear-view camera that allows drivers to see if somebody or something is behind the car before backing up.

The IIHS will not release the complete list of 2012 Top Pick models until later this year but you can see their 2011 selections .

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