Turbocharged passenger cars are becoming increasingly popular as gas prices rise.

Up until recently, many consumers associated the turbocharger with either sleek sports cars or smoke-belching diesel engines. This is quickly changing with the arrival of downsized turbocharged gas-burning engines that are designed to save fuel without sacrificing power and performance.

A study published by New Jersey-based turbocharger manufacturer Honeywell predicts that 3.2 million turbocharged vehicles will be sold in the United States in 2012. This marks a noticeable increase over the 2.2 million forced-induction cars and trucks sold in 2011.

What is even more impressive is that approximately 850,000 of the aforementioned 3.2 million turbocharged vehicles will be passenger cars, a number that is 61 percent higher than in 2011.

Industry analysts explain that buyers often turn to turbocharged cars because they use less gas than normally-aspirated models and typically cost less than similarly-sized hybrids. General Motors, Ford and Chrysler all offer at least one gasoline-burning turbocharged mill.

"[Turbocharging] is a proven technology that can be used across market segments and does not put the consumer in an extended payback period like other technologies to realize its benefits," said Tony Schultz, the vice president of Honeywell Turbo Technologies' American division.

The number of turbocharged new cars sold in the United States is expected to keep growing as gasoline prices rise and stringent fuel economy standards come into effect. A research firm called LMC Automotive estimates that nearly a quarter of new cars will be equipped with a turbocharger in 2017.

In Europe, where fuel is typically many times more expensive than in the United States, most new cars sold are equipped with a turbocharger.