Vehicle motion and vibration control is a fundamental motivation for the development of advanced vehicle suspension systems. In a vehicle-fixed coordinate system, the relative motions of the vehicle between body and wheel can be classified into several dynamic stages based on energy intensity, and can be decomposed into sets of uncoupled motion-modes according to modal parameters. Vehicle motions are coupled, but motion-modes are orthogonal. By detecting and controlling the predominating vehicle motion-mode, the system cost and energy consumption of active suspensions could be reduced. A motion-mode energy method (MEM) is presented in this paper to quantify the energy contribution of each motion-mode to vehicle dynamics in real time. The control of motion-modes is prioritised according to the level of motion-mode energy. Simulation results on a 10 degree-of-freedom nonlinear full-car model with the magic-formula tyre model illustrate the effectiveness of the proposed MEM. The contribution of each motion-mode to the vehicle's dynamic behaviour is analysed under different excitation inputs from road irregularities, directional manoeuvres and braking. With the identified dominant motion-mode, novel cost-effective suspension systems, such as active reconfigurable hydraulically interconnected suspension, can possibly be used to control full-car motions with reduced energy consumption. Finally, discussion, conclusions and suggestions for future work are provided. © 2014 Taylor & Francis.