Chevy Sonic Road Test Review
by Martha Hindes
2012 Compact Car Buyer's Guide - Top 10 Picks
Being late to arrive at the party doesn't mean one won't be asked to dance. Sometimes the latest arrival attracts the most attention, adds a fresh face, and brings a newbie to the crowd that can keep things from getting stale. That could be said about the new 2012 Chevrolet Sonic subcompact car that has followed in the footsteps of a number of small car rivals. We think it must have turned some heads when it came through the door.
This diminutive 2012 Chevy Sonic was highly anticipated among some buyers in the market for a junior-sized auto with high mileage, a kicky look and sparkling personality to replace yesterday's small Chevy Aveo of less than favorable repute. (We'll save the "baby" Chevy designation for next year's tiny Spark.) The fact this is an AMERICAN car built in an AMERICAN city (in Orion near GM's Detroit, Michigan headquarters) with an AMERICAN personality (despite some international design contributions) makes it all the nicer for some folks. They have been longing for such a small AMERICAN auto to buy and now have a choice of a total of 1 that actually is built in the United States.
So looking at the Sonic from a buyer's perspective, what does one get? For starters, it comes as a sedan and a five-door hatchback model, in LS, LT and LTZ trim. Prices can range from a budget pampering entry-level $13,865 for the LS sedan to just short of $20K for a well-equipped LTZ.
But let’s not jump past what one gets for those prices. On the outside, the Sonic is just so darned cute, especially in five-door attire. (As a four-door sedan it's still an eye-catcher, but a shade more conservative in attitude.) Nose-wise the Sonic is punchy and bold, emblazoned with a signature split grille, motorcycle-inspired headlamps (and tail lamps), a low-slung front fascia with fog lamps (standard on the LTZ), and a widened stance. In profile, the five-door styling scoots rearward with a slight lift in visual line that ends in a blunt, top-mounted spoiler that cups over the rear lift gate. A slight bustle-look hovers over the rear haunches. Blacked out side pillars keep an open, uncluttered window look.
Step inside to check the interior surroundings that have the biggest long-term influence on any driver. First, there's a surprising amount of room for five inside. That's no easy task considering this is the subcompact "B" segment, the second smallest in autodom. Finding a way to eke out more interior room has to keep auto designers in a full complement of nightmares during the development process. Chevy's succeeded leaving one to wonder if this isn't really a larger car, which should suit many super-size conscious American buyers just fine.
Amenities inside don't include a navigation or premium surface materials, not a fault in a conservatively priced model. But motorcycle-inspired touches are there in large, round and easy-to-read gauges. An IP styling line flows and dips around the center stack with a compact display of controls. Requisite high-tech audio features include Bluetooth, CD, MP3/WMA, radio data systems, Sirius XM Satellite radio, and the OnStar system that competitors lack. For those tired of trying to stash items on uneven trunk surfaces, the Sonic's rear seats fold flat for level storage. And for the frigid bottomed on cold days, a seat heater is available along with remote start.
On the road the front-drive Sonic's handling is crisp and responsive -- and light years past the poor, denigrated and imported Aveo. That predecessor is best forgotten. Consider this as new territory for Chevy in the small car arena. (But remember that as makers of the legendary Corvette, it certainly knows how to build a car that owns the road.) GM's standard StabiliTrak stability control system on the Sonic keeps it safely welded to the pavement during maneuvers.
Sonic comes with two refined and fuel efficient inline four powerplants, a standard 1.8-liter, and a turbocharged 1.4-liter. Both generate 138 horsepower, but the turbo adds 23 more lb-ft of torque, bringing it to 148, for lower end grunt during takeoff. Fuel economy ratings are 26/35 (five-speed manual) or 25/35 (six-speed automatic) for the 1.8-liter. The turbo rates an impressive 29/40 (six-speed manual). Reaching the 40 MPG plateau is nothing to sneeze at and a target for many competitors. Manual transmission fans should appreciate the Sonic's hill hold.
Ten airbags, including side curtain and knee protectors for both front passengers are among advanced safety features. A rollover sensing system, brake assist and electronic brake distribution among undercarriage stability attributes also helped the Sonic earn a top safety pick rating. Automatic crash response calls for help if an accident occurs, and engine immobilizer and stolen vehicle assistance offer peace of mind.
Snazziest of the Sonic siblings is the top-line LTZ five-door, and one of the most tested. If you were going to enter a room full of rivals, it's the gussied up one to have. (One psyched up fan that got close up and personal with it calls it a "Hot Hatch.") So, going back to that belated debut we mentioned earlier, we think the Sonics’ grand entrance must certainly have created a Sonic boom.
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