2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ HD Video Review

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Let’s face it, General Motors has not done well with small cars over the years.  Remember Aveo, Metro, Monza, T1000 and Sunbird?  A guy on my paper route had a three-year-old Vega on prominent display in his front yard with a shrub growing from the engine bay.  It was his revenge when GM refused to replace his blown engine.  I continued to date my wife even after I found out she drove a Chevette.  It remains proof of how hard I fell for her.

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Ford and Chrysler were just as guilty.  These were not just bad cars, they are vehicles that drove Americans to the imports.

But lo, there is a light (or should I say sound?) on the horizon and its name is Sonic.  Much like Ford, General Motor’s products are truly global these days so Sonic will see duty all over the world.  It’s up against Accent, Fiesta, Fit, Mazda2, Rio, and Yaris.  Small cars, major competition.

If you read no farther, understand one thing- Sonic isn’t just good for an American car, it’s good for a world car.  This news will be disorienting to an entire generation of car shoppers.

2012 Chevrolet Sonic hatchback

Built In the Exotic Country of Michigan

A car’s assembly point isn’t generally a big deal but Sonic is the only vehicle in its class to be built in the US.  That’s a plus for some, a reminder of past sins for others.  At $14, 495 with destination, Sonic is affordable.  Choose between hatchback and sedan.  My loaded LTZ hatchback press car stickers for $19,545.

On its rear end is a turbo badge which is a $700 option and a box that drivers will want to check.  The standard 1.8-liter four-cylinder makes the same horsepower as the 1.3-liter turbocharged motor but it’s the torque and where it comes to life that matters.  The turbo produces 148 lb-ft of it, 23 more than the 1.8 and it’s available lower in the rev range.  The normally aspirated engine needs to be spooled up near redline to feel its strength.

2012 Chevrolet Sonic 1.4L turbocharged engine

Go with the turbo and Chevy upgrades the five-cog manual transmission to a six-speed. Throws are average length, clutch take-up is on the high side which takes time getting used to.  A “hill-holder” feature keeps Sonic from rolling when starting out on a steep grade. A six-speed automatic is only available with the standard engine.

Surprising that the turbo engine gets the best gas mileage- 29 city, 40 highway vs. 26/35 for the 1.8L.

Fast Food.  Fast Hedgehog.  Fast Car?

Sonic doesn’t have the speed of a certain blue hedgehog but the turbo motor is quick, 0-60 in around 8.3 seconds.  Again, it’s the low-end torque that satisfies. Sonic will show you a good time on twisty roads. The suspension is pretty buttoned down on this car with a good blend of comfort and sport.  There’s not much body roll, the structure is drum tight, brakes have good modulation. Sonic is fun to chuck around while you’re doing errands.

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It’s on the quiet side, though many in this class are getting better at keeping the cabin calm.  The turning radius is tight.  Sport bike riders will feel right at home behind a very readable gauge cluster with digital speedometer, with an added bonus of staying dry when it rains.

Front wheel drive cars that have a little extra power can have something called “torque steer”, a tugging of the steering wheel under hard acceleration.  Sonic pretty much keeps that in check.  While it has a significant power advantage, it’s bogged down a bit by weight since the Chevy is on chunky side compared to the competition.  Still, at least in turbo form, it’s among the most fun to drive.

2012 Chevrolet Sonic

Have a Seat

The cockpit is what you’d expect these days in class. Nothing rich or expensive but it all works well with a contrasting swath of color sweeping through the instrument panel.  Most of the plastics are hard but look good. Seats are supportive and covered in low-maintenance faux leather.  Heated too.

The sound system with XM tuner is decent and Sonic talks natively to phones and iPods.  There are stash spaces everywhere, even a handy slot for parking garage tickets and Starbucks cards. No covered storage in the center console though, just cupholders and some storage slots.

There is no navigation option but subscribe to the proper OnStar package and turn-by-turn audible directions can be downloaded to the car.  It’s pretty slick.  Most will simply use their smartphones.

2012 Chevrolet Sonic

Hands will be happy to hang on to the thick leather wrapped wheel, its chrome trim keeps the overall look higher rent.  Switchgear is pretty smooth, the driver’s power window gets auto-up operation. A fashion tip- I favor the LTZ simply because less expensive models have a seat fabric pattern so loud, you might actually be able to hear it.

Passengers and Cargo

Sonic’s rear seat has belts for three. Two adult passengers will be okay here with just enough leg and foot room for average sized folks.

No center armrest, door storage, power port, door trim or center headrest. Only one seat pocket and cupholder for those in back.  That’s all pretty standard in the crowd this Chevy runs with.  Sonic has 10 airbags including side impact units in the rear and knee bags for those in front.

2012 Chevrolet Sonic

While Sonic is available as a sedan, the hatchback offers up much more utility.  It doesn’t have the supreme usability of Honda’s Fit but with split folding rear seats it will meet most people’s requirements.

Hide a laptop computer under the false floor, a removable security cover keeps prying eyes out.  Nice to have details like lighting and tie-down hooks in an inexpensive car.  There’s even the rare spare tire.  With the floor removed to max out the cargo bay Sonic just manages to hold five packs of the two-ply in my standardized test.  Not bad for a small car.

2012 Chevrolet Sonic hatchback

Boom For Sonic?

It all boils down to this- Chevy has finally built a great subcompact car.  Certainly, the bowtie brand comes with some subcompact baggage but it would be wise for shoppers to check Sonic out.  It has a reasonable price, decent style, modern tech, and a bit of pep in its step with the turbo.  It’s fun to drive too.  Sonic should make some noise in the small car segment. If only my wife could have driven something like this when we met…

FULL PHOTO GALLERY BELOW.  ALL STILL IMAGES PROVIDED BY GENERAL MOTORS.

8 Comments

  1. bob4116 says:

    In our recent search for new vehicles, we started our test drives at our local Chevy dealer. We drove a Malibu LS, a Cruze LT, and a Sonic LTZ. Figured that if I was going to downsize, I was going to go “loaded” if I bought a small car. The next day, we drove the Ford Focus and the Fiesta. The Sonic REALLY impressed me! I went into the test drive of the Focus thinking that I would like it a lot. The Sonic spoiled me, and as such, the Ford products really disappointed in comparison. Now, I understand that someone else might absolutely have the reverse impression, and that’s OK! The point is that Chevy has finally brought a product to market that I believe will play hardball with the long-time leaders in this segment of the market.

    We wound up buying a pair of Honda Civics, but there is still a part of my brain that says “Sonic!” Maybe a few years from now, if I wind up handing my Civic down to the kiddies to take to drive to college, the Sonic will be in the garage. It will have matured a few years, and hopefully, gotten even better.

  2. 68mlo says:

    Love the exterior design of the Sonic. It’s got a bulldog-like stance that I find quite appealing. The individual headlights set against the black “cat eye” surrounds is aggressive and even the split-grille design is done fairly well here. I’m not sure the taillights are all that stylish, but they echo the headlight theme and that’s a plus for continuity, at least.

    Inside, I’m disappointed in materials that *appear* to be a step below some of its competitors. I’ll be looking at the Sonic (hopefully) at the upcoming 2012 PIAS, so I’ll reserve judgment until I actually sample the cabin.

    Sonic is a good-looking and, apparently, a nice-driving small car. It’s also priced right…and it’s made in the US. There’s a lot to like about it. Consider my interest piqued.

  3. FinalBlue says:

    Sporty, yet unpretentious styling, Mazda2-like driving dynamics, good standard features list (especially those alloy wheels) and an attractive price…I can dig it.

    Well, except for the poor fuel economy. How is it that the Sonic gets comparable (or even worse) fuel economy to the heavier Cruze?

    Although sales haven’t been stellar (probably due to the high fuel economy being exclusive to a manual transmission), I respect the little Sonic. Between this and the upcoming Spark (and one could possibly argue Cruze and even the new Colorado), it looks like Chevy is beginning to inherit some Pontiac DNA. THIS. IS. A. GOOD. THING.

  4. kenwenzel says:

    I keep getting hung up on the fact the small cars are getting big motorcycle sized engines. 1400 cc should be a Honda motorcycle, not a Chevy car. And why no automatic with the turbo motor, it’s not like the thing makes that much power either horsepower or torque. As to blowing the Fiesta out of the water, the Fiesta seems to have a lot more room in the back hatch area than the Sonic. I say seems to since I haven’t seen a TP test for the Fiesta. I wonder what Chevy will do if they turbo the 1.6 Ford?

  5. augaug says:

    More fun to drive (in your opinion) Your Soul, The Sonic, or the Veloster?

    • TV says:

      I’d say Sonic and Veloster are in the same ballpark. Without driving them back to back it’s hard to tell but if my memory serves correctly I’d give the edge to Hyundai. Kind of different markets though.

      Soul rides higher than those others so while it handles pretty well, it isn’t quite as compelling. The Exclaim model we own has a very firm ride, like many Kias. It’s also larger than Sonic, especially the back seat. People forget how large Soul is.

      • augaug says:

        I’ll admit, I’m a weird cross shopper. We currently have a Kia Rondo. Great car for practicality, but kind of boring. We’re headed towards two cars, and are planning on getting a car that can tow a small camping trailer, (to replace the Rondo) and an economical second car.

        The catch is that after years of driving a Rondo, I miss having something fun.

        I’m actually cross shopping a Veloster with a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. :)

        The Veloster fits my fun category with it’s unique styling and great tech. The Jeep is fun because it can literally go anywhere, and the freedom top makes it unlike any other SUV ever.

        If I got the Veloster, my wife would probably end up driving something like a Sorento V6. If I got the Jeep, my wife would likely end up driving something like a Soul (same as yours, perfect!) or even the Sonic.

        I have to admit, I think I like the Veloster the best out of the small and economical cars that I’ve seen, but the Sonic seems like a fun little entry with it’s higher power, and better back seats.

        Either way, we know the economical car will get a lot of use. No sense spending gas money that we don’t need to spend. So it’s nice to see that we can get very economical cars with high levels of equipment, and great fuel economy!

        (Now imagine a Jeep and a Prius C in our driveway! Yup, traditional thinking doesn’t apply to my family!)

  6. raschmidt says:

    I think this car is a stupid good value. I hate Chevrolet, but this blows the Fiesta out of the water. The ST can’t get here soon enough.