The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

2012 Chevrolet Sonic Ride and Review By Steve Purdy

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ 5 Door Hatchback

Chevrolet Specs, Prices and Comparisons - Chevrolet Buyers Guide 2012-1997


By Steve Purdy
Detroit Bureau

If you’re shopping little cars, don’t miss putting the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic on your list.

We were not expecting to be quite so impressed with this newest subcompact from GM. After all, that genre has not been the company’s forte over the years considering some mighty dismal Korean econo-boxes and before that the ill-conceived Vega and Chevette. Certainly, GM has been getting better at executing vehicles in little, efficient packages as we saw in the last generation Korean-sourced Aveos. The fresh new Sonic in my driveway this week (replacement for the Aveo) is a testament to that much-improved execution.

Conventional wisdom until now has been that neither GM, nor any of the US manufacturers for that matter, could profitably produce small cars domestically – hence the importation of the Aveo and other Asian sourced subcompacts. With the commitment to build the Sonic and a number of other small cars in the repurposed Orion Township plant just north of Detroit, GM is challenging that wisdom. Time will tell if they get it right, but . . . so far, so good.

The Sonic we’re testing is the 5-door hatchback 2LZ, an eye-catcher in flashy Inferno Orange Metalic – an optional ($195) color. The fresh new design is modern in every way while not looking homogenized like many small hatchbacks. The distinctly Chevy-styled nose reflects the design language effectively used throughout that brand’s offerings. Recessed “motorcycle inspired” headlights tuck into the upper fenders and wrap nicely into the flow of the sidelines drawing our eye to the square-back rear of the car. Wheels and tires are 17-inchers contributing to a substantial, no-little-wuss stance. The nearly vertical c-pillars balance above rather than behind the rear wheels, for an even more impressive stance.

Inside, we find more of the typical GM-specific design details with center stack surrounded above with vents, handy little pockets and simple, no-nonsense, conventional controls. Unlike earlier GM subcompacts, most of the interior looks to be of good quality materials, not at all cheap or tawdry, though the miniature instrument pod in front of the driver takes a little getting used to. The seats of our test car were a decent-looking faux leather that presented well. The seat design is quite comfortable for this class of car. Rear seat is adequate and about what we would expect with easy folding 60/40 rear seat backs. Not too bad – though not segment leading - cargo area opens up with seats folded at 30.7 cubic feet.

Getting the Sonic down the road expeditiously is the standard 1.8-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine making 138 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque. An optional 1.4-liter turbo has the same horsepower but lots more torque at nearly 150 pound-feet. That’s enough extra torque to feel. The new 6-speed automatic transmission is about a grand extra over the standard 5-speed stick and with the turbo you can only get a 6-speed stick.

EPA estimates give gas mileage advantage to the turbo of about a 15%. The basic 1.8 liter engine is rated at 25/35-mpg compared with 29/40-mpg for the turbo. The car only weighs about 2,700 pounds so it feels plenty quick. We experienced just about 29.5 with our 1.8-liter tester this week in a variety of driving environments.

Driving dynamics rate very well against the competition and against our perceptions of what a subcompact should feel like. Suspension is well balanced with good control and excellent steering. The cabin is remarkably quiet for this level of car, and it doesn’t feel like a subcompact when you’re driving down the road, be it a super highway, country two-lane or city street.

We can feel safe in the Sonic in spite of its diminutive size with stability control, traction control, ABS, brake assist and more airbags than a Senate committee – 10 in all. OnStar is also standard and comes with 6 months of automatic crash response service. The IIHS has awarded the Sonic a “Top Safety Pick” designation.

Sonic is covered by the same warranty as most other GM products, includes 5/year, 100,000 powertrain coverage.

The Michigan-built Sonic offers three trim levels – LS, beginning at $14,495; LT, at $15,695; and the LTZ at $17,295. This “2LZ” shows a base price of $18,495 and includes an impressive list of content for a subcompact hatchback. The only option listed on our sticker is the abovementioned special paint, and the bottom line, with $760 destination charge, is $19,450. When you are doing your due diligence comparing Sonic to comparable cars like the new Hyundai Elantra, Ford Fiesta, Mazda 2, Honda Fit and others you’ll probably find the Sonic on the high side in both price and content.

So, in summary, we’ve seen compact and subcompact cars, crossovers, hatchbacks, wagons and cute-utes surging in the market, accounting for more of the US market than ever before. Huge changes in the automotive landscape have gotten ahead of our perceptions, and one you might want to take another look at is the viability and practicality of the newest generation of subcompacts. We’ll even see a new performance/sport version of the Sonic at the upcoming Detroit Auto Show.

If you’re shopping little cars, don’t miss putting the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic on your list.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved