For one hundred years, Chevrolet has been synonymous with the American car. But, while Chevy has had great success in most car segments, subcompacts have been the exception. Now critics felt it was because they were always imported and not carefully tailored to our taste. And it just cost too much to make a quality subcompact in the USA. Until now that is. This all new Chevrolet Sonic is assembled in Michigan thanks to an innovative labor agreement designed to make it profitable to build here. So let’s see if the Sonic is a success.
The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic replaces the Korean-built Aveo. And, like the Aveo, its basic design was done in the Far East. But, that ends any comparison between the two cars. The Sonic is a clean sheet design that’s not only built here, it targets America’s youngest car buyers like no Chevrolet before it.
To that end, both the Sonic 5-door Hatchback and 4-Door Sedan sport styling cues drawn from sport motorcycles. That includes the big, circular headlights with exposed lamps that surround a split Chevrolet grille, and front a Camaro-style powerdome hood. From the side, your first impression is that our top-trimmed LTZ 5-door is actually a 3-door due to the high mounted rear door handles hidden in the C-pillar. Strong character lines add to the sense that the Sonic is always in motion. As do alloy wheels on all models! 15s, 16s, and our car’s available 17-inchers.
Out back we find more sporting design cues on our 5-door, including a standard hatchtop spoiler, big, round, exposed lens taillights, and more strong panel sculpturing. Naturally the 4-door sedan is toned down a bit, but it still stands out among its mostly mundanely shaped rivals.
Once you enter the cockpit, there’s no mistake who this car was made for. The interior was designed for young urbanites that spend most of their time cruising the big city. Front legroom and headroom is very good for a subcompact. A tilt/telescoping wheel is standard. There is more motorcycle influence in the gauge cluster that mates a round speedometer with a rectangular digital readout. Like the VW Beetle, the Sonic has a second glove box where you can connect your mp3 device or ipod with USB and AUX inputs. Bluetooth for phone and music is available on all trims. In the back, we found head room to be fine, but this is a subcompact so leg room is tight. Seats fold 60/40. Hatchback cargo space is 19 cubic feet seats up and a big 30.7 seats down.
Front drive power for the Sonic comes from the larger Cruze. Standard is a 1.8 liter I4 rated at 138-horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque. Our car sported the optional 1.4-liter turbocharged I4 that pumps out the same 138-horsepower, but 148 lb-ft. of torque. It’s fitted to a 6-speed manual or automatic.
Off the line, the Sonic turbo spins up quickly, reaching 60 in 8.1 seconds. The quarter mile passed in 16.4 seconds at 89 miles per hour. All good numbers for a subcompact. But turbo boost is finite and the clutch engaged too high for true sporty driving.
On the other hand, our manual Sonic turbo has great Government Fuel Economy Ratings of 29-City and 40-Highway. We averaged a commendable 37.2 miles per gallon of regular gas. Young buyers will like that. When taken through our slalom course, the Sonic had plenty of roll and push. All models are fitted with a strut front suspension and a semi independent torsion beam axle rear. But, despite its soft attitude, we never lost confidence in the Sonic.
The Sonic has front disc and rear drum brakes with ABS and a Hill Hold Feature. They brought our sonic down from 60 in a nicely short 119 feet. The pedal was a bit soft and we did experience a little nose dive, but the Sonic’s braking was still impressive.
We spent two weeks with the Sonic and found the soft suspension handled broken pavement extremely well. Yet, we concluded that our Sonic turbo manual was not as sporty for daily driving as it looks due to the late engaging clutch. We think the automatic is the best choice.
The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LS 5-door hatchback begins at $15,395. Our LTZ turbo starts at $18,695. For the budget conscious, the Sonic LS 4-door sedan begins at $14,495.
We feel the new Sonic is a very good subcompact. It’s youthfully style, reasonably spirited, comfortable, well equipped, efficient, and appears very well made in the good old U.S. of A. And, it needs to be with serious rivals like the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, and Kia Rio. And that’s only a partial list!
Still, overall, we think this Chevy is at the top of its class and a subcompact that’s destined to make a sonic boom.
Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged I4
Torque: 148 lb-ft.
0-60 mph: 8.1 seconds
1/4 mile: 16.4 seconds @ 89 mph
EPA: 29 mpg city/ 40 mpg highway