2012 Chevrolet Sonic Review

2012 Chevrolet Sonic - Chevrolet's new Sonic is its best-ever subcompact.


The new Chevrolet Sonic is a 2012 model that is the best subcompact car Chevrolet has produced. But, looking at Chevy history, that may not be saying a lot. Its tinny, troublesome 1970s Vega is still remembered by many as being one of the worst small cars from Detroit.

However, it's a different auto world now. The Sonic is derived from General Motor's German Opel Corsa and provides larger-car refinement and driving kicks.

The front-drive Sonic replaces the lackluster Aveo and is Chevrolet's newest small car, although it feels larger inside than it looks from the outside. The Sonic is among the new crop of small, upscale U.S. cars. American automakers have finally learned how to make money with small family cars.  

Formidable rivals include the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio and Nissan Versa.   

The Sonic ranges in price from $13,735 to $18,495. It comes as a four-door sedan or as a four-door hatchback. I tested both Sonic models and each had different engine and transmission combinations.

There are LS, LT and LTZ trim levels. The LS features include power door locks, remote keyless enty, anti-lock brakes-besides 10 air bags, rollover mitigation and hill-hold features. The LT adds a premium sound system, power windows and larger (17-inch) wheels. The LTZ has heated leatherette front seats and cruise control.

Options include a sunroof and remote start.

Steering is quick, the ride is impressively supple for a small, short-wheelbase car and handling is good. So are the brakes, although their pedal is touchy when the brakes are  cold.  

Both the sedan and hatchback have a wild-looking front end, but the 14.1-inch-longer  sedan looks more elegant. Both versions ride on a 99.4-inch wheelbase.  The chopped -off rear of the hatchback makes it resemble a European rally competition car, which might make it a hit with the car-hip younger crowd..

Both  versions have supportive seats and good room up front in the attractive, nicely designed, quiet interior, although there's a fair amount of hard plastic. The dual front console cupholders are set back too far.

Other faults: The adjustable steering wheel needs more up/down movement, and legroom is tight for 6-footers behind the driver. The center of the rear seat is stiff, making the Sonic essentially a comfortable car for four.

Both sedan and hatchback have good cargo room, with low, wide cargo sills. And split  rear seatbacks sit flat after being easily folded forward for more cargo space.

The sedan has a 1.8-liter four-cylinder with a rather agricultural quality and is noisy during hard acceleration. But the Sonic also offers a quieter, more refined 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. I tested the sedan with the 1.8 and an automatic transmission and the turbo 1.4 with a manual gearbox.

Despite its smaller size the turbo engine has the same 138-horsepower rating as the 1.8. And the turbo four produces significantly more torque (200 lb.-ft. vs. 168 lb.-ft.) than the 1.8 over a wide rev band. It makes the Sonic more responsive and thus more fun to drive..

The 1.8 comes with a five-speed manual or a responsive six-speed automatic. The turbo 1.4 comes only with a six-speed manual. The manual generally shifts crisply, but can get balky when rushed. It works with a light, long-throw clutch.

Lots of shifting is needed with the manual and turbo 1.4.That manual might well be called a four-speed unit because its fifth and sixth gears are virtually useless for anything but open-road cruising.

Downshifts to third gear are needed with the turbo model for the best 65 -75 mph passing on highways or freeways. Second gear is best in town with this transmission for the quickest moves in traffic, with third a  lazier gear for such driving. Don't even think of using fifth or sixth gears in town.

The best estimated fuel economy is with the turbo 1.4 and six-speed manual transmission-an estimated 29 miles per gallon in the city and 40 on highways. The figures are 25 and 35 with the 1.8 and six-speed automatic.

The well-equipped Sonic could get better fuel economy, especially in the city, but is rather heavy at 2,684 to 2,721 pounds.

The heavy hood is held up with a prop rod, instead of hydraulic struts. But, after all, Chevy had to cut costs here and there to  keep the Sonic's price down.

Not that the Sonic feels like a"cost-cutter" car. Generally, it's a success. Maybe we can now all finally forget about the Vega.

Dan Jedlicka

Dan Jedlicka's Website

Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times--far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008.

Jedlicka remained auto editor at the Sun-Times until October, 2008, and continued writing for the newspaper's AutoTimes section, which he started in 1992, until February, 2009. While continuing his auto writings at the Sun-Times, he served as assistant financial editor of that newspaper from 1970 to 1973, when he began his automotive column.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NBC's "Today," ABC's "20/20" and "The CBS Evening News." He was a host, consultant and writer for Fox-TV Channel 32's 1991 New Car Preview show and that Chicago-based station's 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Chicago Auto Show Previews.

Jedlicka's auto articles have been printed in national magazines, including Esquire and Harper's. His auto columns have been reprinted in U.S. government publications and economic textbooks and he is profiled in the "World's Greatest Auto Show" history book about the Chicago Auto Show. In late 1975, Jedlicka was host and technical advisor for three one-hour television specials, "Auto Test 76," which aired nationally on PBS and were the first nationally televised auto road test shows.

In 1995, Jedlicka was the recipient of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois Inc.'s Consumer Education Award, given annually to a person who has gained distinction in the field of consumer education. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Media category and inducted into the Legends of Motorsports Guild at the Carquest World of wheels custom car show in Chicago in January, 2006.

Jedlicka was a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, composed of a select number of auto journalists from throughout the country, from 1995 until 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he was a member of Consumer Digest magazine's auto experts panel that gave Best Buy new vehicle recommendations.

He is a 1987 graduate of the Bob Bondurant Race Drivers School and later of the BMW "M" and Skip Barber Advanced Driving schools. He was a member of the U.S. team that participated in the 1987 1,000-mile Mille Miglia race/rally in Italy and has been a race winner at the Chicago area's Santa Fe Speedway.

Jedlicka has owned 25 classic cars, including 1950s and 1960s Ferraris and 1950s and 1960s Porsches, a 1965 Corvette, a 1967 Maserati and a 1957 Studebaker supercharged Golden Hawk. Jedlicka resides with his wife, Suzanne, in the Frank Lloyd Wright historic district of Oak Park. They have two children, James and Michele.

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