2012 Chevrolet Sonic Review

2012 Chevrolet Sonic - Sonic blasts away subcompact mythology.


Small wonder; an appropriate description  of the all-new 2012 Chevrolet Sonic, a remarkably competent subcompact illustrating just  how far General Motors has come in just three short years since emerging from the depths of a government-guided gentle bankruptcy.

Available in sedan and five-door hatchback body styles, the front-drive Sonic boasts the best horsepower in the petite segment while tickling 40 miles per gallon highway.  Two powertrains are available, including a zippy turbo.  

Each body style offers three basic trims (LS, LT and up-level LTZ) and unlike subcompacts of previous generations, base trims are anything but bare bones (air conditioning, CD player, 10 air bags and rear window defogger in all trims). Sonic does a great job of maximizing interior creature comforts and trunk dimensions for a subcompact. After a couple of daring maneuvers tackled during a Super Bowl XLIV commercial break, Sonic almost snatched MVP (Motor Vehicle Pinnacle) status away from quarterback Eli Manning's grasp.  

Sonic is built in Michigan; the only subcompact built in America. Its predecessor, Chevrolet's Aveo, was built by GM's South Korean Daewoo subsidiary.  Because low-priced subcompact vehicles return limited profit margins, bean counters historically relegated assembly to developing or emerging markets where labor and assembly outlay are minimized.  But recessions sometimes expedite mindsets and cooperative efforts that otherwise rarely see the light of day. Thus a scaled down, but highly efficient Orion Township Michigan facility now churns out Chevy's newest offering.

Two versions arrived back-to-back for comparison testing.  A bright red, five-door LT hatchback ($15,730) with the recommended 1.4-liter turbo engine connected to a six-speed manual transmission ($700) had a $17,195 bottom line with $760 destination charge.  Also screened was a $16,005 black sedan LT with base 1.8-liter engine, six-speed automatic transmission and $17,585 out-the-door price with $295 wheels/ fog lamp package, $525 cruise control package and $760 worth of destination.  The lowest priced Sonic LS sedan with 1.8-liter four cylinder sporting manual roll-down windows checks in at a low $13,865.

The hatchback Sonic volunteered for a weekend tour of duty along the Reagan Memorial Tollway westward to the shores of the Mississippi River to shoot migrating, majestic bald eagles (using Nikons, not Howitzers). Even when tickling the electronic speedometer at 75 mph towards the Quad Cities, minimal wind noise allowed for conversations. First rate fit and finish eliminated most rattles.

Inside, two-tone textured dash and doors along with ample headroom welcome visitors.   Those towering more than six-feet two inches will find head clearance ample.  It's a pleasant, up-to-date design where user-friendliness trumps unintuitive technology.

The instrument panel has a profile of a house key, circular at one end (a large tachometer) connected to a rectangular right appendage. A cool blue digital speedometer and information cluster, with compass readout, resides inside the rectangle.  Circular, closeable vents adorn each end of the dash.  With a little imagination, the center console top cluster with stereo cluster resembles a non-threatening Darth Vader mask straight from the George Lucas Star Wars movie saga.  Below Mr. Vader's mug are three, easy-to-grab dials monitoring ventilation functions. Nearby are a power lock touch pad, air conditioning and hazard buttons. A small alcove atop the dash makes a fine home for spare change or the almost mandatory IPASS transponder. Sonic's dual glove box design incorporates both an upper and lower independent storage bins.  Satellite radio comes standard in LT and LTZ while optional in LS while cruise control is optional in LT and standard in LTZ.

Sonic does a good job of providing ample leg room to swing in and out of second row seating (accommodating two comfortably). This is accomplished, in part to little overhang behind the rear wheels.  Ceiling handles adorn all four doors.  Rear seat backs fold flat onto cushions with a 60/40 split. Five door hatchback models include a hidden storage cove between the false bottom and temporary spare tire. Sedan's boast a 14.0 cubic-foot trunk, impressive in compact sedans and even more so in subcompacts.

Cloth front buckets manually slide fore and aft with the aid of an easily grabable side pull ring in place of an older-school under seat pull bar. The driver's bucket includes a fold-away arm rest. Between the seats are three inline cup holders, the most aft reachable by second-row riders. The three-spoke steering wheel (with manual tilt and telescoping action) includes secondary audio controls and cruise control in upper  trims. The ignition cylinder is built into the steering column's right side.  Seating positions are high enough so riders feel above ground level.   

Our five-door hatchback's 1.4-liter turbocharged engine with standard six-speed manual transmission broke the coveted 40 mile per gallon highway barrier. City travel comes close to tickling 30 mpg with an official 29 mpg.  The 1.8 naturally aspirated four-cylinder averaged 25 mpg city and 35 mpg highway connected with the six-speed automatic. With standard five-speed manual, city mileage increases by one. Both deliver 138 horsepower although turbo models improve low-end torque. These two powertrains are also found in Chevrolet's popular compact Cruze. The 1.8 naturally-aspirated four cylinder is standard in all trims while the turbo is optional in LT and LTZ.

 Turbo charged engines are one way to generate improved torque and horsepower without adding additional weight.  Turbo charging takes advantage of compressed air feed into engine cylinders for a more potent air/fuel combustion delivering enhanced power with minimum added weight. Turbos today are smoother running, less choppy than a decade ago. Sonic's 1.4-liter turbo is a wise $700 investment.

Regular unleaded fuel powers both engines (and the 12.2-gallon tank), a nice bonus for Sonic since some turbos thirst for higher-priced premium.

Outside, body-colored strap-like handles adorn front side doors while Sonic hatchback rear side doors opt for high, clocked, pull-out grab pad built into window frames.   Arrow-head shaped side view mirrors (without secondary linker bands) also share body hues.  While resemblance to the compact Chevy Cruze is evident, the subcompact Sonic measures eight inches shorter.  Hatchbacks include a rear, roof-mounted spoiler as well as standard rear wiper. Sonic's front grille cues as similar to those of the retired Aveo with a solid horizontal bar (Chevy bow-tie logo centered) with a black honeycomb background grille. A new twist includes a pair of tube-like, differing length, side-by side headlights (which Chevy deems motorcycle inspired). In back two vertical circular lights flank the trunk/hatch.  Side belt lines are relatively high, but not so that side windows (with chrome outlines) get short-shifted.

Sonic is the lowest-priced new vehicle with OnStar, GM's in-vehicle communication system with six months of complimentary service.  Just a push of a rear-view mirror positioned blue icon connects occupants with a 24-hour advisor.  Other safety features include a subcompact-impressive 10 air bags, antilock brakes and stability control.

Chevy's Sonic is the latest in very impressive lineup of fuel-efficient 2012 tiny tots including Ford Fiesta ($13,200 starting price), Honda Fit ($15,175) and Hyundai Accent ($12,445).  While GM and Chevrolet invested mightily in bringing the revolutionary "Extended Range" Volt (with all-electric drivetrain backed up by a conventional internal combustion engine) to market, Sonic should rate as the sales champ with its combo of better-than-average fuel numbers and mid-teen pricing.

2012 Chevrolet Sonic

Price as tested:  $17,195

Wheelbase:  99.4 inches

Length:  159 inches

Width:  68.3 inches

Engine:  1.4-liter, four cylinder turbo

Horsepower:  138

Curb weight:  2,684 pounds

Powertrain warranty:  Five Years/100,000 miles

City/Highway economy:   29/40 mpg

Assembly: Southeast Michigan

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.