2012 Chevrolet Sonic Review

2012 Chevrolet Sonic - Surprisingly refined and fun to drive, Chevy's got a real hit with Sonic.


Vehicle Tested
2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ
Base Price: $18,495
At-Tested Price: $19,255
Built in Lake Orion, Michigan.



1.8-Liter I4

6-speed Automatic

Drive Wheels:
Front-Wheel Drive
The new-for-2012 Sonic replaces Aveo as the smallest car in the Chevrolet lineup--for now as that will change when the even-smaller Spark arrives this spring. Sonic is classified as a subcompact and will be available as a four-door sedan and four-door hatchback. It competes with vehicles like the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Mazda 2, Scion xD, Suzuki SX4 and Toyota Yaris.

Seating five on twin front buckets and a three-place rear bench seat, Sonic comes in LS, LT and LTZ trim. Two engines are offered, but used on the larger Chevrolet Cruze. Standard offering is a 138-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder. Optional on the LT and LTZ is a turbocharged 1.4-liter four that also makes 138 horsepower. The 1.8-liter gets either a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic. The 1.4 gets a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. All models are front-wheel drive.

Standard safety features include antilock brakes with brake assist, stability control, tire-pressure monitor, daytime running lights and dual-front, front and rear side, curtain-side and front-knee airbags.

The LS sedan lists for $13,895 and the hatch lists for $14,764. Standard equipment includes air conditioning, interior air filter, OnStar assistance system, tilt-telescope steering wheel, cloth upholstery, split-folding rear seat, power door locks, keyless entry, AM/FM radio with digital-media player connection, trip computer, outside-temperature indicator, variable-intermittent wipers, rear defogger, intermittent rear wiper/washer (hatchback), automatic headlights, floormats, theft-deterrent system, rear spoiler (hatchback), 195/65R15 tires and alloy wheels.

The LT sedan is $15.065 and the LT hatch is $15,865. It adds to the LS power mirrors, power windows, upgraded AM/FM/CD/MP3 player with atellite radio and cargo cover (hatchback).

The line-topping LTZ sells for $16,665 as a sedan and $17,365 as a hatch. It adds to the LS leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio controls, cruise control, vinyl upholstery, heated front seats, heated power mirrors, USB port, Bluetooth cell-phone link, fog lights and 205/50R17 tires.

Popular options include sunroof, remote engine start and a connectivity package on the LT that adds cruise control, USB, steering wheel radio control, Bluetooth and remote start. Sonic is built in Lake Orion, Michigan, and carries a destination charge of $795.

Get Up and Go  Sonic uses engines found in the larger and heavier Chevrolet Cruze. That's good news for hot-foot drivers. With the turbo engine Sonic will scoot from 0-60 mph in a few ticks less than nine seconds. That's quite fast for the class. Even more impressive is the passing punch the turbo mill produces, providing easy highway merging; some might even call it fun

The base 1.8-liter engine isn't nearly as energetic, but performs adequately in most situations. It's fine around town, but breaths quite heavily in highway passing situations and doesn't seem as refined.

The automatic transmission pairs well with either engine. For the most part it shifts smoothly and provides timely downshifts. At times you can feel it shift as you come to a stop and the first-second step sometimes hiccups in stop-and-go traffic. The six-speed manual transmission in the turbo four is quite fun. It snicks between gears with precision and the clutch is light and has a progressive take up point.

As you might expect--given the powerful engines--Sonic fuel economy slightly trails the class leaders. Still it's impressive. The 1.8-liter garners 25/35 mpg EPA ratings with the automatic and the turbo engine hits the magic 40 mpg on the highway.

Given a light throttle foot and plenty of relaxed highway cruising it's easy to top the 35 mpg highway rating with the 1.8-liter. In mixed light-duty commuting it's possible to average about 33 mpg overall. All Sonic engines use regular-grade gasoline.

On the Road  Though Sonic is a small car with a wheelbase of just 99 inches, the overall structure is very stout producing a ride that would make many midsize sedans blush. There's little shock harshness over large bumps and small impacts and expansion joints are muffled with aplomb. Badly broken roads can induce a pitching and bobbing that just can't be hidden on a car this small.

Steering has excellent feel and the brakes have plenty of stopping power. When compared to other subcompacts, Sonic feels downright nimble--especially with the larger wheels and tires on the LTZ. Body lean is troublesome in quick, tight turns and understeer will ultimately win the day, but overall the Sonic can be quite fun to drive.

Though the engines can thrash when pushed hard, Sonic is one of the quieter cars in the class. There's a whisper of wind noise at high speeds and the tires rumble on coarse concrete pavement.

Behind the Wheel  As is the norm in this class, Sonic has a somewhat unique interior. With its digital speedometer and analog tachometer, the instrument panel looks like it was pulled from an airplane or motorcycle. Still it's quite readable and more conventional than some. The center stack radio and climate controls are quite conventional. Materials are appropriate for the class, if not a cut above most.

For a small car, Sonic has plenty of room for adults up front. Head room is good and leg room generous. One disappointment is the small center armrest. It's only useful for the driver and even then it's positioned too far back for comfortable use. Sedan or hatch, outward visibility is good.
Rear-seat passenger aren't as lucky. Leg and knee room are tight if a tall adult is up front and the seat bottoms are somewhat flat. Head room is average and the doors open wide, making it easy to get in and out.

Sedans have a reasonably roomy trunk. Hatchback models make due with less space, but at least the rear seats fold on both models. There's plenty of interior storage, including two roomy cubbies to the left and right of the radio.

Bottom Line  Chevrolet, heck the domestic automakers, have long been forgotten players in the subcompact car segment. Sure the Chevy Aveo and Ford Fiesta grabbed their share of sales, but those models rarely garnered praise from the automotive press. That was until the latest generation of Fiesta and newly minted Chevrolet Sonic arrived on the scene. Since then, journalists have been stumbling over themselves heaping admiration and consumers have been flocking to Ford and Chevy showrooms.

The Sonic is surprisingly refined and can be quite fun to drive. It's also roomy and fuel efficient. Prices are reasonable and the drivetrain should be quite reliable as it's a carry over from the larger Cruze. If you're looking for a small car, the Sonic should be on your shopping list.

Specifications, 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ
4-door hatchback
Wheelbase, in.
Size, liters/cu. in.
1.5 / 110
Length, in.
Horsepower @ rpm
138 @ 6300
Width, in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) @ rpm
125 @ 3800
Height, in.
6-Speed Automatic
Weight, lbs.
EPA Estimates, mpg
25 city / 35 highway
Cargo Capacity, cu. ft.

Fuel Capacity, gals.
Manufacturer's Warranty
Seating Capacity
3 years / 36,000 miles
Front Head Room, in.
5 years / 100,000 miles
Front Leg Room, in.
7 years / 100,000 miles
Second-Row Head Room, in.
Free Roadside Assistance
6 years / 100,000 miles
Second-Row Leg Room, in.
Free Scheduled Maintenance

Mark Bilek

Mark Bilek is the Senior Director of Communications and Technology for the Chicago Auto Trade Association and the General Manager for DriveChicago.com. He is also responsible for developing and maintaining the Chicago Auto Show Web site.

Mark has been reviewing vehicles for more than two decades. Previously, he was associate publisher at Consumer Guide, where he oversaw publication of Consumer Guide Car & Truck Test, Consumer Guide's Used Car Book, and ConsumerGuide.com. He was also responsible for publication of "Collectible Automobile" and various hardcover automotive titles. In 2001 and 2002 he served as president of a Midwest Automotive Media Association. Mark has appeared on NBC TV, ABC TV, Fox News, WGN and MotorTrend TV as an automotive consultant. He hosts the Drive Chicago radio show on WLS 890 AM and was a regular guest on WGN Radio's Steve & Johnnie show. Mark lives in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three sons.