The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic is the much needed replacement for the Aveo, a car universally panned by the automotive media, and is built in Orion Township, Michigan. The Sonic comes in two forms, a five-door hatchback and a four-door sedan with the usual Chevy flavors of LS, LT, and LTZ. Pricing starts at $13,735 for the sedan and $14,635 for the hatchback with standard alloy wheels ranging in size from 15 to 17 inches, air conditioning, front floor mats, ten airbags, stability and traction control, OnStar, anti-lock brakes, remote keyless entry, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and stereo with aux input. The base engine is a 138HP 1.8L that when mated with the five-speed manual gets 26 mpg in the city while the six-speed automatic gets 25 mpg. Both transmissions are rated at 35 mpg on the highway. The upgraded engine is a 138HP 1.4L turbo available only with a six-speed manual that gets 29 city and 40 highway.
All manufacturers have increased the exterior appeal of their subcompact offerings and the Sonic is no exception. The car has an aggressive forward-leaning stance with the wheels pushed out to the corners. On the inside the interior space, especially upfront, is decent and the sedan’s trunk is surprisingly huge for a car this size. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about the funky motorcycle-inspired gauges, but I actually liked them and the multi-function trip computer next to the giant tachometer was a useful surprise. Like its larger sibling, the Malibu, the Sonic has a two-tone dash that gives it a high-quality appearance uncharacteristic of cars in this class. Rear seat room is the same in both hatch and sedan and is most comfortable for short trips if you are near six feet.
My first tester was the LT Sedan. The LT model adds a CD Player with MP3 playback, SiriusXM, two additional speakers, rear floor mats, power windows, and power heated side mirrors to the base equipment listed above. My test car also had the optional Connectivity Plus Cruise package that added Bluetooth and a USB port to the stereo, cruise control and steering wheel mounted phone and audio controls, and the Wheel and Fog Lamp package that added 16 inch aluminum wheels and fog lamps. My car also had Inferno Orange Metallic paint that was an extra $195. The sticker including delivery came to $16,560.
I also drove an LTZ model that adds as standard equipment Bluetooth and USB port for the stereo, cruise control, perforated leatherette seating with heaters for the front, leather-wrapped steering wheel with phone, audio and cruise controls, and fog lamps. Options on the car were a power sunroof ($850) and Crystal Red Metallic Paint ($325) with a total sticker price of $19,730. I thought the leatherette looked and felt low-quality for the nearly $20,000 price tag, but perhaps I expect too much.
Both cars I drove had the 1.8L engine. The LT test car had a manual and the LTZ an automatic with manual thumb shifting capability. Sonics have the most power in this class and offer decent acceleration with either transmission. The manual shifted nicely and in my opinion, is the best transmission in this car. It seemed like the automatic shifted rough although the thumb-shifting button on the automatic was surprisingly useful. Engine noise is plentiful on acceleration, but quiets when you reach cruising speed while both road and wind noise are surprisingly subdued. The ride is very compliant and unexpectedly comfortable yet firm enough to feel in control. The car does not feel as small as it is probably due to low noise levels (after you are done accelerating), the great view out, and a roomy upfront.
After driving both cars, my money would buy the manual equipped LT sedan with the Connectivity Plus Cruise package. Drop the extra paint cost and wheel and fog light package, and I would expect to get into a new Sonic around $16,000. I didn’t feel the LTZ was worth the extra $3,000 over my LT test car and as I said before, I would get the manual transmission. A turbo was not available for testing, but for an extra $700, I don’t have to drive it to consider it a bargain for the additional torque, an extra manual transmission gear, and three and five more MPG on the city and highway, respectively. Overall the Sonic is a big leap forward for Chevy and a strong offering in a class that is becoming increasingly more competitive. If you are in the market for a small car with good fuel economy, start here and then drive one. It should be on your list.