2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT Hatchback

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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Published on December 09, 2011

No wallflower, the Sonic hatchback has an angular, scowling front end and truncated rear end. (Photo: Simon Hill, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on December 09, 2011

Published on December 09, 2011

Published on December 09, 2011

Published on December 09, 2011

A tapered roofline and rising beltline provide a sense of motion. Optional 17-inch wheels nicely fill the wheel wells. (Photo: Simon Hill, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on December 09, 2011

Published on December 09, 2011

Published on December 09, 2011

Published on December 09, 2011

Quick, precise steering and peppy acceleration make the Sonic a fun-to-drive subcompact. (Photo: Simon Hill, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on December 09, 2011

Published on December 09, 2011

Published on December 09, 2011

Four-way driver's seat adjustment and a standard telescoping steering wheel help ensure a comfortable driving position. (Photo: Simon Hill, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on December 09, 2011

Published on December 09, 2011

The interior blends a variety of stylistic elements into a visually interesting - and functionally effective - whole. (Photo: Simon Hill, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on December 09, 2011

Published on December 09, 2011

Published on December 09, 2011

Published on December 09, 2011

Published on December 09, 2011

LS and LT Sonics come with a 1.8-litre 4-cylinder Ecotec engine. The LTZ gets a 1.4-litre turbocharged engine. (Photo: Simon Hill, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on December 09, 2011

Published on December 09, 2011

Published on December 09, 2011

Soon after I picked up a bright red 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT hatchback to test for the week, a friend pointed out to me that Sonic is in fact an anagram of Scion. "They don't ever come up with any really new car names," he joked, "they just rearrange the letters from other cars' names."

Thinking about it, I decided that if Chevrolet was going to borrow some letters from a competitor in order to name the Sonic, then Scion is a pretty good choice - both the Sonic and the entire Scion lineup are youth-oriented, sporty yet practical, and backed by big, well-known parent companies (Toyota in Scion's case, and GM in the Sonic's case). Certainly the letters offer better possibilities than the four-letter name of the car the Sonic replaces (Ovea, anyone? Evoa? No?).

Of course, GM would probably just as soon have us forget the rather uninspired subcompact car that the Sonic replaces, which I suppose is one reason they've given it a new name for the North American market. The good news is that the fresh moniker is well deserved: The Sonic apparently doesn't share a single component with the outgoing car, and if my test car is anything to go by it does indeed have what it takes to banish all memories of its unlamented forebears.

Stylistically, the Sonic is an interesting blend of cute and menacing. What grabs  attention first- and remains imprinted in the memory banks - is the angular, scowling front end with its quad round headlights. There are echoes of BMW in there somewhere, but more than anything else it reminds me of the Pontiac G8 (hmm, now there's lamentable loss - although if GM was to bring the G8 back as a Chevrolet, wouldn't it make sense to give it a smaller sibling with similar looks? And call it the new Chevelle perhaps, or the SS? But I digress).

Aft of its slightly furious-looking front end, the Sonic hatchback is all blocky and truncated like an early-'80s Honda Civic, though a rising beltline and tapered roofline give it a pleasing degree of swoopiness. And while the hatchback is offered in North America as a 5-door only, the rear door handles and gaps have been artfully hidden so that the car retains most of the sporty character of a 3-door hatch. The standard wheels are 15-inch alloys, but my crystal red LT test car was fitted with a $1,550 appearance package that included meaty-looking 17-inch wheels, front fog lamps, a sunroof and tire pressure monitoring system.

Inside the Sonic, the stylistic blending continues. There's a motorcycle-inspired instrument cluster that has a big analogue tachometer flanked by a digital speedometer and information display, which is itself bordered top and bottom by rows of recessed warning lights. There's a blend of round outboard vents and rectangular inboard vents, and a vast array of cubbies that vary in size, shape, location and usefulness. What is notably missing is a covered centre-console bin, although there is a fold-down armrest on the driver's side seat.

The dash and interior are built entirely out of hard plastics, but that shouldn't be construed as a complaint because it's the norm for this segment, and the materials are at least all visually pleasant and interesting looking. If I had any complaint it would be that the big blocky pixels in the centre-stack display are somewhat crude, and that the thick A-pillars impede visibility of important things like pedestrians stepping off the curb near the front corner of the car.

On the bright side, the seats are all reasonably comfortable and roomy, and the standard equipment list is impressive. Even the base LS model includes not only telescoping steering to help you find the right driving position, but also keyless entry and a four-speaker AM/FM audio system with auxiliary input jack and Bluetooth connectivity so that you can access your favourite tunes and stay in touch when cruising around. On the safety front all Sonics get traction control, stability control and a good complement of airbags.

Power for the LS and LT versions of the Sonic comes from a 1.8-litre naturally aspirated DOHC 4-cylinder engine producing 136 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque, hooked up to either a 5-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic transmission. The Sonic LTZ gets a 1.4-litre turbocharged engine that cranks out a similar 138 horsepower but a much beefier 148 lb-ft of torque and is mated to a 6-speed manual transmission.

I found the 1.8-litre engine plenty peppy, and the automatic transmission in my test car was crisp shifting and provided a nice, direct-feeling hookup between the engine and the road. But the shift programming tended to be a bit of a buzz-kill, because it short-shifts up as soon as you ease even slightly off the gas. You can use the manual mode to overcome this, but then you might as well just get the manual transmission - I'd like to see a "Sport Auto" mode that provides the option for slightly more aggressive (read "sportier but less economical") transmission programming.

In the corners the Sonic provides delightfully quick, precise turn-in and reasonably good grip from the 17-inch tires, though I found the stability control system tended to step in a bit early and intrusively. On average surfaces the suspension does a good job of making road irregularities quietly disappear, but larger irregularities tend to overwhelm it with a bit of a jolt. Still, Chevrolet has done a good job sorting out the Sonic's suspension to create a comfortable yet engaging driving experience from a basic front MacPherson strut, rear torsion beam setup.

The Sonic Hatchback LS starts at $15,495 plus $1,495 for destination fees (you have to go with the sedan to get a Sonic for the advertised $14,495 starting price). The LT adds air conditioning, cruise control, power windows and power mirrors, and starts at a base price of $17,495 plus destination. In addition to its appearance package, my test car had the automatic transmission ($1,500), upgraded 6-speaker audio with USB and satellite radio ($510), and heated front seats ($405). Add in a few other bits and pieces and the total price for the test car added up to $22,955, topping the LTZ's base price of $20,995.

Either way, loaded or in base trim, the Sonic certainly represents good value for the money. Whether or not it can cook up a market victory against competitors like the Ford Fiesta, Scion xD, Mazda2, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent and Toyota Yaris remains to be seen, but at least it is going into the fray with the right ingredients.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Hatchback, Chevrolet, 2012, Sonic, $10,000 - $19,999, $20,000 - $29,999, Subcompact,

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