2012 Chevrolet Sonic Road Test Review

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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You'd think that after an auto manufacturer had spent upwards of eight, nine, and I've heard even more than ten figures to develop and then market an all-new vehicle, that they'd blow a few more thousand to hire a photographer to take some decent photos of it, but oddly enough some manufacturers haven't figured out that a picture is still worth a thousand words (a tough pill to swallow for a writer).

Take the new Sonic sedan. GM's media website doesn't even offer journalists a single photo of its unique trunk-equipped backside in 2012 trim (there are two shots of the front and one profile pic), so I had to delve into the 2013 photo gallery to pull down the one rather bland studio image they have of it so that you, the potential buyer, can get a glimpse of what I'll be trying to describe as this review continues. GM isn't the only offender, but it certainly makes a person shake their head and just wonder why. Chrysler group's media photos are often slim to none when it comes to finding special trim levels, although when I needed images for the new Mini Paceman to go along with a news story I wrote yesterday there were 181 glorious high-resolution photos to choose from, covering every angle you can imagine. So with respect to the Sonic it's a crying shame that the pickings are so slim, because it's a great looking little four-door.

Those who read my ramblings regularly will know that I take my own photos 99 times out of a hundred and share them with each review, which ordinarily solves this issue. The problem is that my beautiful new MacBook Air was stolen from my hotel room in July (and an even newer iPad plus all my camera equipment) and along with it I lost the photos I took of the Sonic sedan and a host of other cars (yah, should've backed up, I know), so I hope the GM media photos included with this review will do the job this time around.

On that note, do you like what you see? Like I said, it's a shame that GM hasn't celebrated this car with a worthy photo shoot, because it's really a nice piece of rolling sculpture and simultaneously a fine example of an automaker that's finally figured out that buyers will come if you build good cars that are also good looking.

The Sonic isn't just a good car. It's a great car. It replaces the Aveo, which was a pretty decent car albeit nowhere near to the level that Chevy's offering now. The Sonic is great looking, well made, fun to drive and feature filled. That it comes in two distinct flavours, hatchback and sedan, and then served up in multiple trim levels, some with class-leading performance, is just a bonus. Most recently I drove a 5-Door hatch in top-tier turbocharged LTZ trim, and other than a dreadful stench (likely from a previous journalist's soggy dog) that caused me to drive it around with the windows down most of the time, it was a joy. Its 138-horsepower 1.4-litre turbocharged Ecoboost four-cylinder is seriously quick off the line thanks to a segment-best 148 lb-ft of torque and a quick-shifting 6-speed automatic that benefits from a cool little manual-mode thumb switch on the side of the shift lever. It made tackling curves more engaging, likewise enhanced by the Sonic's Corvette-engineer-tuned suspension boasting MacPherson struts, coil springs and a stabilizer bar up front and a semi-independent torsion beam axle-mount compound link-type setup with gas-charged shocks in the rear. Ride quality was also quite good for a small car.

The sedan I drove was lower down the feeding chain in LT trim, featuring a larger 1.8-litre four-cylinder that makes slightly less horsepower at 136 (as shown on the retail site; if you read the press material it's the same as the 1.4 at 138-hp) and a lot less torque at 125 lb-ft while mated to the same 6-speed automatic; the same engine is offered in base LS trim. While responsive (if it weren't for the 1.4 Turbo it would be best in class), it's not quite as spirited off the line as the sportier LTZ, mostly because torque is what matters from a standing start and the turbo ramps up torque and horsepower 1,400 rpm and 1,300 rpm lower down the rev range respectively. I should also mention you can get the sedan with the more potent drivetrain too, and vice-versa you can buy a hatchback with the lesser powerplant. Additionally, manual transmissions come standard with these two engines, the 1.8 utilizing a 5-speed stick and the 1.4 Turbo sporting a 6-speed manual.

Performance is great, but what matters more in the compact class is fuel economy. To that end the little Sonic 1.8 with its 5-speed manual is pretty thrifty with a claimed 7.7 L/100km city, 5.6 highway and 6.8 combined, while the same engine with the 6-speed automatic gets an estimated 8.3, 5.5 and 7.1 respectively. Despite the increase in performance the 1.4 Turbo is the Sonic fuel economy leader at 7.3 city, 5.1 highway and 6.3 combined with the manual, and 7.7, 5.5 and 6.7 with the auto. And I like the fact that even with the sophisticated turbocharged engine the Sonic only requires cheaper regular fuel. Thanks for thinking about our budgets, Chevy.

Being a subcompact the Sonic is in one of the lowest priced segments we have in Canada, the new Spark the only car that's priced lower in Chevrolet's lineup and one of only four ultra-small A-segment city cars available here. Where the Spark can be had for a mere $14,995 including destination fees, the base Sonic Sedan starts at $15,990 destination in. The Sonic 5-Door adds $1,000 more to the bottom line, and of course prices go up as you move through the trim levels from LS to LT (my LT automatic sedan tester was priced at $19,490), and then on to the LTZ which retails at $21,990 for the Sedan and $22,490 for the Hatchback (my LTZ 5-Door tester was priced at $25,260 with options). A sportier Sonic RS is coming for 2013, which will start at $25,560 including destination.

For just under $15k the Sonic delivers a healthy dose of standard features, including keyless entry, a tilt and telescopic steering wheel, automatic headlamps, AM/FM audio with an aux input and Bluetooth phone connectivity, plus a driver information centre, OnStar telematics, variable intermittent wipers, hill hold assist, plus all the usual safety features like ABS brakes, traction and stability control, dual front airbags, front side-impact airbags, two rows of curtain-type airbags, etc. Air conditioning can be added for a little extra, or you can move up to the LT where it comes standard along with heated powered mirrors, powered windows, nicer cloth upholstery, cruise control, an alarm system and some extra chrome outside. The top-line (for now) LTZ adds some impressive safety features like front knee airbags, rear side airbags, and tire pressure monitoring, as well as fog lights, 17-inch alloy rims, a three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated front seats, XM satellite radio, and Bluetooth audio. If you opt for the Sonic 5-Door LTZ you'll also get perforated leather seats and a folding driver's armrest.
 
It's a practical combination too, with the Sonic Sedan offering up 397 litres of cargo space in its trunk, plus 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks for stowing longer items like skis. The Sonic 5-Door is even roomier, with 539 litres available behind the rear seats or 869 litres when they're folded flat. Tall occupants will find more than enough headroom thanks to lots of space overhead, even in the back where the hatchback's profile cuts off at a sharp angle to allow for greater interior space, and arguably sporty styling. The Sedan allows for the same rear seat space, albeit with a different C-pillar design to allow for the trunk.

Chevy should also be noted for offering the best powertrain warranty in the subcompact class, stretching to 5 years or 160,000 km, whichever comes first. Its basic "bumper to bumper" warranty is not quite as strong as some at 3 years or 60,000 km, however. And lastly, Chevy should also be noted for building the Sonic in North America, putting profits back into the hands of the workers who will buy it; the old Aveo was built in South Korea.

If my money were on the line, the Sonic would be high on my list of subcompacts. It drives very well, delivers good fuel economy, looks great and comes with the level of features I would be looking for in an entry-level car. I would probably lean towards the 5-Door, but I could understand why someone else might want the Sedan. Either way, a Sonic would make a good choice.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Hatchback, Sedan, Chevrolet, 2013, Sonic, $10,000 - $19,999, $20,000 - $29,999,

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