Review: 2012 Chevrolet Sonic
Proving that small need not equal cheap.
Web2Carz Senior Writer
Published: February 7th, 2012
For some reason, the word "sonic" just sounds cool, whether we're talking about jets, drive-ins, or subcompact cars.
OK, fine, maybe Sonic isn't the first choice we'd use to name a subcompact, but then again, it beats the Aveo moniker used on Chevy's last subcompact. Which is a good thing, since the Aveo was so unloved that bringing it back with the same moniker would have been a mistake, no matter how successful any changes were.
Indeed, plenty of change was afoot as Chevy revamped its subcompact, giving us the Sonic. Available in hatch or sedan forms, the Sonic offers two engines and three transmissions.
Buyers can choose between a 1.8-liter four-cylinder which mates to either a five-speed manual transmission or six-speed automatic or a 1.4-liter turbocharged four that matches up with a six-speed manual.
Those engines are the same choices found in the larger Cruze, and we found ourselves behind the wheel of a sedan with the 1.8-liter four and an automatic. Chevy touts the Sonic's design as "motorcycle inspired"--especially the round headlamps--but we found the styling to be a bit "baby Cruze" with some more sport thrown in. Only a bit though, since the cars are a bit distinct from each other.
Styling and size differences apart, the Sonic does feel like the Cruze's baby brother, and that's a good thing. The 1.8 isn't the "fun" engine--for that you need to get the 1.4 turbo--but it gives the Sonic enough gusto for around-town work, thanks to its 138 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque.
The transmission mostly blends into the background, and ride and handling mirror the Cruze experience, with a tad more sport. Which is to say that it's predictable and stable, falling somewhere on the spectrum between sedate and entertaining. The Sonic does feel a bit stiff at times, and some buzzy noise wanders into the cabin, but overall the experience is pleasant--no econobox penalty here. Interior room is adequate if not spacious, and the same can be said about the trunk.
That holds true with interior materials, which look and feel upscale for the class. The motorcycle influence is most apparent in the bike-style instrument cluster, which gave us mixed feelings--it looks cool, but we thought digital speedometers died in the '80s.
Features & Prices
Shoppers in this class now demand features that were previously only found upmarket, and the Sonic delivers here, as well. Our tester came standard with features such as a hill-hold assist, electric power steering, remote keyless entry, traction control, an antiskid system, ABS, a rear window defroster, a split-folding rear seat, A/C, heated power outside mirrors, 15-inch wheels, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, satellite radio, an auxiliary jack, and a CD player. That and more can be yours for $16,005.
A Connectivity Package ran $525 and added a remote start, cruise control, steering wheel audio controls, a USB port, and Bluetooth. A Wheels and Fog Lamp Package added all-season tires, swapped 16-inch wheels for the 15s, and added fog lamps (naturally). With the $760 destination fee, our as-tested total came to $17,585.
Fuel economy is rated at 25 mpg city/35 mpg highway, which sounds about right to us. The 1.4 turbo promises better numbers, but even those marks aren't too shabby.
Over the past few years, automakers have been proving that subcompacts need not be featureless appliances. The Sonic is just the latest example, and it also marks the completion of a dramatic full-line makeover for Chevy. The Aveo will only be missed by the most masochistic small-car buyers. Meanwhile, the solid Sonic will find plenty of attention from subcompact shoppers.
Chevy likes to say that it runs deep. That may be debatable, but what is clear is that the brand finally hit the small-car jackpot after years of focusing on trucks and SUVs. Better late than never.
• For more information such as specs, prices, and photos of the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic, click here: 2012 Chevrolet Sonic.