Looking for evidence that Chevy finally has put the dismal days of the Chevette and the recent Aveo behind it? May we present the 2012 Sonic, a subcompact built in Detroit that comes in sedan and hatchback models. Along with the compact Cruze, Chevy is making the compelling argument that it now takes small cars seriously.
Appearance: Lyra thought our hatchback tester looked like an Aveo on steroids. The Sonic has a chiseled hood that slopes into Chevy's split grille, which gives the small car a large scowl. Also adding to its aggressive look are its "exposed" headlights and wide stance. Some details we particularly like: the "hidden" rear door handles and the standard aluminum wheels, which aren't all that common in the subcompact segment.
Performance: We liked that the Sonic comes with an available turbocharged engine — Chevy's 1.4-liter Ecotec DOHC. That gives it good torque and better MPG than the 1.8-liter nonturbo base engine, but you will notice some lag at lower speeds. Our tester came with a 6-speed manual transmission — the base has a 5-speed — which shifts smoothly even though the clutch has a little more travel than we like. The manual also gets up to 40 mpg on highway and 29 in city driving. That's impressive. A six-speed automatic transmission is available. The Sonic handles well, with a sporty suspension that helps it corner tightly.
Interior: The most noticeable feature is the huge digital speedometer that intrudes on the analog tach next to it. Chevy says this is "motorcycle-inspired" and the design has its share of critics. Peter likes the effect, thinking it easy to read with a retro-futuristic look. The cabin is attractive, if heavy on economy plastics. The center console controls are simple and intuitive. The fabric seats feature a graphic design and adequate bolstering. The interior is also deceivingly spacious. Peter had enough head- and legroom up front. The split-fold rear seat sits three, but it would be a tight fit for adults. With the rear seatbacks down, cargo space is a not-too-shabby 30.7 cubic feet. Other goodies in our LT trim: trip computer, cruise control, power windows, keyless entry, auxiliary jack, USB port, Bluetooth and, of course, GM's OnStar.
Our 3 favorites
Dash: The display is different without being distracting.
Nooks: There are handy ones on each side of the center stack.
Cabin: Simple controls coupled with visual interest.
Beyond basics: Lots of features including Bluetooth connectivity, power windows and locks, trip computer.
Turbo: Power when you need it.
Safety: 10 airbags, stability control, ABS, rollover mitigation.
The bottom line: With the Sonic, Chevrolet has a subcompact car with some personality that can compete with both the imports and the improved domestic competition.