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The Daily Drivers | By Peter Couture and Lyra Solochek, Times Staff Writers

The Daily Drivers: Chevrolet Sonic LT subcompact is above par

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

Peter Couture

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.

Lyra Solochek

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.

2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT

5-door hatchback

Price: $15,395 hatchback start, $17,570 as tested. The sedan base starts at $14,495.

Powertrain: 1.4-liter turbocharged DOHC I-4, 6-speed manual transmission, FWD

Horsepower: 138 at 4,900 rpm

Torque: 148 pound-feet at 1,850 rpm

Curb weight: 2,684 pounds


in inches:

Wheelbase, 99.4

Length, 159

Width, 68.3

Seats: 5

Fuel economy:

29 miles per gallon city, 40 mpg highway

Safety features: 10 airbags and curtains, stability control, traction control, ABS, brake panic assist, OnStar


The Daily Drivers: Chevrolet Sonic LT subcompact is above par

01/20/12 [Last modified: Friday, January 20, 2012 4:15pm]
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