2012 Chevrolet Sonic Hatchback: All-New Compact is Economical, Safe and Sporty
By Mike Blake, Carlisle Events
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
The Chevrolet Aveo is gone after less than 10 years on the scene and taking its place is the new Sonic, with the promise of being better looking and more fun to drive. Now, Chevrolet does not want car buyers to consider the Sonic as just a rebadged Aveo, and while there are similarities, Sonic is an all-new build, produced in GM’s Orion Assembly Center in Orion Township, Michigan -- it is the only subcompact built in the United States
With an EPA rating as high as 40mpg for some trims, Sonic combines sporty styling, fuel economy, a $15,000-starting price range, niche-leading second-seat accommodations and top scores in safety tests. While the Aveo achieved only passing scores in safety, Sonic has topped the list in both sedan and hatchback versions.
The new 5-door hatchback, which I tested, is trendy, sleek and fun to see on the highway and in the driveway. It and its sister four-door sedan are constructed with a unitized body and frame and are decked out with motorcycle-inspired round headlamps and a wide, athletic stance with wheels-at-the-corners proportions. Rear door handles (on the five-door hatchback) are located in a C-pillar area, suggesting the style of a three-door hatch, and a chrome grille with matte black honeycomb grille inserts provide a striking head-on look, while Hankook tires mounted on 16-inch painted aluminum wheels are attractive enough for the vehicle’s side demeanor.
The sedan and hatchback both measure 68.3 inches in width and 59.7 inches in height on a 99.4-inch wheelbase, but the sedan is 173.1 inches long while the hatchback is only 159 inches in length. Sonic weighs in at about 2800 lbs., making it surprisingly heavy for the class by 200 to 300 pounds.
Sonic offers two powertrains and both are small, economy-minded plants with varying amounts of torque. My Sonic 1LT hatchback was equipped with an efficient 4-cylinder Ecotec 1.4-liter turbo engine and an Ecotec 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine is also available. Three transmissions are available: a five-speed manual and six-speed automatic with the 1.8-liter and a six-speed manual with the 1.4-liter turbo. The Ecotec 1.4 turbo is rated at 138 horsepower and 148 lbs.-ft. of torque with a wide rpm range for maximum torque. That helps in passing and total performance. The larger engine also delivers 138 horses, but only 125 lbs.-ft. of torque. My review hatchback was EPA rated at 29 mpg in city driving and 35 mpg on the highway, and my road tests came in at 32.1 mpg.
Even with the turbo, Sonic is not supersonic off the line. I managed a zero-to-60 mph run of 8.3 seconds, and a quarter-mile time of 16.3. Not super, but not bad for the niche. However, on the highway, while response was slow, it was steady and my Sonic climbed inclines well. Electric power steering was confident and quick turns are accomplished with little understeer when the stability control is engaged. The front-wheel drive compact stuck well to the pavement and the vehicle’s balance allows for safe and secure turns with only a bit of body roll during S-curve trials.
MacPherson strut front suspension with coil springs and stabilizer bar and a semi-independent, torsion beam axle-mount compound link-type design rear, with a tubular V-shape beam and gas-charged shocks, smoothed out most highway inadequacies, but winter potholes were jarring. However, the ride was essentially quiet and vibration was minimal.
In the cabin, Sonic delivers class-leading rear-seat roominess and connectivity features that enhance the driving experience. With seating capacity for five, front headroom is 37.6 inches in front and 38.1 inches in the rear seats for the hatchback, a 0.3-inch gain over the sedan. Front legroom is 41.8 with 34.6 in row two and shoulder room goes 53.4 and 53 inches.
Interior attributes include column-mounted electric power steering, a detailed instrument cluster featuring a large, round analog tachometer set within an asymmetrical LCD readout, with a large digital speedometer display similar to some motorcycle instrument layouts. The automatic shift knob has a “cobra head” design, while the manual shifter has a chrome-finished knob. The interior includes storage compartments in the center stack and doors and the rear seats fold virtually flat for carrying larger items.
Safetywise, both the hatchback and sedan versions of Sonic gained the highest possible score in front, side, rear and rollover tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Sonic was constructed with a strong body structure to absorb crash energy and provide a protective “safety cage” around occupants, and more than 60 percent of the body structure is composed of advanced steels. Sonic safety is enhanced by 10 standard air bags, 4-channel anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, brake assist, tire pressure monitoring system and OnStar with Automatic Crash Response.
The 2012 Sonic 1LT starts at $15,735 with $760 in destination charges for a base of $16,495. The Connectivity Plus Cruise package adds $375 with cruise control, Bluetooth capability, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and AM/FM stereo with 6 speakers, CD player and MP3 playback. The turbo engine added $700 for price as tested of $17,570.
> Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.
Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.
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