- Excellent power and fuel economy from optional turbocharged engine
- Attractive, livable cabin
- Crisp handling
- Low price
- Top safety scores
- The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic is an all-new subcompact
- Available in both sedan and four-door-hatchback configurations
For a long time, domestic cars were laggards in the small-car segment, but these days, the picture is much different; homegrown models are at the forefront both in sales and overall quality. The latest example of worthy local talent is the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic, a subcompact that replaces the Aveo in Chevy's lineup.
The name change was certainly in order, since relative to the Aveo, the Sonic represents a quantum leap forward. Offered as both a sedan and a four-door hatchback, this Chevy features an attractive cabin that's one of the most livable in the subcompact segment. Compared to its rivals, the Sonic provides generous in-cabin storage; every square inch of space is cleverly utilized, as is evidenced by that nifty, unusually placed pair of bins located high on the center stack. There's ample head- and shoulder room for front passengers, and the spacious second row keeps 6-footers comfortable -- as long as there isn't another 6-footer in the front seat.
Things get even more appealing when you peek under the hood. A 1.8-liter inline-4 produces a healthy 138 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque, while the even more desirable turbocharged 1.4-liter matches this horsepower and increases torque to a remarkably robust 148 lb-ft. The Sonic handles with engaging responsiveness and fuel economy is competitive, with the turbocharged engine getting an estimated 40 mpg on the highway. Perhaps most importantly for those who are downsizing from something larger, the Sonic feels as if it's much bigger and more substantial from behind the wheel.
The subcompact class isn't exactly hard up for talent, and you'd be wise to take a close look at some of the Sonic's rivals. The redesigned Hyundai Accent boasts refinement and superb mileage, while the Ford Fiesta brings a composed ride and sporty handling. There's also the capable Honda Fit, which earns a recommendation on the strength of its highly versatile interior. Still, the Sonic's blend of power, comfort, safety and fuel efficiency is compelling enough to make this Chevy a top contender in a very tough segment.
WHAT'S NEW FOR 2012
The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic is an all-new subcompact, available in both sedan and four-door-hatchback configurations.
TRIMS & EQUIPMENT
The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic is a subcompact that's available as a sedan and a four-door hatchback. Both body styles come in three trims: LS, LT and LTZ.
The LS includes 15-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, a four-way (manual) adjustable driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a 60/40-split rear seat, a trip computer, OnStar and a four-speaker AM/FM stereo with an auxiliary audio jack. A six-speaker sound system with a CD/MP3 player and satellite radio is available as an option.
LT models add the LS trim's optional six-speaker setup, along with heated side mirrors, full power accessories and upgraded cloth upholstery. Additionally, this trim is eligible for a Connectivity Plus Cruise package that includes cruise control, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, an iPod/USB audio interface and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls. LT models equipped with an automatic transmission get a remote vehicle starter system with this package. The LT trim is also eligible for a Wheels and Foglamp package that includes 16-inch wheels and foglamps.
With the top-of-the-line LTZ trim, you get the LT's standard features and the amenities in the Connectivity Plus Cruise package, along with 17-inch alloy wheels, foglamps, heated front seats, leatherette premium vinyl upholstery and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. A sunroof is available as an option.
INTERIOR & SAFETY
The Sonic's industrial-theme cabin is handsome to look at, with a thoroughly modern feel. Materials quality is respectable, though there are some cheap-looking plastics in evidence. Controls are logically clustered and clearly labeled, making it easy to find one's way around the center stack. Factory-installed navigation isn't offered, but given the wide range of inexpensive portable and handheld nav systems on the market, we don't see this omission being a problem for most shoppers.
The front row offers good shoulder and headroom, and rear passengers benefit from legroom that's among the best in the segment. Luggage capacity on the Sonic hatch is midpack, at 19 cubic feet; maximum cargo capacity is 30.9 cubic feet, well behind that of rivals like the Fit and the Accent. The sedan's trunk accommodates 14 cubic feet of luggage, making it among the roomiest in this segment.
All 2012 Chevrolet Sonic models come standard with stability control, antilock brakes (front disc, rear drum), side curtain airbags, front knee airbags and side-impact airbags for all outboard passengers (front and rear).
In government crash testing, the Sonic received a perfect five stars for overall protection, overall frontal protection and overall side protection. This is the strongest performance currently in the class. The Sonic was rated a "Top Safety Pick" by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, receiving a top score of "Good" in frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength crash tests.
In Edmunds brake testing, a Sonic LTZ stopped from 60 mph in 123 feet, an average distance for this class of car.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
The standard engine on the 2012 Sonic is a 1.8-liter inline-4 that makes 138 hp and 125 lb-ft of torque. LT and LTZ models are available with a turbocharged 1.4-liter inline-4 that generates 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard with the 1.8 liter, while the Turbo gets a six-speed manual. A six-speed automatic is optional on both.
In Edmunds testing, a manual-equipped Sonic LTZ sprinted from zero to 60 mph in 8.8 seconds, a quick time for this class.
EPA fuel economy estimates stand at 26 mpg city/35 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined for the 1.8-liter engine with the manual transmission, and 25/35/28 with the automatic. Despite its extra power, the Turbo is actually estimated to be more efficient, with 29/40/33 for the manual and 27/37/31 for the automatic.
With the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic, you get engaging handling that doesn't come at the expense of a comfortable ride. Ride quality is firm enough to paint a realistic picture of the road, while at the same time being accommodating enough to buffer undue harshness. The cabin is relatively quiet both on surface streets and on the freeway, while the steering is one of its high points -- light in parking lots but well-weighted and natural-feeling at speed. In total, the Sonic drives like a bigger, more composed car than you would expect.
Both of the Sonic's engines offer good performance for this segment. The turbocharged 1.4 is especially torquey and peppy, offering 0-60-mph acceleration that's nearly a second quicker than many of its rivals. The fact that it returns better fuel economy than the regular engine means you should definitely consider doling out the extra cash for this impressive little engine.
With a winning blend of power, comfort and fuel efficiency, the all-new 2012 Chevrolet Sonic is one of the segment's top picks.