Second Opinion

2012 Chevrolet Sonic

New GM sub-compact drives much bigger than the shadow it casts and it’s more refined than the Aveo

2012 Chevrolet Sonic
AT A GLANCE
PRICE
$14,495 base.
FUEL CONSUMPTION
NR Canada (L/100 km): 7.0 city. 5.0 highway.
POWERTRAIN
Base – 1.8-litre DOHC four-cylinder,138-hp, 125 lb-ft of torque; five-speed manual transmission, six

Montreal, Quebec – The lacklustre Aveo has been replaced at the entry-level to the Chevrolet line by the the 2012. This newcomer in the family was developed by GM Korea (nee GM Daewoo) and, sold in more than 60 countries, it is truly a global car.

It is still called the Aveo in many areas of the world, but the version we get rolls off an assembly line in Orion Township, Michigan, wearing the Sonic badge.

The only thing the new Sonic has in common with the old Aveo is where it was conceived. Everything else is new – and hugely improved. It is the first vehicle built on GM’s new Gamma global platform and shares its drivetrains with the larger Chevrolet Cruze.

The Sonic is available in five-door hatchback or four-door sedan guise, in three trim levels with two engines and two transmissions spanning the $14,500 - $21,750 price range.

Standard equipment on the base LS model includes power locks, remote keyless entry, tilt and telescope steering wheel, hill-hold assist, wireless connectivity, oil-life monitoring system, ambient temperature readout and OnStar with a six-month "Direction and Connections "package.

The six-speed automatic transmission adds $1,300, air conditioning $1,150 and the hatchback, with alloy wheels, $1,000.

GM expects the LT trim level to be the volume model. In addition to the above standard equipment, for an extra $2,000 it comes with air conditioning, cruise control, upgraded audio system and power windows and mirrors.

The line-topping ($20,495-sedan/$20,995-hatchback) LTZ gets the turbo engine, additional airbags (more on this later), 17-inch alloy wheels, heated seats, leather interior and a further audio upgrade. The automatic transmission adds $1,300 and a power sunroof is also available.

Interior a mixed bag

The interior reflects the same attention to styling as portrayed outside, particularly the motorcycle-inspired instrument pod with a big round analog tach to the left and a digital speedometer in the rectangular space on the right. In between is a digital information centre.

The instrument panel, however, is disappointing with five different colours and textures and a lack of soft-touch surfaces.

At the other extreme are fit, finish and noise levels, which are first-class. The extensive use of state-of-the-art insulation in well-chosen spaces results in a very quiet car almost devoid of wind or road noise.

The hatch on the five-door reveals a decent sized cargo space, capable of holding a pair of roll-aboards and a couple of other small bags. The sedan is 38-cm longer than the hatch and most of this is found in the trunk. In both cases, wide doors open far enough to make entry and exit easy. Visibility is good with the exception of the wide C-pillar in the hatchback. The hatchback, with its flatter roof, has more headroom in the rear seat.

In addition to the now-mandatory ABS and electronic stability control, the Sonic has electronic traction control, electronic brake force distribution, panic brake assist and six airbags.

Ten airbags are available in the "Peace of Mind " package and it was this version with the added driver and passenger knee bags and rear side bags that has been named a Top Safety Pick by the Washington-based Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Ten airbags are standard in the Sonic sold in the United States.

A more-refined driver

In a switch from normal practice the Sonic’s smaller engine is the optional and more powerful choice.

Both engines are smooth and quiet, the manual transmission has easy-to-find gates and a light clutch and the automatic shifts with a silky smoothness befitting much more expensive automobiles.

But the biggest change is the way the Sonic feels. It drives much bigger than the shadow it casts. It is much more refined than the Aveo. In fact, its driving dynamics are in a different league.

The suspension consists of MacPherson struts up front and a twist beam at the rear. There is plenty of lean and understeer when pressed in the corners but the Sonic doesn’t pretend to be a sports car.

The surprise is the good ride quality whether on wide open roads at speed or trundling around town on poor surfaces. The steering is light and communicative and braking action progressive.

Just as the Sonic should not be entered in weekend slalom competitions it should also be kept away from the drag strip.

While it is lighter than the Cruze, from which it gets engines, this is a porky little car tipping the scales at more than 1270 kg (2,800 lb). While the engineers in Seoul achieved commendable results with the suspension they were unable to change the laws of physics.

The standard 1.8-litre engine, paired with a five-speed manual transmission, needs to be kept well up in the rev range for good performance.

The optional turbocharged 1.4-litre engine, standard on the LTZ trim level, is the clear winner here due to its superior supply of torque, peaking at only 1,850 rpm. It’s mated with a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission, although the latter has not completed development and testing yet. It will be along in the new year.

Conclusion

While there is no "wow " factor to the Sonic, Chevrolet stores now have a genuine contender in the sub-compact segment. It has caught up to the pack with the Sonic – but this is a constantly moving target with newcomers appearing almost monthly.

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