Auto Review: Goodbye Aveo, hello Sonic

By Bill Heald - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Thu., Jan. 26, 2012
- Contributed Photo

GM’s storied success over recent years has not always included subcompact cars, in contrast to the sales triumphs we’ve seen with their larger offerings (like full-size pickups and SUVs). The last of these less-than-stunning subcompact machines was the Aveo, and it didn’t exactly set the world on fire, compared to the competition. This has been a concern for the company, because this class of car is not only becoming one of the most competitive but also one of the most important.

Thanks to the burden of high gas prices and the need for affordable transportation becoming more critical to buyers every day, GM must have a solid contender in the small car arena to address their customer’s needs. Its answer is the all-new Chevrolet Sonic, a slick Michigan-built subcompact available in sedan and five-door hatchback variants. Judging from our week with the latter version, this new arrival is a dramatic improvement over the Aveo and a welcome addition to the small car field.

Two engines are available for the Front-Drive Sonic, starting with a standard 1.8-liter Ecotec Inline Four with 138 horsepower. The other available powerplant is a Turbocharged 1.4-liter Ecotec Four, that interestingly has the same horsepower rating but additional torque compared to the 1.8-liter (148 compared to 125 lb.-ft.). This engine comes exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission, while a five-speed manual and six-speed automatic can be had with the 1.8 liter. Our Inferno Orange five-door was equipped with the turbo and the six-speed manual, and proved to be a really entertaining drivetrain. It’s no dragster, but the engine revs smoothly all the way to its 6,500 RPM redline, and while low-end power isn’t great, the well-spaced ratios and light clutch help the transmission optimize response.

Ride and handling are a cut above typical subcompact fare, and GM points out that, “Engineers who also work on the Corvette tuned the Sonic’s ride and handling, giving it a more direct feel while balancing the vehicle for the broad range of driving conditions in North America.” Braking performance is likewise impressive, and the Sonic comes standard with no fewer than 10 airbags, in addition to the latest in StabiliTrak Stability Control.

The great design work continues into the interior, for not only is the Sonic LTZ well equipped for an entry-level hatchback (including heated front seats, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel and Bluetooth-enabled audio streaming), it’s quite comfortable as well. The leatherette seating surfaces are accommodating and seem quite durable, and despite the Sonic’s small exterior dimensions, room is perfectly acceptable for four adults. The rear seatbacks fold forward to increase the hatchback cargo room from 19 (with seats upright) to 30.7 cubic feet. Fit and finish on the interior is competitive with the class, and there’s some wind and road noise, but overall it feels to be a solid small car.

The 2012 Chevy Sonic 5-Door LTZ is EPA-rated 29 MPG city/40 MPG highway and has a base price of $17,325. With options, our sticker came to $18,890.

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