With the introduction of the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic, General Motors at last has some truly competitive, top-notch small-car choices in its lineup. And it's about time; with decades of inconsistent model entries and frequently shifting nameplates—Chevette, Vega, Spectrum, Sprint, Metro, Cavalier, Cobalt, Aveo—GM's small cars have often felt like afterthoughts, relegated to the back of the lot, behind the full-size trucks and larger cars.
Thankfully, the Sonic bears no relation to the Aveo it replaces, and does away completely with that car's platform, which had been developed under the former Daewoo. While much of vehicle development for the Sonic was also done in South Korea, it's very different this time: Vehicle teams in Michigan and elsewhere had control over engineering, design, and equipment choices, and GM has built it on an all-new small-car platform that promises new levels of body stiffness and occupant protection.
We're also impressed that the Sonic made it to production looking much like the Aveo RS concept from the 2010 Detroit auto show. GM has however reversed its plan to forge ahead with the Aveo name; the company had previously argued that it wasn't too late to add some luster on the nameplate.
And as we experienced earlier this week in our first extensive drive of the 2012 Chevy Sonic on a wide variety of roads around the San Francisco Bay, the Sonic's powertrains, largely poached from the Chevrolet Cruze lineup, combined with great suspension tuning, well-weighted steering, and comfortable seating (actually okay for four adults), make the Sonic a joy to drive. And with the better of the two engines, the 1.4T, the Sonic not only gets 40 mpg on the highway but genuinely feels like a more expensive vehicle.
We did find a few issues we'd like to see improved. For instance, we noticed that the 1.4T tends to have a very muted, detached throttle response—it could and should be sharper, or could have a separate 'eco' calibration—and the brake pedal on our initial test cars had the kind of mushy brake pedal that we thought GM had excised. Opt for the base 1.8-liter and you'll have plenty of power for everyday driving, but gas mileage isn't quite as good and it tends to be a little boomy when pressed.
It's also noteworthy that the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic is the only vehicle in its class to be assembled in the U.S.—at the Lake Orion, Michigan plant that up until a couple of years ago assembled the Pontiac G6.
For the Sonic, the 1.4T engine is built in Flint, while the 1.8-liter is sourced from Korea. One other key difference between the two engines is that—for those who keep their vehicles for a long, long time—the base 1.8-liter has a timing belt (100,000-mile replacement interval) while the 1.4T has a reduced-maintenance timing chain. Turbo replacement is far less common than it was in the past.
Initially the 1.4T will only be offered with a six-speed manual gearbox, though it will also get the six-speed automatic by year-end. Likewise, the 1.8-liter is only launching with the six-speed automatic, but base models with a five-speed stick will also be in the mix later in the model year.
For more details and driving observations, browse through the pages of our 2012 Chevrolet Sonic full review, where you'll be able to browse dozens of additional images, along with full pricing and specs.