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With the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic, General Motors is at last fully in the small-car game. That might sound silly to those who can recall a laundry list of former Chevrolet small cars—Chevette, Vega, Spectrum, Cavalier, Cobalt, Aveo, Metro, Sprint, to mention a few—but most of those vehicles truly felt like halfhearted efforts that took second stage to the automakers trucks and larger cars.
That's not the case with the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic, a completely new, global small car that thankfully has nothing to do with the rental-car-mainstay, the Aveo, that it replaces—thus the new model name.
At a time when the subcompact class seems to be segmenting into two camps—with the Nissan Versa, Honda Fit, and Hyundai Accent on the larger side, and the Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris, and even the Fiat 500 at the lower end of the scale—the Sonic lands mostly in that smaller group, at least by the EPA's definition. Yet in looking at curb weight (about 2,600 pounds), the Sonic ranks as one of the heavier vehicles in this class.
Factor in an all-new structure that feels transformational compared to the Aveo's, and vaultlike next to many other small-car designs, combined with a top-notch safety list (already an IIHS Top Safety pick, five-star federal ratings, and ten standard airbags), and we have no hesitation in calling the Sonic the safest subcompact pick among 2012 models.
There are two engines available in the Sonic, and both of them are poached from the Chevrolet Cruze lineup: a normally aspirated 1.8-liter four, or a turbocharged 1.4-liter four. Both can be had with either a manual gearbox or an all-new six-speed automatic. The 1.4T is definitely our favored choice between the two, as it's more flexible as well as more fuel-efficient. Nicely weighted steering rounds out the driving package, and while the Sonic is actually surprisingly good fun to drive, the steering is if anything a little too isolated and damped. That speaks for the rest of the package—which is great, from a passenger and comfort perspective. The Sonic is supremely roomy, comfortable, refined, tight, and quiet for a small car, and it's really hard to find any serious flaws with the entire package—and in our opinion, it looks better than most in this class in sedan form, even though we love hatches.
The Sonic delights with surprise standard features like alloy wheels on all models, plus remote keyless entry and air conditioning, and comes pretty well-equipped for around $15k. But then, in this arms race of features and value, there are some disappointments. For instance, you'll need to reach to LT or LTZ models to be able to option to the 1.4T engine, and some tech essentials like USB (with full iPod control) and Bluetooth are optional and only offered on the top-of-the-line LTZ model. That said, a loaded 2012 Sonic LTZ should still total below the $20k mark—a seriously good deal in today's market.
- Well-weighted steering
- Smooth, quiet ride
- Comfortable seating
- Powertrain refinement of a more expensive vehicle (1.4T)
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- Bluetooth, USB missing from base model
- Base engine can be boomy when revved
- Muted throttle response (1.4T)
- Mushy brake pedal