2012 Chevrolet Sonic
QUEBEC CITY – With the arrival of the new 2012 Chevrolet Sonic, General Motors has taken a big step toward closing the gap with its main competitors in the subcompact field. But complete parity may still remain just out of reach.
In some areas, such as horsepower and torque, Sonic is better than rivals such as the 2012 Ford Fiesta and Hyundai Accent. In others, such as cornering and ride, it is tantalizingly close.
Sonic is available as a four-door sedan or hatchback.
No doubt this is an important car for GM’s bread-and-butter Chevrolet division, as small car sales are forecast to grow 30% by 2015. Vincent Boillot, marketing manager for Chevrolet cars in Canada, is anticipating that Sonic will double its share in the segment to annual sales of 18,000.
He believes Sonic “will really stand out in its segment” – especially the five-door model with rear door handles hidden in the c-pillars, giving it the look of a two-door coupe. In fact, this design trick works so well, I kept forgetting the hatchback had rear doors whenever I wanted to stow stuff in the rear seats.
Sonics sold in North America are built in Orion, Mich., but the car is a product of an international team of engineers and stylists based at GM Korea. It replaces the Aveo here, although that name will remain on vehicles destined for Europe, Asia and many other countries.
Power is provided by the same pair of DOHC Ecotec engines used on Chevy Cruze – a 1.8-litre inline-four with five-speed manual transmission and 1.4L turbo with six-speed stick. A six-speed automatic is a $1,500 option on both, although its availability on turbocharged models will be delayed until January 2012 (the car goes on sale in October 2011).
The interior has a generous 2,556 litres of passenger room, more than either Accent or Fiesta, and there’s a cool motorcycle-inspired instrument cluster (dominated by a big round tach and a large digital speedometer) that includes useful info such as distance to empty and instantaneous fuel usage. The front seats are comfortable, even on longer trips, but ergonomics could be better – especially the placement of the front cupholders behind the driver’s right elbow, a flip-up centre armrest that’s positioned too high and a complete lack of soft-touch surfaces like the kind you get on Nissan Versa.
GM touts the car’s quiet ride, and that’s true as far as engine and wind noise is concerned. In those areas, GM engineers have done a great job in isolating the cabin. The front suspension is the usual MacPherson strut set-up but the torsion bar rear suspension still needs work, and you’ll not just hear but feel every expansion joint and gap in the pavement.
Otherwise, the ride is smooth and the 1.8 provides plenty of torque and passing power, even with the automatic (which feels even quicker when you use the manual mode and delay upshifts to the 6,500 rpm redline). Left on its own, the automatic will shift at a more economical 4,200 rpm. Where Sonic comes up short is on hard cornering. It bravely hangs on to the pavement, but with lots of body lean.
The base LS lists at $14,495 for the sedan, $15,495 for the hatch. Even at this level, Stabilitrak, traction control, power locks, Bluetooth and remote keyless entry are standard. LS versions (priced at $16,495 and $17,495) add air, cruise, power windows and premium cloth seats. LTZ is the ultimate Sonic with the 1.4 turbo, leather, an appearance package including 17-inch wheels, remote start and four extra airbags (for a total of 10). For $20,495 (hatch) and $20,995 (coupe), the only options on LTZ are a sunroof and oil pan heater.
The way to go (even if it does cost a few extra thousand) is the 1.4L turbo coupled to the smooth six-speed manual. The car feels much faster and acceleration numbers back this up – 0-100 km/h in just under 11.0 seconds for the 1.8 automatic, vs. 8.5 seconds for the turbo with stick,
Sonic is not available with a navigation system, however, OnStar is standard on all models (with a six-month subscription) to provide its exclusive Turn-by-Turn driving directions.
Trim levels available: LS; LT; LTZ
Models: 4-door sedan; 4-door hatchback
MSRP range: $14,495-$20,995
Notable options: 6-speed automatic ($1,500); air conditioning ($1,150); premium sound system ($510); heated seats ($405).
Configuration: Front engine/ front-wheel drive
Engines/transmissions: 1.8L 4-cyl. (135 hp/125 lb.-ft.); 1.4L turbo 4-cyl. (138/148)
Available transmissions: 5-spd manual; 6-spd manual; 6-spd automatic
Fuel (capacity): Regular (46L)
Fuel economy ratings (L/100km): 7.7 city/ 5.6 hwy (1.8 man.); 8.3/5.5 (1.8 auto); 7.3/5.1 (turbo man.)
Warranty: 3 years/60,000 km (basic); 5 years/ 160,000 km (powertrain)
Competitors: Fiat 500; Ford Fiesta; Honda Fit; Hyundai Accent; Mazda2; Nissan Versa; Toyota Yaris.