2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ Review:
It’s taking on the characteristics of an onslaught, this rapid-fire materialization of not-quite entry-level economy cars.
They parade by like so many sculptured strangers, each with looks and a personality hoping to curry favor with customers, especially those still in the bloom of youth.
Some carry names and configurations unfamiliar to potential customers, so they are obliged to introduce themselves. One configuration is the four-door hatchback, a body style once reviled by the American car-buying public. But most also arrive as sedans with trunks for those who cannot escape their upbringing.
The names include Kia Rio, Ford Fiesta, Nissan Versa, Hyundai Acccent and Veloster, Toyota Yaris, Scion xD, Honda Fit, Mazda 2 and, most recently, the Chevrolet Sonic, the subject here. They also include the offbeat: Scion iQ, Fiat 500, Smart and Mini Cooper.
Almost all of them arrive with starting price tags under $20,000 and promise up to 40 miles to the gallon of gasoline, which has become the new economy benchmark.
But they are not quite entry-level because manufacturers have decided, and the car-buying public has validated the notion, that buyers of economy cars have become fed up with, or never considered, bare-bones transportation.
As a result, these new economy cars come with interiors that are nicely designed and executed, though not always with the finest of materials because they are, after all, low-profit vehicles.
More important, they arrive with features that were once the province of expensive machinery: Decent audio systems, one-touch power windows, pushbutton starting, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity, hard-drive storage for music, filtered air conditioning, alloy wheels and navigation systems. Of course, not every car has every item.
But consider the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic, designed in South Korea but built here—the first car in this class, according to the Chevy folks, to bear that “made in the USA” distinction.
The base Sonic, the 1LS, has a starting price of $14,495 for the four-door sedan with a five-speed manual transmission and a 138-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. If you prefer the four-door hatchback, the price is $15,395.
Standard equipment covers full safety equipment, including stability and traction control, antilock brakes, tire-pressure monitoring and even a hill holder that prevents the car from rolling backward on hills and even from rolling forward if you happen to be backing up. The hill holder also comes with the six-speed automatic transmission, which costs an extra $1,070.
Also included in the standard equipment is air conditioning, remote door locking and 15-inch alloy wheels. Unusual in this class of car, steel wheels with plastic covers are not even offered at the lowest trim level.
The standard 1.8-liter engine delivers smooth performance, especially with the automatic transmission, and fuel economy of 26/35 miles to the gallon on the EPA’s city/highway cycles.
Optional for $700 on all models is Chevrolet’s state-of-the-art 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Its horsepower, 138, is the same as that of its bigger sibling but it has a higher torque rating and city/highway fuel economy of 29/40 miles to the gallon with its six-speed manual gearbox.
Tested for this review was an LTZ hatchback with the stick shift. It had a base price of $17,995, which included power windows, cruise control, 17-inch alloy wheels, a USB port, Bluetooth connectivity, fog lamps and perforated leatherette upholstery. The front seats were heated. Though a navigation system is not available, the GM OnStar communications system delivers turn-by-turn directions on request. But the non-sliding sun visors do not properly block sun from the side.
Although the four-door hatchback is 14 inches shorter than the sedan, it has about the same passenger space but way more room for cargo (19 cubic feet versus 14 for the sedan). Folding the rear seatbacks expands that to 31 cubic feet. The hatchback’s cargo area also has clever adjustable shelves for different sized items.
With basically subcompact dimensions, neither the sedan nor the coupe delivers generous back-seat room. The hatchback, because of its higher roofline, has better headroom but both versions are tight on head and knee room. The center-rear position for a fifth passenger is a perch, but surprisingly with a bit of bottom-cushion comfort for short distances.
Cruising, the hatchback Sonic displayed good cornering control and straight-line tracking, although the car tended to follow grooves in the road, requiring steering corrections. With supportive front seats and a compliant suspension system, the ride was small-car decent.
The six-speed shifter’s linkage was slippery and missed shifts were nearly nonexistent. Clutch engagement was similarly slick, with no grabby tendencies.
Sonic engineers said they benefited from having their car built in the same plant as the new Buick Verano, which has a more upscale orientation toward interior quietness. Because of that, the Sonic has additional sound-deadening material in the hatchback’s spare-tire pit. Despite that, considerable road noise made its way through to the back seat area.
A comparison drive in the four-door sedan with the 1.8-liter engine and the six-speed automatic transmission revealed a car that not only is bigger overall, it feels like a larger car with slightly heavier steering. The automatic transmission also can be shifted manually with a button on the shifter.
- Model: 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ four-door hatchback.
- Engine: 1.4-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged, 138 horsepower.
- Transmission: Six-speed manual.
- Overall length: 13 feet 3 inches.
- EPA passenger/cargo volume: 88/19 cubic feet.
- Weight: 2,743 pounds.
- EPA city/highway fuel consumption: 29/40 miles to the gallon.
- Base price, including destination charge: $17,995.
- Price as tested: $18,890.