By on September 24, 2011

I’m not a big fan of changing a car model’s name in an attempt to evade a bad reputation. If the new car isn’t very good, then you’ll just have to change the name again with the next redesign. And if the car is excellent, it will seem even more so thanks to low expectations. In the case of the new B-segment Chevrolet, reviewers might proclaim, “We can’t believe this is an Aveo!” Instead we have, “What’s a Sonic?”

First, a disclaimer: The dealer-sourced Sonic you see here isn’t the one you’ll be reading about elsewhere. It’s not a top-shelf LTZ with a turbocharged 1.4-liter engine, six-speed manual transmission, and 17-inch low-profile tires. Instead, it’s a mid-level LT with the boost-free 1.8-liter base engine, a six-speed automatic, and 195/65R15 rubber optimized for something other than grip. It’s the one you’ll see most often on the road (especially if you’re near an airport). It’s probably not the Sonic you’d personally want.

When I first encountered the Sonic, at last January’s Detroit Auto Show, it might not have been love at first sight, but it was certainly like at first sight. In the displayed LTZ trim, the car had a sportier, more upscale appearance than nearly any other affordable B-segment car then offered on this side of the Atlantic. The nose stylishly arcs back from the oversized (yet not disproportionate) grille. Quad round headlights work surprisingly well within this shape. Though vaguely BMW, here the headlights are exposed (with no lens cover,) staggered, and both attractive and distinctive. Other Chevrolets would benefit from being likewise enlightened.

Unfortunately, any car’s exterior styling is optimized for a wheel of a certain size, and in the Sonic’s case, it’s the LTZ’s 17s. Fit 15s, as seen here, and the massiveness of the chunky front overhang and tall body sides becomes all too apparent. Especially in $195 worth of “inferno orange metallic.” [Note: For $295 you can add 16-inch wheels styled much like the 15s and fog lights to the LT.]

Ford, Mazda, and Hyundai all offer sleeker, more precisely tailored subcompact hatches. In comparison, this Sonic appears a brick on undersized wheels. Nice that said wheels are forged alloys even on the most affordable Sonic, but what’s the point when they’re two sizes too small? Unlike other B-segment cars, the sedan looks better than the hatch, its rear fenders better balance the fronts and it does without a vast expanse of black plastic to “hide” the rear door handle.

The Sonic’s Scionic interior suggests that the new GM might yet retain some of the old one’s wacky Pontiac DNA. We’ve got a round analog tach paired motorcycle-style with a rectangular digital speedometer (itself sandwiched between two rows of warning lights), a mix of round and rectangular air vents, and a pair of tall narrow storage areas flanking the center stack. (Everlasting glory to whomever comes up for the best use for the last. Perhaps hair product?) There’s a lot going on. Yet the look would work if not for the same emphatically hard plastic you’ll find in just about every car at this price point (a Cruze is much nicer inside). The combination elicits Aztek flashbacks. But there are certainly cheaper interiors, and at least the Sonic’s isn’t boring.

With the Sonic’s tall bodysides, GM offers a B-segment car that can bury you as well as a big Buick. Cranking up the supportive seat helps, but you’re still in a different time zone than the windshield. Good for perceived room, not so good for perceived maneuverability. Pre-teen children in back will enjoy a fine view of treetops and clouds. The rear seat cushion is mounted well off the floor, but can’t fully mitigate the stratospheric beltline.

Kudos to GM for making a telescoping steering wheel standard—most competitors don’t offer one. Unfortunately, the center stack doesn’t also telescope, leaving its intuitively arranged soft-touch knobs and buttons, close at hand in most competitors, beyond my reach.

At 5-9, I can barely fit in the second row, but this is about average for the segment. Cargo volume is similarly modest. Safety was clearly a priority: there are ten standard airbags, including front seat knee airbags and rear seat side airbags (the latter aren’t even offered in most cars, and tend to be a $300+ option even in pricey German machinery).

The chassis might be pretty good. It’s hard to say, because of the big car driving position, mute steering, and 195/65R15 Hankook Optima tires that noisily give up the fight before the suspension can enter into it. (The LTZ at least avoids the last, and deserves a follow-up test to see if the chassis retains its composure when actually challenged.) Point the car straight ahead and it rides more quietly and smoothly than most, but without the premium feel of a Ford Fiesta.

Why “Sonic?” The only thing traveling the length of the street at the speed of sound is the loud gargle of the 138-horsepower 1.8-liter four as it clatters its way past 3,000 rpm. As in every competitor you must go there to produce much resembling forward motion, but in this case your ears will hate you for it. Forget stealth. Everyone within earshot will think you’re flogging the car far harder than you actually are. GM worked hard to minimize interior noise, then stuffed this engine in the nose. Baffling.

Last, and least, we have the six-speed automatic transmission. For this conventional unit, GM must have benchmarked the Fiesta’s dual-clutch automated manual transmission for shift logic and smoothness. Bumps, lurches, hesitations, jumping two gears forward only to immediately jump one back—it’s all annoyingly here far too much of the time. Plus engine lugging. The transmission seems unaware that the 1.8 gets the shakes below 1,750 rpm, and takes it there as often as possible. You can manually shift the transmission using a toggle on the knob to avoid some of the misbehavior, but this is a purely practical endeavor. There’s no joy to be had working the mere 1,250 or so rpm between the Scylla of mechanical racket and the Charbydis of engine shakes.

Small car, torque-free four-cylinder, six-speed engine-lugging transmission: it seems a recipe to stellar EPA numbers, doesn’t it? And yet with 25 city / 35 highway the tested car barely manages to tie the much larger, much heavier, considerably more powerful 2012 Toyota Camry.

The solution for all of these powertrain woes? Spend the $700 to get the turbocharged 1.4. It’s no more powerful up top, but has a plumper midrange and, though hardly a paragon of refinement, with its own shakes at idle, is much easier on the ears than the 1.8. Also a six-speed manual and better EPA numbers: 29/40. But it won’t initially be offered with an automatic.

The parts might still require some finessing, but with so much standard (alloy wheels, ten airbags, automatic headlights, four-way steering column adjustment, etc.) there are plenty of them. A 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT with automatic transmission and the Bluetooth / cruise package lists for $18,090. Though $730 more than last year’s Aveo, a run through TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool tallies up nearly $2,500 in additional features, for a feature-adjusted advantage of about $1,750. A similarly-equipped (but less roomy) Ford Fiesta SE lists for $390 more before adjusting for remaining feature differences, and about $1,300 more afterwards. The redesigned but still 106-horsepower, four-speed Toyota Yaris SE includes $1,500 less stuff in its almost identical list price. A Hyundai Accent SE lists for $535 less, but the feature adjustment reverses this advantage. In every case the Sonic’s additional features more than cancel out any price disadvantage—it’s the value play in the segment.

This has been a much more critical review than I expected to write, given the unexpected refinement in some other recent GM products (Cruze, Volt, Equinox, Regal). The Sonic is much better than the Aveo it replaces…like the 2005 Cobalt was much better than the Cavalier it replaced. Competitors haven’t been standing still. The B-segment has become far more competitive recently, with many new or redesigned entries, each smoother, quieter, and more capable of sustained highway driving than the past norm. Among these, the Fiesta is more refined, the Mazda2 is more fun-to-drive, and the Accent might provide the best combination of both with a semi-livable rear seat. In this flash mob, why buy a Sonic? Its arguable strengths come down to more extroverted styling, a more attractive sedan (for those who lean that way), and additional standard features. But GM has lost too many times playing this hand in the past. Such is the way of the auto industry. Keep aiming to best the old car or the current competition, and you’ll be conjuring up a new model name every generation.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta.com, an online source of car reliability and pricing information.

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112 Comments on “Review: 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT...”


  • avatar
    dwford

    When I saw the Sonic in New York last spring, the cheapo interior really stood out. The shape is nice, but there are much nicer interiors out there. Did they have some leftover Vibe gauge clusters they needed to use up? You compare the mid range LT to the top of the line Accent SE. The Accent GS is only $16,700, and all you give up are the alloys, fog lights, keyless remote and Bluetooth. The gas mileage is shockingly bad for a 2012 design. Seems like it will be a tough haul for the Sonic.

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      If Aveo past-practice is any indication, GM will be discounting the Sonic soon enough. At the current MSRP price point, they won’t have much choice. For the money, most small car buyers will be shopping elsewhere. Along with the aforementioned Fiesta, Mazda2, and Accent, for a cheap hatch, the stripper-special Kia Soul is hard to beat.

      Those old, el Cheapo, big-discount Aveos weren’t much of a bargain, either. You really had to be a tight-fisted, down-on-your-luck, masochist to buy/drive one. They weren’t exactly hot sellers.

      With lots more standard equipment, well, I can’t see even the cheapest Sonic getting discounted down to a price anywhere near the Aveo. In that respect, I suspect new Sonics will be piling up on Chevy dealer lots just as much as the Aveo.

    • 0 avatar
      ponchoman49

      It at least has a better interior than the Yaris and in some ways even the Fit and offers features not found on those two. The Yaris center mounted hard to see dash is about on a level playing field with this car’s odd small motorcycle like affair and the Honda comes out the victor here. The best bet would be a Sonic with 1.4T and 6 speed stick for the best overall power, refinement and mileage combined with the most features and a better powertrain warranty.

    • 0 avatar
      JimmyMoon

      I’m an unfortunate owner of one of these crappy Chevy Sonics. I bought it when it was 17000, and about 2-3 months later, the price dropped to 14000. The mileage for this vehicle is atrocious, they claim that it should get 25mpg/City, I’ve found out however, you’re lucky to get 18Mpg City.

      I would HIGHLY suggest that anyone considering buying this hunk of junk to bypass it for a better quality car from Ford, Mazda, or Toyota. I can’t even trade mine in.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    Well Michael, at least you admitted your negativity in your review. Not sure why but at least Autoblog got to drive more than one model making it a more thorough car review.

    http://www.autoblog.com/2011/09/23/2012-chevrolet-sonic-first-drive-review/

    Class segment busting or leading on many fronts.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t know about you, Normie, but I prefer TTAC’s take on the Sonic. I’ve seen a line on twitter that calls the Turbo Sonic a “poor man’s Mini-Cooper S,” but that Autoblog “review” you linked seems like it’s half brochure listing, and half manufacturer blow-job with a dash of insulting the Aveo (the only real criticism in the piece was directed towards the model it replaces). Every other thing pointed out in that Autoblog post was softballed (it has rear drums, *please don’t cut off our gravy-train of free cars*please*please*please*).

      Since when is pointing out a vehicle’s shortcomings “negative?” Don’t you think it’s helpful for the manufacturer and designers to know what people would like to see improved on a vehicle? Michael basically states that the Sonic is the best equipped and best value proposition in the segment. You can hardly find more honest or objective reviews anywhere other than on TTAC.

      Also, I could point out that by driving more than one model/trim of the Sonic, Autoblog’s review is much less thorough, and concentrates on the Turbo, not on the midrange model, which is likely to be the most common on the roads.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Not sure why but at least Autoblog got to drive more than one model making it a more thorough car review.

      Yes, there is no reason whatsoever to review the mid-level trim models, i.e. the versions that most car shoppers will test drive and renters will rent.

      Instead, let’s read reviews about fully loaded manual transmission models that have been prepped for the press corps and that virtually no one is going to consider buying. That’s obviously a lot more realistic (cough, cough)…

    • 0 avatar

      Here’s the full extent of AB’s take on the powertrain I tested:

      “We spent time in what’s sure to be the Sonic’s volume model – an LT sedan equipped with the six-speed auto and 1.8-liter – and found it more than adequate, even with three lanky journalists and their luggage in tow.”

      They then spend the rest of the review on “a kitted out LTZ with the turbocharged 1.4-liter and standard six-speed manual.”

      Thorough?

      I also found the car “more than adequate.” Read between the lines–why don’t they say any more about it?

    • 0 avatar
      tjh8402

      it’s oft repeated debate in the automotive media, do you review cars for the average consumer or the enthusiast? Quite frankly, I don’t care about how this model performs because there’s no way in hell I’d ever consider it, volume model or not. The only Sonic I’d ever look at is a turbo, and a manual would be mandatory, esp the 6 speed. Similar reason the most interesting/relevant Focus review for me on this site (and in any publication) was MK’s of the SE 5 speed sport hatch, which to me is the only Focus model worth looking at. Until they throw a proper manual in the Titanium or SEL, I don’t really care how they drive (and I told the Ford sales manager as much when I went there to test drive). But I’ll also admit my car buying preferences and priorities are different than 99.99% of buyers out there.

      • 0 avatar
        th009

        Personally I’ll never buy a Sonic of any variety (or Fiesta, or Yaris, or …) but I was still very interested in reading the review from an industry perspective.

      • 0 avatar
        dan1malk

        I’m with tjh,
        The Sonic Turbo with the manual is the only Sonic I’d consider. I think it’s only ~$700 for the better engine and transmission.

        Sure the LT will be the volume car for boring people, so let Yahoo review that one. I am an enthusiast who likes reading enthusiast reviews. This is not the car that should have been reviewed here.

        1.8? Auto? It’s optioned like the rental car special. Surprise, surprise it drives like one too.

        Review the enthusiast spec one, please.

      • 0 avatar
        PJ McCombs

        I enjoy these reviews of the volume-seller models – they better indicate how the model and brand are going to fare in the market, which some readers find at least as interesting as picking their next car. Also, I have to say AB’s reviews are complimentary of pretty much anything they’re given these days.

  • avatar
    Equinox

    The motorcycle type speedometer and tach have been offered by Chevy in the Beat/Daewoo Matiz that is sold elsewhere.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Thanks for the honesty Michael.

    I fail to see GMs strategy with this car. It’s clearly not cheap but it also doesn’t fit into the premium small car niche like the Fiesta. For that it would need at least a more upscale interior.

    Most likely it will be a value case that GM is making but its hard to make that case when a basic LT automatic is $17.5K and for another grand you can get an Elantra GLS with preferred package that not only has more room but also gets better mileage and has a better warranty.

  • avatar
    mjz

    Despite some of the shortcomings of the car (no pun intended), I think it will quickly becomes the best selling model in the B-segment. The value equation, plus the fact that it’s the only car in this class assembled in the U.S. will make it very appealing to a lot of potential customers.

  • avatar
    MBella

    I’m pretty sure those wheels are cast Micheal. I don’t see GM being the company that is going to give you standard forged wheels on a $14K car. If they did, I’m sure they would be bragging up a storm on their website.

    • 0 avatar
      Secret Hi5

      The other reviews that talk about this say that all the wheel sizes are forged alloys.

      So how does that change the way you see GM?

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        It makes the 2,850 lb curb weight of the Sonic all the more inexplicable. I wonder if the bolt patern is shared with any companies that know how to make cars.

      • 0 avatar
        MBella

        I see them as very stupid if they don’t advertise a very expensive feature for their vehicle on their own website. It’s like they forgot to mention that the 1.4L is turbocharged.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        They might not advertise the use of forged wheels because they don’t want the w word to enter the discussion. Start bragging about lightweight materials and the next thing you know people will want to ask how much less it weighs than competitors. -250 to -600 lbs less is the answer.

  • avatar
    mjz

    By the way, there is an option package on the LT (or 2LT?) to add 16″ wheels and foglights, if you don’t want to go for the high zoot LTZ model.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Well at least with the 15in rims people will actually be able to afford replacement tires.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      That’s a big reason I look to downsize my wheels. It saves thousands over the life of a car. And unless you drive aggressively, it won’t make a difference.

    • 0 avatar
      Kevin Jaeger

      Yeah, and there’s no need for wheels bigger than 15 inches on a car this size. With better tires it will almost certainly ride and handle better with 15 inch wheels anyway. 17 inches on this car are ridiculous.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        195/65R5 was the stock size on the Mercedes-Benz 300E W124, on the Porsche 924S, and on a generation of midsize Japanese best sellers. While this subcompact weighs more than the Porsche and some of the old midsizers, 195/65R15s should be plenty of tire provided anyone still bothers to make high quality 65s. BMW E30s handled great on 195/65R14s, while weighing very close to what the new Sonic does.

      • 0 avatar
        ponchoman49

        100% agree on this. Why does a tiny car like this need 17″ tires like my full sized Impala? So that the tire companies get richer faster perhaps. 15″ tires on this car will not only ride smoother, weight less, cost less to replace, reduce un-sprung weight but will also go through the snow better and give overall better fuel economy on a given model that uses larger 17 or 18′s.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        Guys it has nothing to do with anything except looks… MOST people think bigger wheels look better on cars than smaller ones. Thats why show car concept cars always have huge oversized wheels. All the commenters talking about how silly it looks are not in the majority, and best of all, Chevy offers almost every model of this car with smaller wheels to make you happy anyway. Only to top of the line model comes with the 17s, and the people who option the heck out of a B-class car are not really thinking about whats the cheapest one to own. By offering this option to people, Chevy can take a fairly low rent bargain basement car and make it appear more upscale and sporty to buyers who care about that. No one else even offers the option on thier B-class cars, so I am sure Chevy is hoping to draw a few buyers who dont realize you can throw a set of larger rims on a Yaris or a Fit or whatever if you care that much about it.

        This is no different than Chrysler offering 20s on its base model Charger, or Chevy offering 22s on its pickups.

    • 0 avatar
      Banger

      Educator Dan has this exactly right. We skipped the Nissan Cube SL in favor of the S primarily because of its 15″ steel wheels vs. the SL’s 16″ alloys. Had we known we could get 15″ alloys, that would have been a good compromise between better looks, lighter weight, and tire cost.

      I hate the trend of upsizing wheels only to fit prohibitively expensive, narrow-sidewall rubber, especially on what is supposed to be an economy car. There are still plenty of good tires out there in 15″ sizes. We’re shopping the Michelin Primacy MXV4 (~$110 each) to replace our Cube’s factory Toyos (which wear out very fast and will surprise you when you price a replacement set @ roughly $200/tire). The Primacy gets good reviews at TireRack and should last roughly twice as long as the 300 treadwear Toyo A20s. At any rate, the Primacy should certainly perform better than the Hankook Optimo on most cars.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        I dont understand why people complain about manufacturers offering options to people who dont happen to think like they do?? I personally think the Cube looks way better with the 16″ rims rather than the 15″ ones, I am glad I would have the choice if I decided to buy one. You prefer the utility and lower cost of ownership, and you got what you wanted too.

        And there are not plenty of good tires out there in 15″. My wife’s MR2 has staggered 15″ rims, and its nearly impossible to find performance tires to fit both the front and rear. Most 15″ tires out there are economy tires… perfect for you maybe, but not my choice.

        As for tire prices, if you shop around you can get deals on almost any size. I paid $125 each for 18″ Hankook V12 performance tires for my GTI, and the same tire in 17″ costs $115, the exact same tire in 16″ costs $105. Within the same tire brand and model, the prices are not significantly different until you hit the reall big sizes… 19″+. Now if you REALLY want a particular tire that simply isnt offered in the size you need, sure, you are out of luck.

  • avatar
    mjz

    At least there won’t be any “strippers” running around with cheesy wheel covers that look like they were pressed from aluminum pie tins, yeah I’m looking at you Fiesta (on base S and mid-level SE models no less).

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    It’s only a value leader because it’s impossible to place a dollar value on refinement.
    Looks like the same timing belt motor as on the Astra that they tried to sell as a Saturn. It’s probably not as underpowered in the Sonic but there is no excuse for a gas engine without a chain in 2011. I held my nose and accepted it in my TDI because I wanted the diesel bad enough, but if I were buying a gas engine I wouldn’t consider one.

    • 0 avatar
      chaparral

      What’s wrong with a timing belt? It’s a lot lighter and lower-inertia than a chain, it’s better for NVH, and it actually keeps the cams in time rather than flopping around all over the place like a chain.

      You have to replace them every 60k or 100k miles, but you’ll need to change the water pump and thermostat anyway then so there’s no advantage there.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        Many engines today are of an “interfererence” design which means if the belt breaks it will likely cause the pistions and valves to perform a mating dance that equals engine rebuild. Chains should be checked and replaced but when is the last time you heard of one breaking?

      • 0 avatar
        iNeon

        Check out a 380 or 420 series Mercedes-Benz from appx. 1980-1988. They failed regularly.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        So I guess that means its been almost 25yrs since you have heard of one breaking, and even then only in one type of car… guess thats a pretty good track record compared to timing belts!

      • 0 avatar
        MBella

        Trust me, the outgoing 272 V6 and 273 V8 had many timing chain issues. If you replace the belt at correct intervals, it will not snap.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        You have to replace them every 60k or 100k miles, but you’ll need to change the water pump and thermostat anyway then so there’s no advantage there.

        True, if the water pump is driven by the timing system. But who would want an engine like that when a better design is to drive the water pump with the accessory belt so you don’t even have to think about touching it until it leaks, and when it does you can easily change it yourself in a couple of hours.

  • avatar
    tuckerdawg

    I’d like to see how the 1.4 turbo stacks up, AB quotes it as getting 40mpg hwy? If thats trues I feel like that competes a little better in this segment.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ll let you know as soon as I can get my hands on one. I recently sampled the 1.4T in the Cruze, which I’ll be reviewing soon. It shakes a bit at idle, and doesn’t have much of a bottom end or a top end, but feels considerably stronger and smoother in the midrange. It should feel quicker in the lighter Sonic. As noted in the review, it’s the way to go. Except most people will want an automatic transmission, and you can’t yet get the 1.4T with an automatic transmission in the Sonic.

  • avatar
    bufguy

    First off GM has stated that all wheels will be forged for NVH reasons.
    This car or the B segment will never be on my shopping list, but I think it will be a hit.
    Although not class leading for an enthusiast, the standard equipment, especially safety equipment will attract people. That’s how the Japanese and then the Koreans made inroads (i.e, Chevette vs. Corolla).
    Just as the Fusion and Malibu have brought shoppers back to Ford and Chevy, I think this car will do the same.

  • avatar
    NN

    This is a great review. I’ve been baffled at what Autoblog wrote…just look at the profile, it’s still very much an Aveo, which has been arguably the worst car sold in the American market for the past few years. They’ve put a really nice laquered polish on an old turde. To their credit…they stuffed it with airbags and the LTZ sedan does look very good…but who in their right mind is going to pay $20k for a loaded LTZ Sonic? Clearly, the LT hatch still reflects GM’s longtime practice at the lower end…have it engineered at the absolute lowest cost(Daewoo), call it something new, ride on the momentum created by those who say “GM has changed–this is IT!!!” and in five years everyone who bought one realizes it’s sh!te. With the Mazda 2, Fiesta, Fit, Accent, Yaris, and new Rio all bringing to the market cars that the manufacturers put a lot of effort into; GM’s attempt here is still too little. Thanks for telling the truth.

  • avatar
    gasser

    For me, the photo from the driver’s seat looking out the windshield says it all. The driving position looks to be as airy as a coffin. I really miss the older Hondas with their low cowls and belt lines. Soon automakers will offer both rearward view AND forward view cameras in their Navi systems.

  • avatar

    Unfortunately, any car’s exterior styling is optimized for a wheel of a certain size

    That’s because the relationship between the wheel, tire and wheel arch is usually the first thing that contemporary car designers draw when presented with a blank sheet of paper. The less circular the wheel arches are, the more tolerant the design is of different size wheels.

    With circular arches, you end up with a nested design. Your visual system will naturally start looking at proportions between the nested elements. Since today’s style accentuates the wheel and minimizes the tire, small wheels and fat tires on the Sonic look funny with those wheel wells.

    I think the reason why the small wheels are so noticeable on the Sonic is that not only are the wheel arches circular, they are more than just half circles, extending a bit around the tires. That visually reinforces the nesting.

    I’ll have to start looking at older designs to see if anyone tried 180+ degree round wheel wells with small rims before.

    • 0 avatar

      Designs are much more commonly wheel-centric than they used to be, partly because the manufacturers finally let designers put huge wheels on production cars. But if you create such a design, then make the wheels it was designed for available only on the top trim, you end up with a lot of frumpy cars on the road.

    • 0 avatar
      Boff

      Interesting perspective. I guess this is why lowering the car an inch does wonders for even a frumpytired car.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        Once upon a time all GM cars were designed to have enough wheel clearance to easily accept tire chains. That is not the case anymore, but you should have seen my 1982 Celebrity with 13in factory rims, the ride height made it look like it was on stilts.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        @Educator Dan: At one time the Feds mandated a certain amount of clearance for all cars sold in the US to accommodate chains. And they also mandated bumper heights, too.

        Many of the Eurpoean cars in the late 70′s to early 80′s looked ridiculous here in the states, because they were forced to raise the ride height and use smaller wheel and tire combinations to meet those regulations.

  • avatar
    redav

    Someone said it before, but I think it applies here: GM measures its new cars by the outgoing model while the rest of the industry measures their new cars by everything else on the market.

    This new GM is better than the Aveo, but not much more. Ford, Mazda, et al, try very hard to one-up the competition and be class leaders. But this will probably sell well because enough people are still loyal to Chevy that they will overlook its flaws.

    • 0 avatar
      dan1malk

      Hmm… Strange, every review I’ve read so far (this one included) has implied, if not said straight forward that it is MUCH better than the old Aveo. Not only that, but that the Sonic is completely competitive with other cars in its segment.

      But this will probably not matter because enough people still hate Chevy enough that they will overlook its strengths.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        That’s not what I said. This is much better than the Aveo, but not better than much else. This article implies it is inferior to Ford, Mazda, & Hyundai. Also, this is not the trim that others will review much since they tend to review higher trims. Certainly the high trim level version may be competitive with other manufacturers.

      • 0 avatar
        threeer

        Dan,

        That’s a big part of the problem. Sure, the Sonic is more than likely leaps and bounds better than the Aveo. It wouldn’t take much to be, honestly (and yes, I’ve actually driven several as rental beasts). How it compares to the other cars in the segment is more important than how it stacks up to the outgoing model it is replacing…and being “completely competitive” isn’t necessarily enough to spring the Sonic to the head of the pack. “Class leading” should have been the target, not aiming lower to simply improve on the Aveo.

  • avatar
    FPF422

    Reading that I’m so happy with my Volkswagen CrossPolo 1.4 DSG LOL

  • avatar
    Marko

    Sounds better on paper than in real life. Oh well, it’s not bad…

  • avatar
    Boff

    At first glance, I thought the white car parked ass-to-ass with the Sonic was a Ford Fiesta!!!

  • avatar
    rtfact32

    I don’t get it. I’m paying arond $19k for a nicely kitted Ford Focus five-speed hatch. Why would you pay the same money for a smaller, less refined car (the same goes for the Fiesta).

    • 0 avatar
      Boff

      Yeah I’ve priced the 2 Fords…in Canada, the Fiesta SES 5-speed is only about $15/month cheaper than the Focus SE with 5-speed and sport package.

    • 0 avatar

      As noted in my earlier review, the Focus SE with Sport Package is an incredibly good car given what it costs. With an automatic is lists for about $23,000, though.

      You should be able to get a Fiesta or Sonic for less than a Focus, if you’re comparably equipping them and applying the same discounts. But the Focus is so much better that it’s definitely the way to go if you can afford it.

      • 0 avatar
        rtfact32

        I’m waiting on my ’11 SE with a five speed, Sports & Winter package (in Kona Blue no less!) right now, and when we’re all said and done, it will be out the door for just over $20k. I must admit, there are several features that are in my ’01 Focus that aren’t in this model (just nice little touches, likes a damper on the rear door post where the seatbelt buckle rests to keep it from rattling – such a simple thing in a ten year old car!) I’m definitely looking forward to the SYNC and heated seats.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        the Focus SE with Sport Package is an incredibly good car given what it costs. With an automatic is lists for about $23,000, though.

        Is that Canadian? I just checked the Ford web builder & found:
        - SE 5-door
        - automatic
        - cruise
        - sport package
        has MSRP of $21,180 (figure includes destination charges to TX)

        Upgrading the radio adds cost, but even with SIRIUS, it’s still under $22k.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    I also don’t understand the big wheels on the little cars. Big wheels need big wheel housings which subtract from space inside the car.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      The new Nissan Versa has fairly small wheels (compared to many other cars sold here in the States) and at first I though the car looked odd. Then I remembered that not every economy car owner in the world wants their car burdened with 22″ wagon wheels…

  • avatar
    geozinger

    Great review, Michael. I’m a little disappointed that this car didn’t do as well as the Cruze did on it’s initial review. Thanks again for reviewing a trim level that a lot of us most likely will encounter. I’ve thought about purchasing one of these as opposed to buying another beater, as the initial price seems pretty good.

    I wasn’t too horrified to see the smaller wheels on this car, they look OK in those wheel wells. I’m also a little disappointed to hear you didn’t like the 1.8 motor, I was hoping it would be more a performer in this car. Even though it’s not a bad deal ($700 for the turbo motor and 6 speed manual) I don’t know if I’d spring for it.

    It looks like that the best value in these cars (like most other Chevys) is the LT model.

  • avatar
    daviel

    Why can’t GM make a decent small car? Most other companies can. I don’t think GM ever has.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    AS they say,you can’t win them all, but at this stage GM cannot afford to lose even one. Again they come up short in the drive train dept. When car-savvy buyers compare the Sonic to the competitors they will realize it falls short again. It’s deja-Aveo all over again.

    • 0 avatar
      th009

      Considering how many people are buying the new Jetta with the much-maligned 2.0 non-turbo engine, I think we should all accept that most buyers really don’t have very high expectations about drivetrains. And that holds especially true in this class.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        People are buying plenty of Cruzes as well, which have the same miserable drivetrains. I doubt the automatic 1.4T is a silver bullet. The Cruze is about 350 lbs heavier too, so the engines are thrashing away just to move the things.

    • 0 avatar

      Perhaps a significant number of people will be wowed by the nifty instruments?

      I have both an Accent and a Versa this week, and both of their interiors are boring in comparison.

      I would love to know the sales split of the new Jetta, and the thought process of the people who buy it. I did enjoy driving one with the 2.5.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        Have they addressed the instrument alignment issue? Early reviewers commented that the sides of the gauge and display were blocked by the steering wheel rim.

      • 0 avatar
        th009

        Anecdotal information says that the VW dealers have been surprised by the number of people taking the 2.0 Jetta. And I see plenty of those in traffic, too (no “2.5″ or “TDI” badging means base engine).

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        Michael – I had read that it was about 2% of Jetta’s were the 115bhp version. This seems borne out by the relatively high average transaction price (somewhere above $25K). I don`t have the split reference to hand sorry.

      • 0 avatar
        th009

        @mike978, anecdotally at least, the percentage is much higher in Canada.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        th009 – the figures I saw were for US not Canada. I can believe though, because in Europe cars like this regularly start at 90hp so 115hp is “respectable”. And these are countries where people usually drive faster than here.

  • avatar
    John R

    Yeesh. I’d as soon buy a lightly used midsize instead. Somewhere a blue hedgehog has commited itself to a facepalm.

  • avatar
    FromaBuick6

    18 grand? For this? Sorry, I’ll pass. But, in fairness, that also goes for the Fiesta, Fit and just about anything else in this segment. You could get a decent new compact or lightly-used midsize for that cash…with better MPG.

    And this isn’t even the nice model. You’d have to be an idiot to spring even more to get the turbo. I think all these high-end subcompacts/compacts are designed more to make autojournos swoon then to actually be sold to private customers. i.e. the bulk of the non-rental new Focuses I see are shod with crap plastic wheel covers, just like all the new Civics everybody hates on. That’s not a knock against either car, it just means the average economy buyer could care less about the bells and whistles.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    “In the subcompact market, things like standard aluminum wheels are big news. Guess what? The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic has standard aluminum wheels. Honestly, we really like that. But in bigger news, Chevy’s forthcoming econobox is actually fun to drive. ”
    http://m.caranddriver.com/review.rbml?id=404316&full=true

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      “A brief disclaimer: Our driving exposure was limited to preproduction prototypes in one configuration (1.4-liter turbo, manual transmission, five-door) on an improvised circuit at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis, Indiana. In other words, we won’t be able to give you a definitive review until we get more time in a finished production car.”

      Shades of the X-car introduction.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      I’m still a C&D fan, but don’t take anything they write about a car too seriously until you see it in a comparison test.

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    I am willing to bet these things will be advertised for $12-14k very soon… and at that price it will be a decent value. Its not a bad looking car, especially the LTZ, and mounting a set of 17″ rims on the base model will give you most of the look of the LTZ on the cheap if you care. The Aveo filled the same role before, the cheap alternative to the better products from other manufacturers. The Sonic will fill the same role, but its a better car, not quite as dorky and punishing. But at MSRP, no sale, no way.

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      MSRP – who pays that? Of course it will come down to somewhere near inventory (plus any incentives in months/years to come). Problem solved.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        No one pays MSRP, but that’s the apples to apples comparison that the article is making. My point is that sticker price is meaningless because Chevy has a long history of discounting heavily. At $14k or even $15k for an LTZ, the savings from a similarly equipped Fiesta or Accent is going to be significant enough to move the metal.

  • avatar
    Eddie_515

    Hopefully that white Accent is the manual SE Michael mentioned after reviewing that black GLS accent. I am interested in that car – can’t wait for the review if that’s the case. Also… when will impreza reviews start to trickle in? they are supposed to be for sale in november…

  • avatar
    nrd515

    It’s a boring night at work, so I read this review, just to kill some time before something I wanted to watch came on TV(Yes, I can watch TV at work, with a loaded up Direct TV package as a bonus!), and I was only slightly interested, since I would drive a hundred buck beater before I would own a car like this, until I hit this line:

    “Point the car straight ahead and it rides more quietly and smoothly than most, but without the premium feel of a Ford Fiesta”.

    Whoa whoa whoa, stop the clock! Are you trying to tell me that the top of the line Fiesta a friend had as a loaner a couple weeks ago is “premium feeling”?? Man, I’m glad I’m old enough, and make enough money to avoid these cheap little FWD cars like the plague! I guess my friend and I both missed the “premium” part of the experience. I’ll ask his wife if she saw it.

    Thanks for the biggest laugh I’ve had all week, after reading the comments on a couple of 911 “truther” pages. That’s some of the best, funniest stuff out there. It’s kind of sad that the posters have no idea why the stuff they post is so amazingly funny. Sad too for the families of these loons who have to live with them ranting over demo charges, thermite, thermate, some unknown energy source than supposedly was able to keep steel molten for weeks, even though it rained an 9/12. and all the other totally crazy stuff they believe in with as much certainty as my former neighbors believed in the teachings of their talking in tongues church.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Autoblog just gave this car (same configuration) a glowing review, so I appreciate this differing perspective.

    The useless rear seat room is a show-stopper for me; they could have made a much better-looking two-seater with this platform.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    I test drove a Fiesta. It was actually a fairly loaded model. It was terrible, I can’t believe I’m seeing comments referring to it as a “premium” small car.

    So I thought we would wait for the Sonic. Saw one at the auto show, but never got to touch it. The Turbo 1.4L would be absolutely mandatory, but an automatic for the wife. I liked it, in sedan form. Liked it better then even the Focus, which I drove too.

    So I was waiting for the car to come out, then I was like “f-this” and bought a brand new V6 Mustang; Because the Mustang cost about $5K more then the Sonic I would of spec’d out. When you can buy a 300hp RWD sports coupe for less then $25k, why spend $18k on anything but? The Mustang was more for the wife, and I think a used-market 1.4L Sonic has a place in my future to replace the 78′ Chevy I drive to work every day. When they get below $10k that is…

    • 0 avatar
      kol

      “So I was waiting for the car to come out, then I was like “f-this” and bought a brand new V6 Mustang; Because the Mustang cost about $5K more then the Sonic I would of spec’d out. When you can buy a 300hp RWD sports coupe for less then $25k, why spend $18k on anything but?”

      Because there’s a lot more to a car’s cost to own than the price?

      I’d love a Mustang, but even though a base model isn’t much more than a loaded-up Fiesta, when you factor in fuel costs and insurance its about $4000 more over a 3-year period. That’s a lot, at least to some people (me).

      The Fiesta is hardly horrible unless you’re addicted to power, anyway. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but you know. Different strokes.

    • 0 avatar
      mnm4ever

      A $5-6k price difference is pretty significant, especially to buyers in this segment. Granted, the Mustang is a pretty good deal, IF you want a base model V6 Mustang. If you dont care about a $5k price bump, then I would question why buy a V6 Mustang when the GT is only about $5k more?? :)

      But if you want a smaller car, a hatchback, 4 doors, etc, a Mustang isnt going to work. There are a lot of cars at $25k that are MUCH better than the Sonic, but if your budget is $16-18k tops, then you arent going to look at $25k cars.

      Plus as I pointed out before, this car isnt ever going to sell at even close to MSRP. I wouldnt be surprised if you find these available used at $10k as soon as next year, if you really want one. But you cant get a 1.4 turbo with the auto as of yet…

  • avatar
    kol

    I’m really disappointed by this review.

    Okay, actually, I like the review just fine. Because it’s the only one so far that hasn’t been obviously putting lipstick on a pig, avoiding the more common 1.8 model on the justification that no true enthusiast would buy one.

    I was really looking forward to the Sonic, because I would be one of the guys buying a 1.4 Turbo with a six-speed. I drove that powertrain in a Cruze Eco and it was great (for what it is), but the Cruze is just too boring. And if I was going to buy a car of that size I’d go for the new Focus.

    But now, the Sonic reviews are coming out, and I just can’t get over how cheap that interior looks. Okay, the speedo is cool. But everything else is just…blah..

    On the other hand, I have the same problem with the exterior that I do with the Camaro. Yes, it’s cool. But it also looks a bit too much like a cartoon. I can’t personally see myself behind the wheel of one.

    I don’t know. Maybe I’ll test drove one anyway. But overall this has managed to be even more disappointing than the Veloster.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Knew I’d read a review on that engine before, and sure enough it’s right here on TTAC. Cruze German spec, Jan 25, 2010 by Martin Schwoerer.

    The conclusion: the 1.8l engine is so bad, it ruins the car.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    With 138hp and all of the hype surrounding this car, I expected a more positive review. A thoroughly average car in a suddenly crowded and competitive segment.

    Why are these hatchbacks so damned short? There’s no room behind that rear wheel, so forget about cargo. And your backseat passenger has about six inches of open air and thin glass separating the back of their head from the grill of that pickup truck behind you. Ridiculous. Most B-segment cars are bad in this regard, but this appears to be the worst.

    • 0 avatar
      aspade

      What hype?

      This wasn’t a world car other markets already loved. There was no stunning concept. The powertrain already proved itself underwhelming in the Cruz.

      The Daewoo Aveo II is everything we all knew it would be all along.

  • avatar
    84GT-S

    I like the headlights. I don’t like the bow-tie on the bumper – should be up on the grille. I hate digital speedometers. Cool color.

  • avatar
    dwight

    When I saw the Sonic at the Toronto Auto Show last Feb, I was intrigued enough to want to drive one. I like the look. I like the dash. The seats are comfortable. Finally, out on the road this week I was able to test drive a 1.8L base version with the 5-speed tranny. It’s a likeable car. Plenty of seat room up front to fit my 6’2″ frame so I was quite comfortable. I like the upright seating position as it adds to the sporty driving dynamic that the car might have if I were to drive the up market car. In this case, the suspension was soft (took bumps well) but (and as the reviewer noticed) the smaller wheels didn’t give much confidence in the corners. I’m sure the car was up for the task, though. One gripe that I had was with the shifter…kinda grindy spongy feeling much like the Aveo. And clutch action has you releasing all the way out before the car goes…I hate that, it feels like the clutch is slipping. The engine, while not refined (honda style), was willing if driven in the upper hemisphere of the rpm. It does have good pull when up there but it it is a total economy car and seems to reluctantly give you the power. The dealer put a loud exhaust on the car I test drove, and it was nothing but annoying, but I wonder if the performance would have been different with the stock muffler. All in all, I didn’t mind the car, until I got back into my 06 civic with stick. That is when I realized that I would just leave the Sonic on the shelf and keep my “real” car.

  • avatar
    CRConrad

    Very nice use of ‘enlightened’ there, in “Other Chevrolets would benefit from being likewise enlightened”.

    Just sayin’, so you’ll know it weren’t for nuthin’; at least one of us Gadarenes appreciate that little pearl.

  • avatar
    chrisfritts

    I have a Sonic LT 1.8 auto sedan. Nicely equipped with options you’d normally find on something more expensive. Bluetooth, Sirius, 10 airbags, a slot to plug a music loaded flashdrive into, just to name a few. I took a 2 year extended warranty going out to 5 years knowing the Aveo story. Yea the tranny is wierd with 6 speeds, seems to get ‘confused’ once in a while. Can’t really tell where the front end really ends or the back end either. On the freeway, different story. Caught myself doing 75MPH a few times when I normally like 65. If I draft an 18 wheeler about 2-3 seconds behind, I will get 50.5 MPG. Normally in town, I get low 30′s or high 20′s. A radar detector is advisable as the car sneaks up on you and that speedometer and gauge set that reminds me of a motorcycle says 80. Ran it down to 1/4 tank refilled it at $3.29/gallon and barely could fit $29.00 in the tank. They are assembled in Michigan with I think 47% American parts. So, I have two things, American jobs and not sending as much money to OPEC. I kept my 3rd other car for “Sunday rides”. BTW It’s a Mustang. The Sonic is my go to work and those megadrives to out of the area relatives ride. The Sirius and lots of buttons to play with makes up for any claustrophobic feelings I may have. The car takes some getting used to. Just figured out how to change the thermometer from Celsius to Fahrenheit and reset the trip odometer after having this thing a week. Insurance is very friendly with this car too. Thinking for me it’s $77 a month for nice levels of coverage. Yep, I bought GAP at the dealer too. Looked pretty straightforward to work on as it gets old if I don’t trade at 5 years. Ride inside is very quiet. They was right thinking it had a taste of something from Germany. I can’t figure it out myself fully either. I’ll just enjoy not worrying about weekend wrenching on this for a few years.

  • avatar
    favre1000

    I just traded in my 2011 Ford Fiesta SE Hatchback for a 2012 Sonic LT Hatchback. Let me start by saying that the Fiesta yes gets better gas mileage (anywhere between 28-33 city) and 40+ highway with the 6 speed auto. It turns on a dime and handles better than the sonic. It is so freaking sluggish when starting out and you can’t really put the gas pedal down too quickly after slowing down because the tranny is still downshifting and could potentially get you into trouble if you think you can drive this car like you would any other car. The back of the Fiesta (cover which attaches to the hatch) is cheap and looks like it would almost break. In order to drop the back seats on the fiesta to make more cargo room, you have to first partially lower the seats and then remove 2 headrests before you can completely lower the back seats. The sync is too freaking complicated and only paired with my phone about 50% of the time. I drove 6300 miles on my fiesta and just got tired of not being able to fit my 4 year old in the back due to the nonexistent leg room.

    The 2012 Chevy Sonic Hatch LT/Connectivity Package feels more solidly built in comparison to the Ford Fiesta. While the dash and materials feel somewhat hard, overall I would say that the controls on my Sonic are more intuitive and easier to use than the Fiestas. The engine while not being as efficient as some of the others in the class far outperforms the fiestas sluggish and at times annoying engine. While this car won’t be doing 0-60 in 5 seconds, it will allow you to merge onto the highway with a little more assertiveness than the nimble but anemic Fiesta. The sonic may not appeal to all but I was sold when I test drove it and was able to carry my children in the back, and they still had a couple of inches of legroom. The drivers seat feels much more comfortable than the fiestas and you can actually see out of the back of the car with ducking to see. XM for 3 months, On-Star for 6 months and a stereo that sounds way better than the fiesta are enough for me. You might not get everything you want in the Sonic but you would be hard pressed to not consider this vehicle.

  • avatar
    devilinc

    Your review was the first I read and, thank god, not the last. I went on to further read Car and Driver, Road and Track, Autoguide, and Popular Mechanics. All of their journalists were giving the Sonic (LT and LTZ) very good reviews. I have not seen another review that is as negative as yours. Maybe it’s time for the reviewer to reanalyse his position.

  • avatar
    chrisfritts

    I can’t say it’s a bad car. I look at things critically. I bought this car with the definition of car being something to get you from point A to point B. Has nice lines and the bullet shaped front end is different. Looked at this car from all angles and seems it is do-able to work on in the future (E.G. tuneups, brakes, exhaust, tranny, etc). Very affordable. With GAP insurance, normal dealer fees, and extending the 3 year (other) warranty out to 5 years would run in the $385 payment range on a 5 year note at 8.9% poor credit rate. If still any doubts, Just go to the Chevy dealer and take one for a spin and wear jeans so you can get under it (or talk the service dept to put it on a rack). You might be surprised. It’s just a baby sister to the Cruze. Dependability has come a long way over the years but I still took the warranty to be sure. I hope I lost money on that warranty.


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