The Truth About Cars » 2012 chevrolet sonic http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 17:47:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » 2012 chevrolet sonic http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Rental Car Review: My Wisconsin Week With a 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/rental-car-review-my-wisconsin-week-with-a-2012-chevrolet-sonic-lt/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/rental-car-review-my-wisconsin-week-with-a-2012-chevrolet-sonic-lt/#comments Mon, 21 Oct 2013 13:00:17 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=628786 27 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIn my travels as Chief Justice of the 24 Hours of LeMons Supreme Court, I spend a lot of time in bottom-end rental cars. Sometimes I get press cars and write about them on these trips, but that’s usually more of a hassle than it’s worth. For about 15 four-day race weekends a year (plus a few vacation trips here and there) I’m in a Dodge Avenger, Nissan Altima, Ford Focus, or other rental-fleet favorite. 2013 is a year of Wisconsin visits for me; first, I went to my wife’s Milwaukee high-school reunion with a ’13 Jaguar XJL Portfolio, then I spent nine days in Door County with a rental ’12 Sonic, and next month I’ll be at the Chubba Cheddar Enduro at Road America with a ’14 Mitubishi Evo. The Sonic made an unexpectedly strong impression on me in August, so let’s see what life with Chevy’s little Daewoo is like.
00 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWhen we arrived at the Milwaukee airport, the rental-car agency had just one car available in the class I’d reserved: a 2012 Chevy Sonic with more than 25,000 miles on the clock. Twenty-five thousand miles, on a rental car! Rental-car miles are like dog years, with one rental mile roughly equivalent to seven owned miles, and I had never before seen a rental car (in the United States) with more than 15,000 miles under its belt. I figured I’d be getting a sneak preview of what a Sonic with 175,000 hard miles would be like in the year 2025— an opportunity, not a disappointment, for the serious automotive journalist.
08 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinMinutes after leaving the airport, I spotted a good-sized car show, complete with live music, so I figured I’d get right into Upper Midwest car culture.
31 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIn a way, trips to the Upper Midwest serve as reminders of my cultural roots; though I spent most of my childhood in California, I spent my first six years in Minneapolis. Here we see the Martin Family Motor Pool, circa 1970.
30 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinYes, before the commissars of California turned me into the coastal-elitist Zaporozhets lover I am today, my family lived a proper Old Milwaukee-drinking, sauerkraut-eating, snow-shoveling, Custom 500-driving life in the heartland. In fact, every photo from my early childhood features Old Milwaukee (or Old Style, or Grain Belt) beer bottles and/or Old Dutch pretzels somewhere in the frame.
10 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinRight. So, a Milwaukee car show did a good job of getting me back in touch with my inner Midwesterner, plus there were a few interesting machines standing out from the usual background of first-gen GM F-bodies and pre-Pinto Mustangs. Say, this Stovebolt six with vintage Offenhauser intake.
09 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinOr this more modern version of the custom-Chevy theme.
24 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinWe were hungry, so we headed to the south side of Milwaukee to grab some dinner. Before leaving, however, I futzed around with the audio system of the Sonic long enough to get my MP3 player hooked up to the stereo’s AUX jack…
22 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin… at which point I discovered that this no-frills econobox has functioning Bluetooth integration. How long ago was it that only luxury cars had this stuff? Ten years?
13 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Sonic felt a bit loose and rattly, as you’d expect with a high-mileage rental, but everything worked fine and the 1.8 liter Ecotec still made decent, if buzzy, power. In fact, I can say without reservation that this is by far the best overseas-designed badge-engineered subcompact in General Motors history; the mildly unpleasant Aveo was better than the punitive Metro, which was better than the miserable Sprint, which was far superior to the wretched LeMans, which beat the hell out of the excremental Chevette, which seemed like a fine automobile next to the unspeakably terrible Kadett. With those comparisons in mind, we rolled into the south Milwaukee neighborhood in which my wife’s grandparents spent their entire lives.
11 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinDinner was at Three Brothers, a little Serbian joint located in the building that once housed one of Joseph Schlitz’s first breweries.
12 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIt’s always a good sign when you’re eating dinner at a restaurant with one of these things on the roof.
14 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinReally getting into the Upper Midwest thing at this point, I tried to imagine rolling up to this restaurant in 1964, driving the rental-car equivalent of a Sonic. A Chevy II sedan with four-cylinder engine and 10,000 miles on the odometer?
15 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinFor dinner, I had the stuffed zucchini with dumplings. Highly recommended. No, I didn’t drink Schlitz with it; there is such a thing as carrying local authenticity too far.
18 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinAfter spending the night at my mother-in-law’s place just north of Milwaukee, we hit the road for the 140-drive to Sturgeon Bay, a Lake Michigan town about midway up the Door County peninsula.
23 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe Sonic’s suspension was a bit rattly and the body was pockmarked by old hail damage, but the unapologetically plasticky interior had held up to all those miles of rental-car punishment pretty well. I continued to be impressed by the number of once-luxurious features that are now standard on even the stripper rental version of the lowest-end car of a car company’s entry-level marque. Cruise control!
21 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinTilt steering wheel! No power seats, but we may see them go the way of manual-crank windows in the next few years.
07 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI had to supply my own GPS device for the Sonic, but once backup cameras become mandatory in all new cars we can expect all those little screens to enable GPS in even the cheap Daewoos of the US car marketplace.
02 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinPassing through Belgium, Wisconsin, not far out of Milwaukee’s sphere of influence, I spotted a highway sign for the Luxembourg American Cultural Society Museum. As my legal surname should make clear to any lifelong resident of southern Wisconsin or Minnesota, I am a proud Luxembourg-American— just like Chris Evert and Dennis Hastert.
17 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinThe museum wasn’t open at the time, but it seemed like a pleasant place. No, I don’t understand why the Luxembourg American Cultural Center is located in Belgium when the town of Luxembourg, Wisconsin is nearby.
16 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinHere we are in traditional Luxembourger outfits, which gave me a powerful hunger for some traditional Lëtzebuerger Grillwurscht. So, we climbed back into the Sonic and resumed our journey.
03 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinRural Wisconsin is one of my favorite road-trip states, not least because you can stop in just about small town and snarf up an excellent meal based on the principles of the Upper Midwest Food Pyramid (more of a Food Holy Trinity, really): cured meat, cheese, and beer. The Port O’Call in Kewaunee didn’t have Lëtzebuerger Grillwurscht, but they did offer the full spectrum of New Glarus beers and a good selection of meaty, cheesy fare.
25 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinArriving in Sturgeon Bay, which is sort of a weird mashup of corn-fed Midwestern town, salty port city, and upscale resort community, I wanted to pose the Sonic by all the old-school taverns with nicely weathered Malaise Era beer signs.
26 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinI suspect that the Red Room’s Blatz sign predates the Malaise Era by a decade or two.

Beer at local prices! I gave up on the Sonic-with-vintage-beer-signs idea once I realized that such a project would take about a week to finish.
32 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinActually, I lost focus on beer signs when I spotted this Nissan Figaro parked in downtown Sturgeon Bay. I couldn’t find the owner, so I can’t tell you what no-doubt-innovative paperwork magic was performed to make this car legal for US roads.
33 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinNor can I tell you how a Citroën 2CV can survive in Wisconsin without vaporizing in a cloud of red dust within hours of arrival.
19 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinOne feature that really struck me about the Sonic was the cheap-and-cheerful instrument cluster, a discrete standalone unit that can be mounted on left or right side of the dash without too much trouble. No doubt using the same Korean-design/Taiwanese-capital/Chinese-labor system that brought us $25 boomboxes that can be tumbled down several flights of concrete steps and still crank out the Tang Dynasty, Daewoo has produced a tough, easy-to-replace analog/digital instrument cluster that provides all the needed driver information, looks vaguely science-fictiony, and probably cost less than the fuel gauge on a Maepsy.

In fact, this cluster is the first thing you see in the add for the Japan-market Chevy Sonic. Wild compact!

Now that we’re watching Sonic commercials, let’s take a look at a few more examples of the way this Daewoo is conquering the world. Here’s how they pitch it in Brazil.

In Australia, the Sonic gets badge-engineered into the Holden Barina.

In Argentina, this Sonic ad gives the econo-futuristic instrument cluster heavy billing.

The Thai-market Sonic is So You. Note the instrument cluster on the right side.

This US-market ad features Theophilus London and the sort of hoonage that would have been illegal under Malaise Era car-ad restrictions.

Speaking of hoonage, marketers of the Korean Sonic (still called the Aveo in 2012) encourage “Fun Riding” in Italy.

In Mexico, all night party people use the Sonic sedan to escape oppressive techno-state control.

Former Warsaw Pact countries got local-language versions of this ad.

This Indian-market ad is for the previous-generation Aveo, but I’m including it for general entertainment value (and to provide yet more evidence that GM has gone seriously global with its Sonic/Barina/Aveo/Zafira/whatever).
20 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin
OK, back to Wisconsin! After admiring the instrument cluster a while longer, I headed to the log cabin.
29 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinMy wife’s grandparents bought this log cabin on the Lake Michigan shore back in the 1940s, and I parked the Sonic in the spot where generations of Buicks and Packards once parked.
05 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinOver the course of the next week, I took the Sonic on many trips into town, to purchase crucial supplies (and to get internet access, so I could write about my Bonneville Salt Flats adventures of the previous week).
06 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinSonic trips to fine Wisconsonian eating establishments such as the Nightingale Supper Club, took care of my recommended yearly allowance of perch and whitefish.
04 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin
Naturally, the Sonic went on a few shopping expeditions for treats to bring back to Denver.
28 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee MartinIn the end, I was a little sad to return the hail-battered, much-traveled Chevy to the rental-car lot at MKE. The current generation of Sonic turned out to be a decent transportation appliance. If it can survive 25,000 miles in a rental fleet, you have to figure it should be good for at least 200,000 miles on the street, right? My Rental Car Review Verdict™ of the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT: Utterly bereft of Mack Daddy style, surprisingly pleasant to drive. If given a choice between this car and a Nissan Versa at the rental-car counter, take the Sonic (and if given a choice between the Dodge Journey and walking, take walking).

01 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 02 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 03 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 04 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 05 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 06 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 07 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 08 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 09 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 10 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 11 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 12 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 13 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 14 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 15 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 16 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 17 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 18 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 19 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 20 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 21 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 22 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 23 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 24 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 25 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 26 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 27 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 28 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin 29 - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Rental Car Review - Picture courtesy of Murilee Martin ]]>
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Review: 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ Turbo Take Two http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/review-2012-chevrolet-sonic-ltz-turbo-take-two/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/02/review-2012-chevrolet-sonic-ltz-turbo-take-two/#comments Sun, 12 Feb 2012 18:54:59 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=430573

My intial review of the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic was less than stellar. Considerably less. But, as noted, that reviewed covered the LT trim level with the normally-aspirated 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission. Everyone else (aside from our own Steve Lang) has been reviewing the LTZ trim level with the 1.4-liter turbocharged four and six-speed manual transmission. They’ve been much more positive about the car. How much difference can an engine, transmission, and tires make?

The differences begin with exterior appearance. Car companies frequently fit cars with a smaller wheel than they were designed for, but how they expect this to help sell cars escapes me. Even if some people buy the aesthetically afflicted car, others will see it on the road and form their initial impressions accordingly. Though not a beauty in any configuration, the Sonic looks much better with the LTZ’s 17-inch alloys than the LT’s 15s. The aggressively styled front end and chunky fenders were clearly penned with the larger wheels (or perhaps even larger ones) in mind. Especially when the car is painted orange, as both tested cars were, the 17s should be mandatory. Both of the tested cars were also hatchbacks, but unlike with other B-segment cars the Sonic sedan is equally attractive.

The interior plastics didn’t seem any nicer after a week than they did during my earlier test drive. Even in the LTZ they’re competitive with other cars in the segment but a clear step down from the fabric trim (on the instrument panel!) and soft-touch polymers of the C-segment Chevrolet Cruze. My fondness for the motorcycle-inspired gauge cluster did grow with familiarity. Unlike the oddball digital instruments of decades past, those in the Sonic actually work well, clearly and entertainingly presenting essential information.

The driving position and interior dimensions are of course unchanged from the LT to the LTZ. In either trim the Sonic feels larger than its direct competitors, and more like cars from a size class up, thanks to a high beltline and distant windshield. Whether this is a plus or a minus depends on whether you prefer your small cars to actually seem small. Chevrolet’s bet, is no doubt a sound one: most people buying a B-segment car would get something larger if they could afford it. Actual interior room is among the best in the segment, so the average adult will just fit without scrunching. The front seats are comfortable, but those seeking much lateral support will be much happier in the upcoming 2013 Sonic RS. Oddly, the heated seats only have one level of adjustment.

The 1.4-liter engine might be turbocharged, but with the same peak horsepower rating as the normally-aspirated 1.8 it’s not a screamer. In fact, it’s the opposite. Where the 1.8 lugs, gargles, buzzes, and roars in the process of motivating the Sonic’s 2,600 pounds (which shouldn’t actually be a tall order for a 138-horsepower 1.8), the 1.4T effectively accomplishes this task. The difference: a much plumper midrange (indicated by 148 pound-feet of torque vs. 125) and much more refinement from idle to redline. In fact, the 1.4T isn’t only smoother and stronger than the Sonic’s other engine, but better than the segment’s other powerplants. If you’re seeking a B-segment car that provides effortless acceleration in typical suburban driving, the Sonic with the 1.4T engine is your only option in North America.

Given the engine’s plump midrange and less stout top end—it was clearly optimized for the former—there’s little joy in and even less justification for making runs to the redline. But the six-speed manual transmission is still the way to go. The stick feels slicker and more solid than past GM efforts—and than Hyundai’s current effort in the Accent. Aside from the more direct connection with the car a manual transmission always provides, this one provides the additional benefit of avoiding the unrefined, poorly programmed six-speed automatic. Then again, the automatic isn’t yet available with the 1.4T (though this combo has been offered since launch in the Cruze.) The EPA ratings: 29 city, 40 highway. In suburban driving with a light foot the trip computer reported from 34.5 to 37.5. With a heavier foot it reported 27 to 30.

Already noted: the Sonic feels like a larger car from the driver seat. Aside from this, it handles quite well in LTZ trim, where the 205/50HR17 Hankook Optimo H428 tires actually provide enough grip to exercise the suspension (if still much less than the suspension could handle). There’s even some communication from the steering, though a smaller diameter wheel than the GM standard unit would be welcome. Likely tuned with young, inexperienced drivers in mind, the Sonic feels very stable and controllable even as the front tires begin their progressive slide into moderate understeer. For all but the least skilled drivers the Sonic LTZ 1.4T should be an easy and enjoyable (if not quite engaging) car to drive quickly along a curvy road.

Given this safe, predictable handling, a stability control system that cuts in much earlier and more aggressively than the typical GM system is overkill. Holding down the button to turn the system off doesn’t actually turn it off, only bumps the intervention threshold. And even then the system cuts in a little early. If you can’t safely exercise the Sonic even without the aid of a stability control system, you probably shouldn’t be driving.

Though the Sonic’s handling borders on crisp and its body motions are better controlled than those of more softly-sprung Cruze, its ride is about as smooth and quiet as it gets in this class. The Ford Fiesta feels more Euro taut and solid, but the Chevrolet feels larger and steadier.

The big disadvantage of the 1.4T engine: it adds $700 to the Sonic’s price, a significant sum in this most price-sensitive segment. Go with the LTZ to get suitably-sized rims, and the sticker comes to $18,695. A Hyundai Accent SE with an equally powerful but not nearly as torquey 1.6-liter four is $2,000 less. The Sonic does include quite a few additional features, among them four additional airbags, a telescoping steering wheel, automatic headlights, heated seats, and OnStar. (But if you want rear disc brakes like those standard on the Hyundai, you’ll need to wait for the even pricier 2013 Sonic RS.) Adjust for these feature differences using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool, and the Accent retains a $600 advantage. Which is essentially how much the 1.4T engine costs. Consider this the price of midrange torque and, once feature differences are adjusted for, the two cars are close in price. And the Ford Fiesta? Topping $19,000 when similarly equipped, it’s clearly the priciest of the three.

Longish story short, the Sonic is a much better car with the 1.4T engine and the LTZ’s larger wheels. Unfortunately, these features also bump the price considerably. For price-sensitive folk GM needs a more refined base engine and a 17-inch wheel option for the LT. For enthusiasts, an RS is on the way with sport buckets and sport suspension. What the RS won’t have: a stronger engine. This is a shame. While the 1.4T is the best engine in the segment for the typical driver, it’s strength—a strong midrange—makes it less suitable for enthusiasts seeking a payoff north of 4,000 rpm. The Opel Corsa is available with a 189-horsepower 1.6-liter engine. If GM were truly swinging for the fences, this would be the engine in the Sonic RS.

Chevrolet provided the car with insurance and a full tank of gas.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta.com, an online provider of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

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