By on January 13, 2011

One of the most pervasive memes that seemed to unite the independent thinkers covering the North American International Auto Show was that this year’s Detroit extravaganza offered “no surprises.” The lesson of this  “Detroit Consensus”: clearly the motoring press doesn’t spend much time in the current, unloved Chevy Aveo.

The first time I clapped eyes on official images of the Aveo’s replacement, now called “Sonic” for the North American market, I reckoned

They show a subcompact that’s definitely less showcar-ish than the Aveo RS concept from NAIAS, but is still in the computer-generated “uncanny valley” between the realistic and real. Or maybe I’m just getting used to the idea of a halfway-appealing Aveo.

At times, the neon-lit floor of Cobo Hall seemed to be an “uncanny valley” of its own, but my first encounter with a touchable “real life” Sonic confirmed that the idea of a “halfway appealing Aveo” is indeed something that we must get used to.

The exterior proportions may not be to everyone’s taste, as a short rear overhang combined with a relatively longer front overhang and a bulbous nose is distinctly different from the “one-box” look that defines most of the subcompact segment. Some observers found the Sonic’s front end a bit too “pushed in” for their tastes, but the overall design gave a strong impression of chiseled solidity. In contrast to the more Japanese-influenced designs of the Wellburne era, the Sonic exhibited more of a European aesthetic. If the extroverted Chevy Spark city car mated with a first-gen Audi A3, the results might well look something like the Sonic.

Inside, the design was more typical of Chevy’s recent direction, with one notable exception: the out-of-control button proliferation that plagues newer GM interiors has been reigned in for Sonic, which sports one of the cleanest consoles in General Motors-dom. Nowhere is this more true (or appealing) than the Sonic’s gauge cluster, which seems to have been lifted from a classic Japanese design: the Suzuki GSX-R sportbike. A large analog tachometer dominates the left side of the cluster (a truly heartening sight in this era of disappearing manual transmissions) while a simple LCD digital display on the right side handles the rest of the readout duties.

We’ll have to wait for a road test to confirm whether this pleasingly retro- and superbike-inspired display works as well as it looks, but it’s one of GM’s few truly bold interior design gambles in recent memory and it hints at considerably more sporting pretensions than the Aveo ever reached for. Interior quality is also drastically improved in the show-floor examples, with class-competitive materials and a solid sense of quality assembly… although again, we’ll need to feel up a production version before revoking the Aveo’s “penalty box” card.

And as for that name, a GM rep confirmed that Sonic is a North American nameplate, and that this model will be called Aveo in most of its other global markets. Outside of this continent, the competition has apparently allowed the idea of a “halfway appealing Aveo” to become much less surprising than it is stateside. But, noted the GM man, GM has made a long-term commitment to the Sonic nomenclature in the US. Was it a coincidence that he had read Paul Niedermeyer’s seminal editorial “Name And Form”? I’d like to think not.

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46 Comments on “NAIAS: Chevrolet Sonic...”


  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    What’s the power plant?  Same engines from the Cruze, carryover from Aveo?  Or what?

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      Your choice of a standard 135-hp 1.8L 4-cylinder, as well as an optional 138-hp 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder.

    • 0 avatar

      As OldandSlow says, the Sonic gets the Cruze’s engine options. I would only add that GM “expects” 40 MPG highway from the latter.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Same as the Cruze, which is kinda nuts when you think about it. Either the Sonic gives up fuel-sipper cred, or the Cruze looks like a slow boat by comparison to the 3,4,5?00-pound lighter “sub”compact.

    • 0 avatar
      Stingray

      Ummm that turbo 1.4 may be interesting for the tunerZZZ crowd. IIRC it doesn’t have DI.
       
      It’s likely to have the ingredients at place: cheap, factory turbo, plentiful… and I guess you will be able to toss in another Ecotec family engine for moar fun.

    • 0 avatar

      What we’re seeing here, stingray, is the triumphant return of the Chevy Sprint Turbo.
       
      Something tells me this will go over about the same, even if it’s good (Like the original was)

    • 0 avatar
      Jimal

      If that 1.4 Turbo is available with the manual transmission, we might have ourselves something here. The Cruze has been a complete letdown so far with the lack of this combo in anything except the Eco. Some of us want a manual for fun, not for hypermiling.

  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    GM will be hard pressed to make a dimes worth of profit in the B segment, but I guess they have to be there with Ford selling a Fiesta and Chrysler/Fiat promising to come to the segment with a 500.
     
    I’ll say one positive thing about the B segment cars, they are easy to parallel park. Other wise, would you care to sit in this Cruze parked over here in our showroom floor to compare the leg room?
     
     

    • 0 avatar
      jaje

      Allegedly gas prices are supposed to reach $5 a gallon this year so having a good field of compacts and b segment cars will be important.

    • 0 avatar
      mdensch

      Making a profit will be that much harder since GM had to promise to build the Sonic in the U.S. rather than import it.  Still, even though B-segment sales aren’t exactly on fire right now, with fuel prices on the rise, every full-line manufacturer will have to have an entry here.

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      I thought it was going to be built by those UAW workers making “second tier” wages, enabling GM to make a profit on it.

  • avatar
    Ironghost

    It’s been a few days, the front end is beginning to look good.

  • avatar
    MikeAR

    Looks too much like a Caliber. I don’t like at all.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    The exterior proportions may not be to everyone’s taste, as a short rear overhang combined with a relatively longer front overhang and a bulbous nose is distinctly different from the “one-box” look that defines most of the subcompact segment

    Really?  Because this looks a lot like the current Aveo with a fatter hood and grille. Considering that all cars have a fatter front end (ostensibly for pedestrian protection, but more likely for that en vogue “make the logo bigger” look) I’d say that this car looks a lot like every other modern subcompact.

    I’m not seeing anything revolutionary, here.

    Disclosure: I never thought the current Aveo was that bad of a car.  It’s uninspiring, the mileage sucks and the stick-shift is awful, but it did nail the fundamentals (good packaging, low price, good ride).  If this car fixes those ailments, it could do well by GM, especially since each competitor save Nissan has a similar Achilles’ Heel (Ford: space; Honda: price, noise and ride; Toyota: Price, seating, materials; Hyundai and Kia: the Accent and Rio are overall mediocre).

  • avatar
    7th Frog

    I really like it. I think the sedan looks better than the hatch.
    The interior certainly looks a lot better than the Fiesta’s cluster f**k.
     
     

    • 0 avatar

      I generally prefer the hatchback version of a car to the sedan, but this time, I agree with you that the sedan looks better.  Rather than a hatchback chopped to look like a sedan, it looks like the sedan was chopped to make the hatchback.  The proportions just look off.  Maybe it looks better in person.  That interior looks awesome though.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      Count me as another hatchback/wagon fan who prefers the sedan in this case.  the interior does look pretty good, I’d like to see a shot of the dash from the driver’s seat.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    I’m with 7th Frog, I like the sedan better than the hatch. Although the hatch would be more of what I would consider usable in a car this size. These Aveo hatches are somewhat smaller than the original VW Golf, IIRC, which was a great city car.
     
    I guess visually, the greatest thing they did for it was to remove the tiny clown car wheels that afflicted the earlier versions. This version seems to have much larger wheels, although I wonder if that will affect interior volumes at all. Regardless, a nice update.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    I find the hatch version kind of attractive, and the interior has a nice look from the photos.  This will be an interesting market.  B cars have not really done that well here, and even the best of them (the Honda Fit) has not sold in large numbers.  And before anyone says Versa, well you can sell ANYTHING for $10K, which GM will NOT be doing with this car.  Of course, $4-5/gal gas can change a lot of behaviors.

  • avatar
    mjz

    If they price it right (below $20,000 for loaded model), Chevy could have a big hit here. Like the Sonic name, and the design is interesting.

    • 0 avatar
      dastanley

      Like the Sonic name,

      I see a potential lawsuit here.  If I buy a Sonic car and then develop an uncontrollable compulsion to eat at Sonic drive-up restaurants every time I drive it, then I’m a helpless victim and in need of financial compensation. :-)

  • avatar
    Zackman

    But is it better than an Aveo? If not, good luck with this edition if there are no improvements. Aside from that, I agree with psar in general about the Aveo – I saw tons of them around L.A. a couple years ago. If they weren’t all rentals, someone was buying them.

  • avatar
    NN

    I agree–sedan particularly looks sharp.  And that interior in this segment…wow.  Probably a good idea to change the name, although the hatch still looks too much like the old Aveo.  The sedan is a huge transformation–lots more visual weight.  Dare I say the proportions look nearly like the Alfa 159 of the past decade–which is one of my favorite car designs.
    This may cannibalize Cruze sales.
     

  • avatar
    YellowDuck

    Am I the only one that thinks the hood and grill area, especially from 3/4 angle, looks a bit Volvo-y?

  • avatar
    cmoibenlepro

    Looks great, especially the sedan and the interior.  Of course these are loaded models; stripped base models will be less spectacular.

  • avatar
    YYYYguy

    I like it.   Though I see that GM is sticking with the “Transformers face” center stack.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    This car is heading Oz as per carpoint.com.au site, named Holden Barina as usual. IIRC it’s by the end of this year or 2012, don’t remember well.
     
    My compadre has one 3dr, and it seems to be an honest car, it’s certainly comfortable, but looks cheap inside and drinks (and that is in a country where gas is 2 cents a gallon). He also has had issues shifting from 2nd to 3rd gear at high rpms (>3500). Enough to say I’m not a huge fan. However, down here there are PLENTY of spare parts and the car is VERY popular, GM sells near 20K-30K of them a year.
     
    That one looks a lot better, and it’s something I could buy. The instrument cluster makes me honestly curious, it’s novel and different, and when I see them in the stealerships I’ll go and see it.

    And this time the sedan is a serious looker. It reminded me the current Focus sedan sold down here in LATAM.

    Mr Niedermeyer, the previous one was styled by Italdesing. The Optra/Forenza/Nubira/Lacetti by Pinin IIRC.

  • avatar
    GalaxieSun

    Seems that GM still has a blind spot when it comes to lighting design and follows the rule, “bigger is always better,” when in fact that isn’t always esthetically appropriate.  Case in point with the Sonic is the fog light surround.  That piece comes across as a huge chunk of cheap plastic, at least in the photos I’ve looked at, especially when the body color presents a contrast.  Yes, the height of the front facia is at issue (thank you pedestrian safety regs), but there has to be some sort of compromise here IMHO.

  • avatar
    obbop

    “Complex Coot Qualities” © lead to the first thought imploding within my overtaxed mind-set;  I wonder what the replacement cost for the headlights is when the car collides with whatever is capable of damaging the front end to the point one or more headlight assembly replacements are required?
    Does anybody ever consider repair costs when buying a conveyance?
    One consideration among many when deciding upon a vehicle an eon or so ago back in 2004 was to inquire with State Farm insurance as to insurance costs for various vehicles.
    The Chevy Silverado was at the lower end for liability and full coverage for repairs in case of wreck damage.
    If I was a vehicle salesperson I would peruse the vehicles in the lot and determine which, if any, vehicles present were at the lower end of the insurance cost spectrum and use that info to assist in selling to the tight-wad Old Coot-like cohort.
    That Aveo/Sonic thing reeks of costly to repair in my estimation.
    Is there a tie-in planned with the burger franchise that sends roller skate clad humans to deliver the edibles to the likely fat slobs too lazy to waddle their grease-laden grub?
    Don’t know what it is about their scarf burgers but they make my tummy unhappy. A few years back when Sonic expanded to the Omaha area I gave that burger source a couple chances but something about their wares caused unease within my once “cast iron” digestive system.
    Best burger ever consumed was in Livermore, California at the long-defunct at that location Sno-White drive-in. Back in oh….. 1964 or so. That burger gnawed upon, a rare treat since the family unit very rarely ate outside the shanty, was so yummy that no burger munched upon since has held up well in comparison.
    Some form of cole slaw-like topping added something special that no other burger has approached in incredible edible yumminess.
    Of course, my young taste buds were surely more sensitive at that tender age and over time the tasting mechanism has declined in functionality dooming this Decrepit One to declining years with mere fading memories of foodstuffs that once provided such transient delight.
    Sniff.
    What was this article about? I forget.

  • avatar
    mazder3

    I used to think that a high up door handle was “kewl”, but this styling trend needs to stop. As if rear visibility wasn’t compromised enough by the airbags, speakers and squished glass areas, the door handle mounted up where a piece of glass should be is really dumb.
    On a separate note, if Chevy wants to make a small truck that will sell, make their Colorado replacement look similar to that blue truck behind the silver sedan. SSR and HHR be damned.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

       “the door handle mounted up where a piece of glass should be is really dumb.” mazdar3: Yeah, black plastic triangles are not enough, so make the whole stationary window area blacked-out and stick the door handle on it. Brilliant. I noticed this early on, but decided to hold my thoughts until I read yours. Clearly, these type of vehicles are not for the “old coots” as Obbop says, of which I am one, but especially in my case due to vision issues I have. Little stick-on convex mirrors should be standard equipment! Back to Obbop’s hamburger issue: The greatest burger I ever had at a drive-in dive was at the Parkette in East Alton, Il in the late 1960’s, just before I entered the USAF. That place closed in 1970. I still like White Castle, too.

  • avatar
    stryker1

    Somehow I doubt any Sonic that anyone is going to buy is going to be that nice on the inside.

  • avatar
    SherbornSean

    How much money will the OKC Thunder make if Chevy decides to roll out a sporty SS version?

  • avatar
    akitadog

    I think GM did a great job with the Sonic (I prefer the hatchback, BTW, but both bodies look good). They’re attempting to bring it upscale, and, I dare say, line it up with, not only the Fiesta, Fit and Yaris, but with the MINI Cooper as well.
    I’m glad that it’s retained so much of the Aveo RS concept look to it. It really looks leaps and bounds better than the Aveo.
    My hope is that they take the Sonic Z-spec seriously and drop in a turbo 4 good for 180 hp or so, firm up the suspension, and make it a true Cooper S competitor. Imagine the same amount of fun, with 2 extra doors, for 10-15% less $$$.

    • 0 avatar

      A Mini competitor without Mini service and repair costs would be *awesome*.  We’ll just have to wait for the full TTAC review to see if “corvette engineer tuned” suspension was lip-service or actual engineering.

  • avatar
    DearS

    Patience is a virtue. I’ll work on having some while Chevy readies this whip. Hopefully its not in Transformers 3 beating up a huge robot made up of 5 huge construction vehicles.

  • avatar
    Tosh

    “But, noted the GM man, GM has made a long-term commitment to the Sonic nomenclature in the US.”
    May we have his exact words? I’d like to rub his nose in it three years from now.

  • avatar

    I like the way this car is styled (surprisingly). Make it available with fun-driving, well tuned suspension and steering, a decently slick shifter and about 15 more HP on regular gas, a straightforward, clean, and unfancy interior of reasonable quality and jack up the price by a thousand bucks to cover those costs. I need something to replace my trusty, now rusty ’93 Civic Si hatch and the closest thing Honda makes to it now is the Fit Sport, which is 150 lbs heavier and gives up 8 hp to my 17 year old car – some progress would be nice, Honda!*
     
    *yes, I know the new car is safer, has more airbags and a bit more passenger room, etc etc. In 17 years of time, I expect better, frankly.

    PS – I drove a rental Aveo back when they first came out stateside. Thrashy, slow, poor mileage for what it was and an interior that aged in dog years – it was a year old with 12k on it and the interior surfaces were more worn than my aforementioned ’93 Civic when it had 175k on it (it now has 217,000 miles and is still running strong).

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