New Car Review: 700 Miles In A 2012 Chevy Sonic LT

Steven Lang
by Steven Lang
new car review 700 miles in a 2012 chevy sonic lt

My family loves small cars. If you asked my wife what car she has enjoyed the most out of the hundreds of vehicles she’s driven over the years, it would be a 1st generation Honda Fit Sport. In her world not even a decked out S-Class or a modern day Mustang compares to the fun she gets driving the original Fit around town.

At the auctions you can pretty much tell my presence by scanning the parking lot for a first generation Honda Insight. If you see one there, it’s mine. After more than 45,000 miles I still haven’t found anything that compares to it. Although a 1995 Miata that now occupies my garage comes awfully close.

So now that you know how much my family is into small cars, the obvious question arises. “What do you think of this small car?”

Press pictures always try to give the nip and tuck treatment to any new car. In person the Sonic strikes me as what would happen if a Dodge Charger mated with an Aveo hatchback. As unholy as that thought sounds, the outcome is actually better than what you would expect.

The Sonic in it’s all-too-unique flesh offers a high beltline, a Malibu-esque snout, and enough play with the front and rear fascias to make it easily stand out in most any setting. In silver or black it’s sporting. However I would love to have a short talk with the folks who decided to produce so many of these ‘Inferno Orange’ Sonic creations. Eeechhh!!!

In direct sunlight, this color doesn’t complement the plumpness of the Sonic unless they were trying to make a silhouette of an ‘orange’ pineapple.

The interior is far less controversial and rivals the best in class. Chevy decided to use the motorcycle world as the inspiration for their instrument cluster. It works great. This may represent the first successful attempt in mating the analog with the digital on a mass marketed car in God knows how long. In a world where Fits, Focii and many others have embraced the insectozoid school of dashboard design under the guise of sportiness, Chevy offers a far more artistic and user friendly format.

The designers deserve special credit for creating a modern work of art.

The rest of the insides are somewhat upscale… but not quite. Chevy implanted many of the interior adornments of the Cruze with far fewer soft touch surfaces and pretty much left it at that. Given how popular the Cruze has become this is a very smart move.

The only heavy criticism I can levy on the Sonic is that the seats are a bit less supportive than the Fit and the Rio. Also there is no instant MPG setting on the dashboard. None. Sorry.

Space is surprisingly big… in that small car sort of way. We were able to seat three people across that would be considered ‘average’ in the year 1979. However that middle seat would get a bit uncomfortable for today’s horizontally endowed average person. Now that most families have four or fewer people, the Sonic definitely seems to satisfy the ‘average’ need.

Yesterday’s trunk is chopped to a third and stood upright with the Sonic. One suggestion from my better half. Chevy should strongly consider a two-level storage system similar to the one offered in the original Malibu Maxx.

With a heavy-duty upper shelf instead of the cover, the hatch would offer more versatility and space for families on the go. On a long haul to Grandma’s we managed enough Christmas presents for 12 people with the lightweight cover.

A family of four can comfortably go for a week long vacation with the Sonic even without a shelf. It is surprisingly versatile although not near to the level of the Honda Fit. However there is one cantankerous thing that will get in the way of enjoying that long vacation ride: the transmission.

1st generation Saturns have a tendency to ‘rubber-band’ as they get older. It’s a strange sensation where you feel the car jut ever so annoyingly during downshifts and the rpm’s jack up anywhere between 200 to 400 rpm’s.

This 2012 Chevy Sonic did the exact same thing. Twangg!!! The 3rd to 2nd downshift was particularly heinous… at times. Sometimes it shifted fine. Apparently, so I’m told, GM decided to go with software that makes the transmission ‘adjust’ to the engine over an indeterminate period of time.


The last time I heard of similar driving issues was when Volvo offered unique ‘programming’ to their electronic throttle modules on their 1999 – 2002 FWD Volvos. The outome was a 10 year / 200,000 mile warranty, a lot of angry Volvo customers, and a vast wasteland of S70’s and V70’s that can now be found at the auctions.

Perhaps mine wasn’t given the update. But as a matter of conscience I can’t yet recommend the automatic version of the Sonic until this transmission issue gets resolved.

The Sonic beats the class-leading Fit in a few notable respects. Room. Power. Quiet… especially on the highway. With the 1.8 Liter Ecotec the Sonic offers a far more ample supply of torque than the Fit when it comes to real world highway driving. 80 mph cruising yielded only 2800 rpm’s of relative quiet compared with the 3400 rpm’s of Fit buzziness. On the road the Sonic feels more planted than the Fit, while the later feels more athletic. Take your pick.

As for fuel economy, the mpg estimates on the Sonic are 25 city, 35 highway. I averaged 31.2 mpg combined with much of my city driving squarely in the 27 to 28 area. Unlike certain manufacturers I am confident in endorsing the Sonic’s MPG window sticker.

So why should you buy a Sonic? If you do a lot of highway driving and find a six-speed manual to your liking, then definitely consider it. This Sonic LT came with the ‘connectivity plus cruise’ package for $525 (remote vehicle start, cruise, steering wheel controls, bluetooth, USB), the wheels and fog lamp package, and a (disco!) inferno orange metallic exterior. The total comes to $18,580.

Alternatives to the Sonic LT? Baruth loves the Rio. I like the Fit for in-town driving. Sajeev would buy an army of Panthers, and Bertel likely prefers a Volkswagen. Seriously, there is a crushing load of competition out there.

Fit, Accent, Rio, Versa, Yaris, Fiesta, Golf, Fiat 500, the upcoming Dodge Dart, SX4, Impreza… not to mention lower end Civics, Corollas, Jettas, and maybe even a based out Focus with the right dealership.

The short answer for today’s consumers is that, “The Sonic would be great if…” Hopefully a quick and vigorous remedy for the Sonic’s transmission software will let millions of future buyers say, “The Sonic is great because…

I received a full tank of gas, insurance, and a week’s worth of driving for this review. Drives ranged from 10 to 150 miles and due to my auction work, I was all over metro-Atlanta that week. My apologies if this review doesn’t offer the usual photo gallery but a few pictures surprised me with their blurriness. That’s what I get for using a flip camera.

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  • Geo Geo on Jan 14, 2012

    Yes the dealership probably would. Honda salesmen routinely tell the customers "Hey, it's a Honda", when asked questions about their overprices used cars. And customers buy both the nonsense line and the car.

  • Replica Replica on Jan 16, 2012

    I guess my more recent Honda experience was a fluke. I've owned probably about 9 Hondas. From a CRX, to three generations of Civics and so on. The last one I bought new was a 2007 Civic Si Sedan. The transmission would pop out of third gear, there were rust spots from the welds on the triangle windows, the interior panels scuffed easy, the paint was thin and terrible. The car had no steering feel and the drive-by-wire was beyond terrible. It felt like a car designed by different departments that never talked to each other. That Honda premium doesn't mean much after 2005 or so.

  • Oberkanone Too slow! Need a Trackhawk.
  • SCE to AUX I'll guess 160 miles or less while towing at full capacity, especially in cold weather.Deduct 20% for minimum battery charge, and you're down to 128 miles in January if you have to tow something big that day. Subtract another 20% if you do this every day (don't want to fill to 100% every day).Then subtract more for any speeding, and a little for battery aging over time, and on the worst days you're under 100 miles of range.Good for local work on a good day, but not all 'truck stuff' on bad days. Buyers need to do their homework before getting an electric truck.
  • Wjtinfwb Memory lane... In '76, I got my full Florida D/L and started hogging my parents cars. That only lasted a year when it was decided I needed to take an additional class in school that started at 7am, before the bus ran and my friends went to school. Mom was not excited about driving me every day so I proposed a solution; I was a big dirt biker and floated out buying a street bike to ride to school, namely a new Honda XL350. Mom & Dad objected vehemently, they didn't want me dead on the road to school. And they know I'd be on that bike 24/7 and they'd never know where I was. Dad offered a car, stating if I'd put in the money I'd saved for the Honda, he'd match it and if needed throw in a bit more. Perfect! I started looking for a car, first candidate was a used Pontiac Formula 455. It was a '74, Automatic, an awful pea green but clean and on the front line at JM Pontiac. No way was Dad's instant answer. Too thirsty, too powerful, too expensive to insure. A Celica GT Liftback? Better but too expensive. Corolla SR-5? Warmer, but dad was uncertain of the safety of a Japanese car. Fiat 128? Why not just throw the money out the window. Dad's friend ran a leasing company and had a hook at the VW dealer, Rabbit? A Scirocco would be better, but lets look. Dealer offered a new, '77 Rabbit 2dr in Custom trim, 4-speed, factory A/C, AM/FM in Panama Brown (burnt Orange) with Brown "leatherette" for $3200 plus tax. One drive and I was in. Not fast, but peppy, '77 combined the '76 1.6L engine with Bosch Fuel Injection. Faster than the Corolla for sure and undoubtedly more reliable than the Fiat, right? Not so fast, my friend. The Rabbit was a nightmare, and VW dealers were stymied by the Fuel Injection, the A/C that while factory was clearly an afterthought and the leak from somewhere that filled the left rear footwell after ever rainstorm. A daily occurrence in S. Florida. It left me on the side of the road one evening due to a broken timing belt and ultimately succumbed to the bad valve guides that led to burning a quart of GTX every 200 miles. Sold at a fire sale price and replaced with a used Cutlass. A super fun car that was sold approximately 2/3 of the way through development. Two years later production moved to Westmoreland PA and those Rabbits were even more horrendous than my German built example. Great memory of a not very great car.
  • Fie on Fiasler "...he’s worried that the situation will interfere with his ability to pursue his goal of working in government."Well, thank Christ for Musk, then. Last thing we need is a punk kid that aspires to a government job. Sometimes action is needed to spare these idiots from themselves (and, more importantly, us.)
  • SCE to AUX This story could have been a lot shorter.I'll side with Cruise this time. If indeed the pedestrian was thrown into the AV's path while ricocheting from another impact, that's an unavoidable accident. No human could do any better in that case.Seems more like the Cruise AV was in the wrong place at the wrong time.