By on October 21, 2013

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).

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85 Comments on “Rental Car Review: My Wisconsin Week With a 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT...”

  • avatar

    Sounds like ride than most of us had to start out with, mine a 1979 Chevette with 4-speed manual. Personally if I was buying a Sonic I’d take mine with the turbo 1. 4T.

  • avatar

    In what way is the Sonic “badge engineered?” I’m convinced that phrase has lost all meaning.

    • 0 avatar

      Cause it started out in life a few years ago as a Daewoo in South Korea. That’s how.

      Now it’s engineered into many different “badges” for respective “markets” by people who do “marketing research” for GM/Daewoo/Vauxhall/Holden/Saab-Scania. Lol.

      • 0 avatar

        I figured MM was just trying to get a rise out of the GM pedants in the B&B. It’s true, the Sonic/Aveo has Daewoo roots, but Daewoo doesn’t exist as a brand you can buy anymore, not even in Korea.

        It’s re-badged as an Opel/Vauxhall/Holden, but this generation (the T300, the wiki page for which MM links to in the article) was designed from the get-go to be a Chevrolet first and everything else second.

        Daewoo as a distinct brand has not existed for over two years now, when the subsidiary was renamed GM Korea. The T300 has never been badged as a Daewoo, so I’m not sure it makes sense to call it one, besides angering uptight commenters.

        If one were to insist upon calling the Sonic a Daewoo, by the same logic they’d also have to call Buicks Motts, call GMCs Rapids or Reliances, call Cadillacs Fords, call Russia the USSR, and call the USA the Thirteen Colonies of British America (TCBA), which is a bit of a mouthful.

  • avatar

    I also have a ’12 Sonic LT for a rental right now. Outfitted the same, but a sedan, 15k miles, and silver. Great little car.

  • avatar

    Sounds better than my recent experience with a “midsize” Mazda2 in Louisiana. And I finally saw one of Norm’s elusive Honda Civic rental cars but it had the dealer placard on the trunk lid among rows of Buicks, new Fusions, and Altimas. I guess it was an official unofficial Honda fleet car.

    • 0 avatar

      If the Mazda2 is a midsize, then I guess a smart ForTwo is a compact.

      • 0 avatar

        I was quite unhappy especially having hertz for quite sometime and being in the Presidents Circle. Luckily National will recognize my points and Hertz won’t receive my business ever again.

    • 0 avatar

      Lol, midsize 2. Those things just look like they’d be terrible. Kind of like that Mirage concept Mitsu is showing for Canadaland.

    • 0 avatar

      Go to Hertz at ATL – they have a TON of Hondas. Accords, Civics, Pilots, and Odysseys.

      My highest score in rental car mileage was a Passat with 41K on it from DTW last summer. And it was perfectly fine, other than the tires were darned near bald…

      Though unless the super cheapo car rental places are different, usually the difference between a Sonic and a Camcordima Sonoptima for Hertz is ~$10/day. Worth it to me even if I was paying the freight myself, and at Hertz mid-size or higher gets you access to the Choice area where you can occasionally score something interesting for the same price.

  • avatar

    I own a ’12 Sonic sedan with the 1.4T and manual. I think it’s one of the best small cars available right now. The 1.4T is a big improvement on the 1.8. Zippy around town, but still comfortable on the freeway for long hours. The Versa I test drove was the worst car I’ve even driven.

  • avatar

    I hesitate to call the Sonic a Dewoo clone since it uses the Cruze drivetrain and is manufactured in Michigan. I know, it’s a global car, but it’s not the badge engineered Korean POS that the Aveo was. Give it a little credit, eh?

  • avatar

    My family isn’t a GM bunch (though my first two cars – in the 90’s – were a ’66 and a ’65 Corvair, respectively…and come to think of it, those were the only GM cars we owned), but both my sister and my mother now own Sonic 1.4’s, a ’12 stick and ’13 auto, respectively. I was hiiighly skeptical at first, and may have made “why-didn’t-you-buy-something-good” style remarks, but they’re actually pretty great little cars. The little turbo is surprisingly peppy with great mileage, the handling is on par with – or better than – the competition, including the Fiesta, they’re nicely spec’d for the money, and neither has had any quality issues. I’d be happy to DD one and save my delicate-flower German fun car for the weekend.

    • 0 avatar

      ” I was hiiighly skeptical at first, and may have made “why-didn’t-you-buy-something-good” style remarks”

      did they ask for your opinion?

      • 0 avatar

        My sister didn’t, and the truth is I kept the skepticism to myself aside from a loaded “I’m surprised you didn’t cross-shop a Fiesta” type comment. She had hers for a few months by the time my mom was car shopping, though, and it had proven itself a good enough car that it was an easy finalist for my mom. I went along on some test drives with her, and at the end of the day I liked the Sonic significantly better than the Fiesta, Focus (for the $$) & Civic on all counts. My turn to eat crow!

    • 0 avatar

      Seeing that BMW in your avatar its fitting that your first cars were Corvairs, I like to think that BMW picked off from what GM could’ve made the Corvair into in the 70’s.

      I’m glad they like their Sonics though, I would’ve said the same thing only to be proven wrong.

  • avatar

    So, based on a previous Jack article – this is a negative review and you actually hated it?


    • 0 avatar

      I think his summary is pretty straight forward. Not bad, for a rental…I guess.

      • 0 avatar

        Jack had written a story quoting a NYT review of the ATS pointing out that when a reviewer makes multiple references to previous models, and other references to older technology or branding, a positively written review is really a veiled negative review hidden behind the’ “hey this isn’t as bad as an Aveo,” comments.

        On the surface I read a positive review (25K miles on an econobox rental is going to be hard miles) – but following what Jack pointed out on the ATS…it’s negative actually???

  • avatar

    You would think that after 175K dog miles, the engine timing belt would have snapped. FYI – Blatz beer is the finest beer on earth…Even better than Carlsberg, Stella Artois, ice cold Becks, and Tsingtao.

  • avatar

    I also had one of these as a rental recently. The worst thing for me was that dash. I’m not a fan of plastic made to look vaguely metallic at the best of times, combine that with the affront of molded sculpting and I winced every time I got into the car. Aside from that, I was actually surprised by how good it was for what it is along with the equipped cruise and bluetooth. It even had alloy wheels! The ride (damping) and noise levels were reasonable, which can’t be said of earlier budget rentals. The engine might even be OK if paired with a manual…

  • avatar

    Fun review. Blatz was my dad’s favorite beer. The Sonic is a really good B-class entry, especially for GM, and it’s actually assembled right here in the good ole USA.

  • avatar
    Secret Hi5

    Thoroughly enjoyable article, Mr. MM! Loved the photos.

    If you think a Dodge Journey rental is bad, then you’d be horrified by the Chrysler 200. I was unfortunate enough to be stuck with one in KY last week. It was the worst “new” car, in recent memory, that I’ve driven.

    • 0 avatar

      Why does everyone rag on the 200/Sebring? Sure it’s no Camry but what do you actually expect?

      • 0 avatar

        I think the 200/Journey rental cars get ragged on because those in the rental car fleets are probably equipped with the anemic 2.4 and the archaic 4 speed auto. Not an inspiring combination. I’ll bet if they had the 3.6 Pentastar and 6 speed auto, they would garner a much more favorable impression.

      • 0 avatar

        I’ve been the occasional 200/Avenger defender, because FiatChrysler made some impressive changes to it given what they had to work with.

        That said, I got saddled with an Avenger as a rental about a month ago (the only car National YVR had ready to go outside of a Yukon XL, which I wasn’t prepared to pay the gas bills for). So, for the good, it’s not a bad looking thing, the interior is much improved, it’s not dire around a corner, and it rides fine.

        But the little things… Actually, the standard powertrain is a big problem. Although not dangerously slow, it’s not far off, it drones away like an asthmatic Wookie, and it’s not exceptionally efficient (despite a fair bit of highway, I got something like 22mpg). Other than that, the blind spots are massive (great feature in an airport rental where most people driving it aren’t quite sure where they’re going), the dead pedal is on an entirely different plane from the brake (so sit dangerously far away or have your left leg awkwardly contorted), and the seat is strangely shaped (you can have upper back support, or you can sit normally upright, but you can’t have both). It is bad enough I managed to argue my way out of paying the extra day’s rental for bringing it back three hours late.

    • 0 avatar

      Didn’t they have a Dart available!?

    • 0 avatar

      Interesting. About four months ago Geico and Enterprise set me up with a fleet special (four cylinder, four speed auto) 200 for three days while the rear end collision on my xB was cared for.

      After years of reading all the slagging on the Sebring/200, I walked in with admittedly low expectations. And discovered an admittedly dull, but still rather nice automobile. Nothing I’d want to actually own, but I certainly won’t turn one down at the rental counter if offered. Only real complaint about the car was the lack of back support on the driver’s seat.

      Otherwise, it was a very decent automobile, and definitely better than any Corolla I’ve ever been stuck with.

  • avatar

    I kinda dig the instrument panel – it reminds me of a Sport Bike.

    I always wonder about the people who buy these though – There’s always the more-car-for-a-little-more-money argument, and I understand that many enjoy small, nimble, easy to park cars and don’t want a larger C-class. Still, why buy a Chevrowoo when cars like the Fit, Fiesta, or for appliance-minded*, the Versa Note are around?

    * My wife has a paid off Versa (’07) that she loves, and plans to drive into the ground. It’s a terrific car as long as you don’t actually enjoy the act of driving!

    • 0 avatar

      Why buy a B-class car. Well, my other car is a Pontiac Solstice (formerly a Porsche 924S), and it’s nice to get into something that feels in the same ballpark since I’m the kind of guy who loves back road rambling over interstate cruising (if its a boring long interstate trip, I’ll rent a C or D-class).

      Why buy the Chevy with the Fit and Fiesta are available? Maybe because, to some certain drivers it feels better. Or, maybe it feels just as good, or almost as good, and the offered deal is a lot better. When I bought my (used) first generation xB, I was offered a like year Fit . . . . for $1000.00 more. And, after driving the two, I didn’t see $1000 more worth in the Fit. Two years later, I’m still happy as hell with the xB.

      Next time out, next year, the xB is going to be replaced with something new. My last new car was 9 years ago, and I’m in the mood. So far, the consideration list is: Sonic, Fiesta, Fit, 500,
      Mazda2. And I may consider a C-class (Cruize, Focus, Civic, Dart, Mazda3), but I have a funny feeling that the Mazda3 is going to be the only one of the latter that turns me on like a B-class.

      • 0 avatar

        Oh, I wasn’t asking why buy a B-class over a C-class: ” I understand that many enjoy small, nimble, easy to park cars and don’t want a larger C-class.”

        I came within a hair of buying an xB in 2006 – I still have a soft spot for it (but not the larger 2nd generation version, which basically feels like a boxy Corolla). The xB was just FUN! I was turned off by the lack of side airbags (in such a light car) and the choppy ride (I lived in Nebraska at the time, where almost all the roads were concrete with rough expansion joints).

        The Sonic still has an Aveo air lingering over it, but the comments sounds encouraging. One of my rules of thumb with cars has been to wait until two sucessive generations carry the same model name. It’ll be interesting to see if the names Cruze and Sonic carry on.

        As an aside:


        Kudos to GM for keeping names instead of alphabet soup, but there sure isn’t acommon thread through those names. Civic and Accord go together. Every Toyota seems to be a play on royalty or crowns. Ford has the F-for-cars, E-for-SUV thing, and Chrysler is ressurecting their favorites oldie names. I’m not sure what exactly GM is doing with Chevrolet.

        • 0 avatar

          I don’t get the “The Sonic still has an Aveo air lingering over it.” Drive both of them (I have, and only the 1.8l automatic version of the former) and there’s a world of difference between the two. In fact, the only connection between the two is Daewoo.

          And, after all these years, Daewoo has learned to design a competent car. Actually more than competent, although most people will absolutely refuse to admit it, the Aveo was a competent car – when everybody else was offering more than competent.

          I love the auto blog attitude of, “no matter how they’ve improved their product, I’ll be damned if I’ll give them credit for it.”

          And I wish GM had kept the Aveo name, just to drive home how they can (eventually) improve a product.

        • 0 avatar

          “I came within a hair of buying an xB in 2006 – I still have a soft spot for it (but not the larger 2nd generation version, which basically feels like a boxy Corolla).”

          Slightly unrelated, but the reason that it feels like a boxy Corolla is because it is a boxy Corolla.

          The original first generation Scion xB was based on a car in Japan called the Toyota bB (not making the name up here, that’s really it capitalization and all). Which was loosely based on the Toyota Vitz (our Echo/Yaris).

          There is indeed a second generation bB being sold in Japan again based on the Yaris/Vitz. We do not see THAT car on our shores. What we do see on our shores as the second generation Scion xB is sold in Japan as the Toyota Corolla Rumion (I love Japanese car naming) and is based on the Toyota Corolla. So in effect, the second generation Scion xB is a de facto replacement of the Toyota Matrix.

          In case anyone here is confused:
          USA left, Japan right
          1st gen Scion xB = 1st gen Toyota bB
          2nd gen Scion xB = 1st gen Toyota Corolla Rumion
          ??? = 2nd gen Toyota bB

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, I went along for some test drives when my mom was cross-shopping the Sonic with the Fiesta, Fit, Civic, etc., and the Sonic was the most fun of the bunch. I’d also take it over any of those.

  • avatar


    That suburban driveway reminded me of mine in the mid 1950’s, but you’d need to replace the ’48-49 Cadillac fastback with a ’46 Oldsmobile Club Sedan, and the ’67 Ford Custom 500 2 door with a ’56 Ford Custom Ranch Wagon. The virtually tree-less tract housing is a deadringer for my old neighborhood in Los Angeles.

    I, too, spent a long weekend in Wisconsin about 20 years ago to visit my sister. We took in Sturgeon Bay, Door County beaches north of there, Elkhart Lake and Road America, and plumbing capital Kohler. More interesting than it sounds, really enjoyed seeing that area.

  • avatar

    Murilee, this is the kind of salt of the earth essay, with great photos to boot, that should make any true Midwesterner, especially those of us who grew up or are in the process of growing up in a Great Lakes state, completely spellbound with nostalgia.

    The photos of your driveway, street & home literally capture Americana for so many of us (I when’t yet born in 1970), but things dind’t change that much by 1977.

    Likewise, the photos of the off-the-beaten-path farm & lake house area towns, flat highways with crops growing alongside the road, turn of the century architecture & construction, down to earth people enjoying a casual life, and the battered perch, whitefish (smoked is best), different east & north European style cheeses (get fresh Pinconning in Michigan if you ever can) evokes strong emotions in anyone of us hailing from Michigan, Minnesota, or Wisconsin (pronounced WisCAAANsin).

    Every time I fantasize about moving away from Michigan in the dead cold of January/February (which is each & every year), the upcoming spring thaw, northern lake beaches in summer, or crisp and colorful autumn seasons remind me why I don’t.

    What a fantastic Monday Morning read.

    • 0 avatar

      You sound like a Tim Allen’s Pure Michigan commercial!

      • 0 avatar

        I never knew that it was Tim Allen doing the voiceover for those commercials! I love great bits of useless info/trivia like this (and I’m not being snarky).
        I originally come from the Chicago area and for many years of my childhood we would travel up to Silver lake in Michigan for our summer vacation.
        While I know the ads are showing the nicest parts Michigan in its most pristine weather, still makes want to visit.

        • 0 avatar

          Lake Leelanau, Glen Lake, Crystal lake & Torch Lake are all “cream of the crop” inland lakes not only in Michigan, but in the world.

          They are spring aquifer fed, water clarity is as great as 130ish to 150ish feet, and some parts of these lakes are 300+ feet deep.

          Do not miss them if you make it on over. They’re all in the same general vicinity.

    • 0 avatar

      You should probably include the northern-most inhabitants of Ohio and Pennsylvania and the western-most inhabitants of New York in that list.

      All the reasons you said, are why I came back.

    • 0 avatar

      I doubt that the finest of restaurants can surpass whitefish bought at the dock on Big Bay de Noc that morning and fried in a little butter for lunch.

  • avatar

    Lots of praise for the Sonic. If there was equal praise for Schlitz beer, I would have to leave this site forever. Thankfully, that did not happen. :)

  • avatar

    My only problem with the Sonic instrument cluster, is that the update rate on the speedometer is very low, like 1-2Hz, so when accelerating the speedometer kind of jumps 3-5 MPH at a time. Pretty ridiculous when the computer itself is probably sampling the road speed hundreds of times per second for ESC/TSC reasons.

    • 0 avatar

      that seems about typical for a digital speedo. My 86 Pontiac 6000-STE was fast enough to make the digital speedo jump in 10-12mph increments at lower speeds. I guess it keeps it from reacting so fast and being indecisive on speed, a kind of damping like the older mechanical gauges have.

  • avatar

    Murilee, I hope the next time you’re in that particular restaurant, you receive your food fully-cooked! That plate of fries & fish looks horrible. McDonald’s for me, PLEASE!

    I always wonder what it’s like to drive a Citroen 2CV…

    As far as the Sonic goes, I checked out a sedan version at my dealer in the showroom last Friday while waiting for an oil change, and was impressed. Not only does the sedan actually LOOK like a sedan, the lines are pretty well balanced. Felt reasonable comfortable, too, but can’t judge unless I take one on my long commute for a week! Your rental looks pretty good, too.

    I’m intrigued, and would like to take a drive in one. I would guess it’s similar to a Kia Forte.

    I used to love Schlitz beer until they changed the formula and blew the whole company many years ago. They fouled up Lowenbrau, too, so much so that Lowenbrau dark – my favorite – doesn’t appear to be available in the US anymore. Thanks a lot, Schlitz.

  • avatar

    Speaking of “Badge” engineering…What’s the deal with the Chevy bowtie at the end of the Japanese and Thai market ads? The right-leaning bowtie goes symmetical like a WWI german cross….

  • avatar

    My personal mileage record for a rental was a 2012 Sienna with 43,xxx miles on it when I picked it up. That poor thing was completely hammered – the little diagram you use to mark pre-existing damage looked like my 2 year old had scribbled on it for 20 minutes.

    That was at the Enterprise in Eureka, CA, where we were stranded after the rear axle on my 53 year old station wagon took a dump in the middle of Sasquatch country.

  • avatar

    For a now Californian who grew up on the Minnesota/Wisconsin border, this was a very nice read. A few things:

    1. I think Sturgeon Bay is a bit different from the rest of Wisconsin- I’ve never seen a 2CV or Figaro in Wisconsin in my life (although former Wisconsin Gov Pat Lucey used to drive a maroon Peugeot 504 around Madison)
    2. For everyone who thinks tree-less, flat, suburbs are a new invention, please look at the 4th photo from Murilee’s 70s neighborhood, looked just like mine
    3. New Glarus makes several fine beers, Spotted Cow being one (a Bloody Mary in one hand and a Spotted Cow in the “udder” is a popular two-fisted drinking approach at Badger football games).
    4. No Kopp’s in Milwaukee for frozen custard? Oh, man

    • 0 avatar

      Actually, I only lived in that suburban neighborhood for a couple years. Spent more time in the much more urban Kenwood neighborhood in Minneapolis.

      • 0 avatar

        Impressed … that’s what we would call “the high rent district” on the Chain of Lakes (unless they run the LRT through it ……).

        BTW, did you know Mary Richards personally???

    • 0 avatar
      Japanese Buick

      2. For everyone who thinks tree-less, flat, suburbs are a new invention, please look at the 4th photo from Murilee’s 70s neighborhood, looked just like mine

      Two things:

      1. people think that today because that neighborhood has had 40 years for trees to grow in
      2. I bet that neighborhood was built on former farmland, rather than a forest that was clear cut by the developer who also scraped off and sold the topsoil before building.

      • 0 avatar

        True, a lot of former farm land was purchased and subdivided for housing tracts.

        In my case, the land for our subdivision in Los Angeles was formally a combination of a huge orange grove and adjacent walnut grove. Our house marked the end of the orange grove, and the house across the street marked the former start of the walnut trees. While the builder pulled up the trees for the foundations and front yards, they left some in the back yards. In our case, we had orange blossoms and later oranges each year for all the time we lived in that house.

  • avatar

    Marty Densch, who likes to travel the highways and byways of Wisconsin, spotted the same Nissan Figaro in Sturgeon Bay:

  • avatar

    Don’t be surprised about the mileage. While out cycling in Ashland, VA yesterday, I did a quick run thru the local Chevy dealer’s used car lot. They had about a dozen ’12 and ’13 Impalas and Malibus, all with 25k or so on the clock. Obviously cycled out of whatever rental fleet.

  • avatar

    About three years ago I rented a Sonic sedan and put close to 300 miles on it. While the gas mileage was OK it was a gutless wonder with an automatic.

    If I ever bought one (or a Spark) a manual transmission would be mandatory.

  • avatar

    Love the Sedanette in the old pic .

    Cured meats & cheese…MMmmmmmm makes me want to go to back to Wisc. ASAP .

    2CV’s actually drive O.K. considering they’re deathrap beercans .


  • avatar

    “I can say without reservation that this is by far the best overseas-designed badge-engineered subcompact in General Motors history.”

    The Saturn Astra was a thing that existed.

    • 0 avatar

      Well yeah, but wasn’t the Astra a compact? I mean, Delta chassis, related to the Cobalt/Cruze.

      • 0 avatar

        I love the Astra, warts and all.

        I’m a sucker for GM’s Opel offerings (from the Astra to the Buick Regal/Insignia) due to their ride quality, solidity & general feeling of premium-ness, even if reliability can be hit or miss.

        They feel every bit as Teutonic as BMWs by the measure of my ass meter, and even the maligned Catera was a solid riding vehicle with fantastic ride quality, IMO.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    My 09 Sedona had 18k miles as a rental before I bought it in 2010 – it’s been great.

  • avatar

    I would take this over the mazda 2 I have thrown at me last week this seems to have a little soul in it, ( to be fair enterprise mad eup with that mistake with a Camero SS the next week oh how I love rental car roulette

  • avatar

    I made a couple trips to Saskatoon for work this summer, and had a similar Sonic waiting for me (albeit in that orange they seem to be using for most of their advertising). Having spent enough time in Aveos, I had little to no expectations, but I also wasn’t footing the bill and didn’t care. It’s no wheezing Aveo though. Fun little thing that can get out of its own way (useful when the highways don’t have merge lanes once you’re out of town), and it’s cheap in a utilitarian way instead of cheap in a sad way.

    Also, hit a bump I didn’t see coming at about 60mph. Pretty sure I got air. Car seemed fine for the rest of my trip though.

    I got a Focus on the next trip, and although it was also good, I might actually pick the Sonic over the Ford if it were my money. They both got about 30mpg (similar driving), and although the Focus felt a little more planted and European, the Sonic felt more open, and didn’t have that stupid shuddering transmission (although I’d probably go 3-pedals if I were paying for either one).

  • avatar

    Enterprise keeps Corollas well past 40,000 miles, due to the resale value. And they keep most cars until around 30,000. The worst I saw was a 2011 Corolla around this time last year with 47,000 on it. Black exterior, tan interior, had spent a year and a half as a rental poor. Scratches, dents, stains, rips, you name it, this thing had every terrible thing you can do to a car done onto it.

  • avatar

    Great article, but didn’t to see a Nissan Figaro in it….. that would make for an interesting story….. and I thought Skyline GT-R’s were rare here in ‘Merica. Come to think of it, weren’t Figaros rare in Japan itself?

  • avatar

    Had a Sonic LT for about two weeks prior to deploying overseas. Liked it enough to go look at one on the local lot. Really kind of dug the RS. But then you look across the street at the Ford guy and there sits the Fiesta ST.

  • avatar

    Add one more to the positive comments about this car.

    A few months ago I rented one for a week. I was impressed that it was a competent vehicle that I could live with. If cars this size are your thing (newsflash- a lot of people are perfectly comfortable in a vehicle exactly this size… not everybody desires to ride around in an SUV), then these are pretty good cars for the money.

  • avatar

    I set out to purchase an 8-10K used car but decided to buy a 2013 Sonic LT with the turbo 1.4 and 6 speed for 15,500. Pretty happy with it in these first couple months, plenty of power, quick steering, decent suspension, quiet on the highway. About the only thing I would complain about is that the driver’s door panel lacks a decent place to rest your arm. The stereo sounds good and the touch screen is easy to figure out. The 3 way manual seat adjustment system works well and the seats seem to have good support. Tons of options on the LT model: keyless entry, power heated mirrors, rear defrost, rear wiper and washer, cruise, tilt/telescopic wheel, steering wheel controls, travel computer, an XM radio that will stream audio via Bluetooth or a USB drive, traction control… Mileage of 40 is possible if you can stand driving 55-60, but even at 80, you can still get 33 on premium gas, around 28 on 87 octane.

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