The Truth About Caroline: Sonic BOOM!

Caroline Ellis
by Caroline Ellis

We last saw our heroine (that’s me) after her foiled attempts to get somebody to take her seriously in her effort to buy a new subcompact car. So, it was back to the drawing board to find my dream car.

I loved the Spark, but the lack of power bothered me more than I really wanted to admit. The problem of my limited budget still existed, too. I wanted a car that was just like the Spark, only bigger, more powerful, and still available for about $13,000.

However, there was one small, teensy little problem—no such car exists.



Well, not as a new car, anyway. As many of you suggested, I sucked it up and decided that my best option was, in fact, to go pre-owned. I still wanted a warranty, though, or at least the balance of a manufacturer’s warranty. Obviously I was either going to have to get a very late model used car or go CPO.

The car savvy among you have probably already realized the car that I decided I wanted to check out next. If you haven’t, you now have ten seconds. Ready? GO!

Still here? Okay, so if you are, you undoubtedly came up with the same car that I did—the Chevrolet Sonic. The interior was virtually identical to the one in the Spark that I instantly connected with, but it was bigger and had more power. In other words, it was exactly what I wanted.

However, even as a pre-owned car, the Sonic can be difficult to find under $13K. Since the Sonic was launched as a 2012 model, there just aren’t any “old” models out there. I typed my parameters into AutoTrader.com; Chevrolet Sonic, automatic, less than 50K miles, 200 miles or less away. What I got back was pretty promising—43 total cars, including lots of 2012 LT models right around my price range. Unfortunately, the Sonic’s color palette isn’t as vibrant as the Spark’s, but I did find a few blues and oranges that seemed attractive enough. Unfortunately, a review of the CarFax or AutoCheck reports indicated that nearly every single one was previously a fleet (or rental) car, but I figured that at least that likely meant that the cars had been regularly maintained (yes, I know that this is totally “glass half full” thinking, but stick with me).

You might not know this, but AutoTrader.com is separated into a couple of different tiers. There are Premium listings, Featured listings, and Standard listings. Premium listings appear at the top of searches, and unless you get REALLY specific, they probably take up at least the first page of results, and likely a few more after that. Even if you sort of price or distance, the Premium cars still show up first.

If you’re willing to dig just a little more, you’ll get to the Featured listings, and that’s where I found the listing that really caught my eye—at a Chevy dealer just about an hour away from me, there was a silver 2012 Sonic LTZ hatchback with 30K miles, full leather interior, heated seats, 17″ alloys, spoiler, rear wiper…pretty much every option with the exception of a sunroof. It had the 1.8 liter engine, which I was totally okay with (the turbo just seemed like another thing that could break). And the kicker? The dealer had it listed for UNDER $13K—just under, at $12,995. That didn’t really leave me any room for taxes, title, and doc fees, but I was hopeful that there might be just a little more negotiation room on the car.

As I was clicking through all of the photos on the listing, a chat window popped up on my laptop, indicating that Carolina from Scenic Chevrolet was available to chat with me. Carolina?!?! It had to be a sign, right? I clicked on the chat window and, sure enough, a few moments later, I was chatting with Carolina about the Sonic. I told her that I needed her absolutely lowest price on the car, since I would be coming from a pretty good distance. She assured me that she would get back to me soon with her best price, and asked me whether I preferred email, phone, or text. I told her that I preferred text.

About fifteen minutes later, I got this message:

“12,995 is the lowest price we can do on that car. Thank you for your interest.”

Huh? Wasn’t that the listed price? I replied, asking why they were unwilling to discount further. The reply came:

“We have already discounted the price by $3000.”

Possible, yes, but unlikely. Higher mileage 2012 LTZs were going from anywhere from $14-15K on AutoTrader. I’m sure that they had discounted the car from the original asking price, but not 3K.

I replied back:

“Tell your GM he has a buyer at 12K.”

Several minutes went by. Finally, a reply:

“Can we meet in the middle at 12,500?”

I thought about it. $12,500 was a pretty good price, but I figured that I could use that as a starting point in my negotations and go from there.

“For 12,500, I will come see the car. I will be there tomorrow.”

“Great. Ask for Kevin.”

So, the next day, I planned to go to a store that was slightly closer to me and check out Sonic LTZs, and if I liked them, I would drive the hour and fifteen minutes out to Scenic Chevrolet. Well…that was the plan, until I realized a couple of problems with it. First, I wasn’t able to find a 2012 LTZ 1.8 any closer. If I drove a newer model or one with a different engine, they might drive differently than the one I was interested in, so what would be the point? Secondly, used cars aren’t really commodities like new cars—this one would come with its own set of idiosyncrasies. Why drive a Sonic that wouldn’t be exactly like the one I could afford?

It was with that mindset that I made the decision to drive out to Scenic Chevrolet—and let me tell you, the drive was anything but scenic. Kevin texted me about an hour before I arrived to ensure that I was still coming to check out the car, and I assured him that I would be there. As a result, when I pulled into the dealership, I asked the receptionist for Kevin. A few moments later, a pleasant, genial looking man with a bucket of cleaning supplies walked toward me and shook my hand. Kevin had been detailing the Sonic in preparation for my arrival, and as we walked out of the showroom, I saw it sitting there.

Now, I know myself. I know that I get overly excited sometimes, and I didn’t really want to show how much I liked the car. My plan had been to object to the color in hopes of getting a slightly larger discount, and that objection was real. I much preferred the blue, red, or even orange to plain ol’ silver. Despite my plan, I am pretty sure that I failed in my attempt to hide my excitement. The silver really was quite attractive, and I had never had a car with so many options. The realization that this car could actually be mine was starting to hit home! As I got in the driver’s seat of the little American-assembled car (yes, Kevin seemed to think it was safe enough for me to drive it off the lot), I realized just how much it was exactly like my beloved Spark inside. Same dash, same gauges…just bigger!

The real revelation came when we entered the divided highway and I mashed the acclerator pedal to the floor—something happened! No, it wasn’t a fast car, by any means, but it wasn’t perilously slow, either. In fact, I’d describe it as…peppy. Definitely Carolineish (feel free to beat your head against the wall, men!).

“How long have you had this car on the lot?” I asked him.

“Hmmm…I’m gonna guess at least thirty days.” I’m gonna guess at least sixty. Whatever the turn policy of this store was, the Sonic had to be getting close to it. This store was a truck store, plain and simple. Over half of their new inventory was trucks. They had no new Sparks, only two new Sonics, and one new Cruze.

The test drive route was one of the better ones I’ve been on. Kevin directed me toward some hilly county roads that showed off the lateral grip of the car as well as the suspension. The leather steering wheel felt comfortable in my hands, and the automatic transmission always seemed to know which gear was best for the job. If I hadn’t known I was driving a bow tie, I would have guessed it was a Fiesta or maybe a Civic. It felt well made and stable, secure in its footing.

When we returned to the store, I did a quick visual walkaround of the car. Bark M. gave me this car buying advice when I asked him—“Walk around the car with the salesman and point out everything that’s wrong with it. EVERYTHING. Scratches, scrapes, dings, worn tires, worn brake pads. That way, when you ask for a better price, you’re not just haggling—you’ve devalued the car because of the faults of it.”

So that’s what I did. I noticed several scratches and digs in both the front and rear bumpers. The right side Hankooks were brand new, but the left rear tire showed some wear, and the left front tire was incredibly worn, almost to the point where I suspected some alignment issues. I hadn’t noticed any pull at all when I drove it, so I suspected that it had been corrected during reconditioning. I pointed out each issue to Kevin, and he agreed with me on most of them. “And I still don’t like the color,” I offered weakly. I’m not sure he bought it.

We went back to his office, and I made him an offer—12,500 with new left side tires, or 12,000 as is. He went to the GM’s office, where they likely discussed the weather, or maybe the NCAA tournament, and he came back about five minutes later.

“12,400, as is.”

I stood up and shook his hand, thanked him for his time, and exited stage right. I think he was mildly surprised that I was willing to walk. I was a little surprised, too, but I felt like there was more money to be had.

On my incredibly monotonous drive back home, I caved a little. I texted Kevin back with another offer. “12,250, as is.”

His reply: “12,300 plus tax and doc fees. OTD price, $12973.”

“Done.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I came to own a 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ with all the goodies. He takes his place alongside JB’s new Accord Coupe, Bark’s Boss, and whatever Ford product Sajeev is currently driving as our newest Long-Term Tester. You may refer to him by his new name (which gaming fans will surely understand) of “Tails.”

I definitely want to thank Kevin and his GM, Michael, and everybody at Scenic Chevrolet in Walhalla, SC, for making the buying experience as honest and painless as possible, and also for treating me with the respect that was so sorely lacking for a twenty something female elsewhere.

Stick with me as I drive Tails anywhere and everywhere this year. I look forward to sharing our adventures with you.

Caroline Ellis
Caroline Ellis

More by Caroline Ellis

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  • CTDaddy97 CTDaddy97 on Apr 05, 2014

    Caroline, I just wanted to congratulate you on 2 fronts: 1. For staying in your budget. Many people claim they have a budget, but then think, "I can afford another $20/$40/$60 a month" and end up spending far more than originally planned. 2. For choosing the Sonic. I just purchased one myself (2014 Blue LT Hatchback). After doing a lot of research, it turns out that most reviewers like the car, and most owners are pretty satisfied with their purchase. Happy driving!

  • Snowdog1967 Snowdog1967 on Apr 10, 2014

    Congrats on the "New to you" ride! The process of buying a car is just insane. I know that dealerships treat women like morons to start with... Now, you need to pick up a Miata to have fun in... :)

  • 3-On-The-Tree Lou_BCsame here I grew up on 2-stroke dirt bikes had a 1985 Yamaha IT200 2-strokes then a 1977 Suzuki GT750 2-stroke 750 streetike fast forward to 2002 as a young flight school Lieutenant I bought a 2002 suzuki Hayabusa 1300 up in Huntsville Alabama. Still have that bike.
  • Milton Rented one for about a month. Very solid EV. Not as fun as my Polestar, but for a go to family car, solid. Practical EV ownership is only made possible with a home charger.
  • J Love mine, but the steering wheel blocks dashboard a bit, can't see turn signals nor headlights icons. They could use the upper corners of the screen for the turn signals. Mileage is much lower than shown too, disappointing
  • Aja8888 NO!
  • OrpheusSail I once did. My first four cars were American made, and through an odd set of circumstances surrounding a divorce, I wound up with a '95 Nissan Maxima which was fourteen years old and had about 150,000 miles on it.It was drove better, had an amazing engine, and was more reliable than any of my American cars. This included a new '95 GMC pickup that went through five alternators in under two years while the dealership insisted that there was no underlying electrical problem while they tried to run the clock on the warranty.That was the end of 'buy American'. I've bought from Honda and VW since, and I'll consider just about anything except American now.
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