Being on a budget does not mean you have to settle for a boring car. The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic offers great value in the $16,000 neighborhood and is more exciting than previous generation of mundane economy cars.
Nowadays, so much more goes into cars that sell in the lower price range such that they offer a great value without having to spend $25,000, or even $20,000 on a car. The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic looks good, performs reasonably well, and impresses beyond its $17,000 sticker price.
The base Sonic LS comes well equipped with features like 15-inch alloy wheels, anti-lock brakes, power locks and windows, 10 airbags and keyless entry. LT and LTZ models are equipped with a 1.8-liter engine, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, OnStar, cruise control, fog lamps and bigger wheels. Pricing starts at $13,735 for an LS sedan, all the way up to $18,495 for a Sonic LTZ hatch.
I tested the Sonic LTZ sedan outfitted with the optional 138 hp 1.4L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and 6-speed manual. The non-turbo model, with the 1.8L engine and 6-speed automatic, has the same horsepower rating, but with less torque. The 1.4-liter turbo is rated at 29 mpg in town and 40 mpg on the highway, versus the 1.8-liter’s 25/36 mpg rating. I averaged 35 mpg after covering several hundred miles and a week of driving my normal routine of driving to/from the office, running errands around town, and some extended driving on the weekend.
GM added a little flair and pizzazz to the Sonic’s exterior styling and has much more character over the dull Aveo. Inside, the interior has lots of soft-touch surfaces and perforated leatherette seats with all-day comfort. Looking at the motorcycle-inspired design of the instrument cluster, with its large tachometer and big blue LED speedometer, I am reminded of the old video games I used to play in the early 90s. It's functional, but certainly not the most modern looking instrument cluster.
Surprisingly, the cabin is much quieter than I would have expected from a car that sells between $14,000 – $17,000. There is enough insulation to keep most of the road noise at bay and the doors close with a solid “thunk” instead of the beer can effect. Standard equipment with the LTZ trim is voice command for the Bluetooth and navigation, and OnStar service for 6 months from date of purchase.
After driving the Sonic around for a week, I appreciated the car more each day I drove it. Sure, I had to crank up the revs in order to bypass scooters and 15 year-old Ford Escorts, but the 2012 Sonic does have some pep underneath the hood. For most applications, the power is certainly adequate, and I found myself going much faster than the posted limit without trying very hard. The 6-speed gearbox is a pretty good unit, with precise throws, although the clutch engagement point is a bit high up.
The ride quality is tuned for comfort, not tight handling like a Miata. Impressively, the Sonic’s chassis manages to strike a wonderful balance between a smooth ride and great handling. GM Engineers setup the suspension to be remarkably neutral in most conditions, and the steering’s weight and feedback is undoubtedly at the top of the class. Absent are the common plagues of body roll, inadequate damping or any dead spots in the steering.
There’s no question the Chevrolet Sonic is a compelling choice in the subcompact segment. With its more upscale interior, responsive drivetrain, good gas mileage, and general all-around agile behavior, the Sonic continues to impress. Wary that competition in this category is full of strong contenders, Chevrolet has found a way to distinguish the Sonic apart from the Accent, Fiesta and Fit, all of which are competent vehicles and worthy of your dollars. Other competitors worthy of a look are the Mazda 2, Nissan Versa and Toyota Yaris.
- Better looking than the outgoing Chevy Aveo
- Comfortable and quiet cabin for a car in this price category
- 38 mpg on the highway
- Hill start assist with manual transmission
- 6-speed manual has tall gears optimized for fuel economy, not performance
- Idiot shift indicator light
With this review Derek Mau, formerly the editor of CarReview.com, joins the staff of TheWeeklyDriver.com as a contributor editor.