2012 Chevrolet Sonic Review | National Post
By Graeme Fletcher, National Post
The Sonic replaces the less-than-lamented Aveo in Chevrolet’s lineup. When compared with its predecessor, it has, especially in hatchback form, much more flare and a substantive style to it.
One of the key cues is found in the rear door handle. Mounted in the blacked-out section toward the top of the C-pillar, it makes the five-door hatchback look more like a three-door at first glance. It all makes the car look sportier than its intended station.
The interior follows the sportier theme. Yes, there’s still a lot of plastic, but it is of decent quality and it’s nicely butted together. It is also well conceived, if a little different. Gone is the traditional dashboard in favour of a motorcycle-inspired set of gauges. The centre spot goes to a digital readout that includes the speedometer with an analogue tachometer sitting to the left. It is attractively functional, although the speedometer tends to flash annoyingly as one’s speed changes.
The centre stack is more conventional and it is arranged neatly, putting the controls in the correct order: audio above the climate. The lone ergonomic foible is the placement of the power lock switch: It sits in the middle of the car. On a more positive note, there are steering wheel-mounted controls for the audio system, cruise control and Bluetooth functions.
The front seats are comfortable (the driver earns an armrest) and well contoured, meaning there is above-average support. For the driver, the tilt and telescopic steering wheel adjustment makes establishing the correct driving position a snap and the sightlines are pretty good given the boxy nature of the back end.
Move rearward and the bench seat will accommodate two adults acceptably well. There is plenty of headroom and, as long as the front seats are not fully back in their tracks, reasonable legroom. The hatchback’s advantage is the amount of cargo space it brings to the road. With the 60/40-split/folding seats upright, there’s 19 cubic feet of space and a generous 30.7 cu. ft. with them folded down — credit the aforementioned boxiness of the hind quarters. Kudos for the flat nature of the floor and the fact the wheelwell intrusions have been kept to a minimum. There is also a decently sized under-floor storage bin.
The tester arrived with General Motors’ Ecotec 1.8-litre in-line four-cylinder engine. Using variable valve timing, it puts out 138 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque, 90% of which is available between 2,400 rpm and 6,500 rpm. This brings decent performance over a broad range — it runs to 100 kilometres an hour in 10.8 seconds, which is par for the segment.
It is well suited to the optional six-speed automatic. It’s a slick shifter that is willing to kick down when the driver urges the Sonic on. It also works nicely with the engine because of the ratio range — the first five gears are aimed at furthering the performance cause, while sixth looks after the quest for fuel economy.
However, if you are serious about the Sonic, forget the base engine and opt for the LTZ — it arrives with GM’s sweet 1.4L turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The difference it makes to the drive is well worth the extra coin. It’s not the horsepower, as both are rated the same (although that nugget of information varies, according to GM’s different information sources — in some cases, it says the turbo has three more ponies). Regardless, it is the torque at play and the manner in which it comes on line that makes the real difference. Where the 1.8L engine produces its 125 lb-ft of torque at 3,800 rpm, the turbo delivers its 148 lb-ft at a significantly lower 2,500 rpm, and much of it is available over a broader range. The bonus is that, in spite of the improved performance (a zero-to-100-kilometres-an-hour run of 8.3 seconds), the turbocharged mill also delivers better fuel economy.
Riding on MacPherson front struts and a twist beam at the back, the Sonic balances the need for ride comfort with some semblance of handling. Certainly, there is a degree of body roll through a fast onramp, but it never reaches the point where the Sonic feels as though it’s about to heel over. Likewise, the electrically assisted steering delivers positive feedback and it has good on-centre feel — in this regard, it leads its Korean rivals, in spite of being a Korean-based design wearing Chevrolet’s bowtie.
What does make an appreciable difference to how the Sonic handles is the appearance package. Along with a power sunroof and fog lights come P205/50R17 tires. Compared with the stock P195/65R15s, the larger tires bring much better grip and, ultimately, far less understeer toward the limit. Again, the package is worth the money because of the dynamic improvement — if only the tires were a stand-alone option.
The Sonic is a decidedly decent compact hatchback. It has surprising room and comfort, it handles nicely and, with the turbocharged engine aboard, it is a lot of fun to drive. Perhaps its only pitfall is that it can get expensive if you load it up with the options needed to bring the very best out of it.
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