2012 Chevy Sonic Review | Toronto Star

2012 Chevrolet Sonic Review
2012 Chevy Sonic
By Jim Kenzie, Toronto Star
MONTREAL – That the new Sonic sub-compact is a better car than the Aveo it replaces in Chevrolet’s lineup doesn’t necessarily make it the class-beater General Motors thinks it is.
Aveo wasn’t a complete disaster. “Cheap and cheerful” is the appropriate British term, and Chevy sold a lot of them.
But Aveo was a Korean home-market car engineered by the now-demised Daewoo organization that was adapted, back-fitted, poked and prodded to meet North American and world-class standards.
There’s only so much you can do with that approach. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.
So Sonic, which goes on sale in four-door sedan and four-door hatchback models in Canada on Oct. 3 priced from $14,495, starts from scratch.
Like last year’s successful Cruze compact and the Orlando crossover that also debuts next month, Sonic’s development team was located in Korea.
But the team was international. The VLE (Vehicle Line Executive) was German and the Chief Engineer Brazilian, in keeping with Sonic’s expected 60-country market reach.
The name “Aveo” is still used in some countries where GM ran into name registration issues for Sonic.
Or where, it would appear, it doesn’t carry the same baggage it does here, judging from GM Canada’s determined effort to convince us that Sonic does not “replace” Aveo, but “eclipses” it.
All righty then.
Sonic’s objective – rather like the Ford Fiesta, with which it directly competes – is to offer ride comfort, quietness and high-tech amenities comparable to larger, more expensive vehicles. As Vince Boillot, Chevrolet marketing manager for General Motors Canada put it, “Sonic is a ‘no compromise’ car.”
Both bodystyles follow the handsome-if-conservative approach we’ve seen in Cruze and Orlando but are not as dramatic to my eye as Accent or Fiesta.
Maybe they didn’t have to go as far as the Kia Soul or Nissan Juke, but for a car aimed at young single adults, they might have stretched a bit more.
The round headlights and taillights do add a bit of flavour, as do the rear door handles on the hatchback that are hidden within the rear roof pillar.
The interior generally follows the cautious theme too, although the motorcycle pod-style instrument cluster directly in front of the driver, with a round analogue tachometer and digital displays for almost everything else, should appeal to the younger buyer.
Ride quality and quietness always begin with structural rigidity, and Sonic is vastly superior to Aveo here, with extensive use of high-strength steels for more strength without excess weight.
The MacStrut front suspension separates the load paths for spring and damper in order to reduce impact harshness, thus reducing one noise source at its source.
Triple door seals, thicker glass, liquid sound deadening and strategically-placed acoustic mats and baffles further mollify the acoustic environment.
Sonic uses essentially the same engines as Cruze, albeit tuned slightly differently to suit the car’s size and weight.
A 1.8 litre naturally-aspirated four rated at 138 hp and 125 lb.-ft. of torque has a fairly high compression ratio but still runs on regular fuel.
Either a five-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic gets bolted onto it.
A 1.4 litre four cylinder turbo, also with 138 horses but a more substantial 148 lb.-ft. of torque, will be available initially only with a six-speed manual; final calibration of this engine with the autobox will allow that combination to join the party early next year.
The turbo engine will only be available in Canada in the range-topping LTZ trim, which will account for about 10 percent of Sonic sales. (In the U.S., the one-up LT trim also offers the turbo; not here, however.)
Even base LS Sonics will be decently-equipped with power locks, remote keyless entry, six airbags, OnStar turn-by-turn navigation and Bluetooth – the sort of connectivity the young target market covets. You will have to cough up an extra $1,300 to get air conditioning, though. A base Accent with A/C is quite a bit cheaper. GM expects LS to account for 40% of Sonic sales.
Ditto the LT, but at $16,495 it looks like a better deal because it includes A/C, cruise, power windows and mirrors, and a sound system with CD player and mp3 capability.
During a two-day drive from Montreal to Quebec City and back, I sampled LT (1.8 litre automatic) and LTZ (turbo manual) hatchbacks, and an LTZ turbo sedan.
The promise of the Sonic feeling like a larger car is generally kept. The car has a plush road feel and wind noise is well-suppressed, although there was a bit of road noise from the tires on certain road surfaces.
The cabin is a bit narrow-my co-driver wasn’t exactly accusing me of anything but I did brush his right knee on occasion while shifting the manual transmission.
The seats are comfortable, decently adjustable, and the tallish roof reasonably accommodates most physiques.
Sonic sedan is 360 mm longer than the hatch, but has less trunk space (14 cubic feet versus 19 behind the rear seat), and will be more practical for most people.
That said, the hatch costs more ($1,000 LS and LT, $500 LTZ) than the sedan and price is a big determinant in sub-compact car purchases.
The turbocharger in the 1.4 is small and light, so it spools up quickly to minimize turbo lag. Ninety per cent of the 1.4’s peak torque is available from 2,400 r.p.m. up to 5,000 r.p.m., so it’s very flexible.
The six-speed transmission, almost by necessity, has close-coupled gates, so you must be careful selecting sixth instead of fourth.
For whatever reason, I had occasional trouble engaging the clutch smoothly, even stalling the car once on a hill in downtown Montreal despite the “hill-holder” feature that leaves the brakes engaged for three seconds, giving you the chance to get rolling forward before you coast backward.
I have two main gripes about Sonic which may sound like picky but they’d be deal-breakers for me.
Like all new GM cars, the automatic power door lock feature cannot be de-programmed. As regular readers know, I find this way beyond irritating.
Every other car company at least gives us the choice of de-activating this. You can easily unlock Sonic’s doors from a centre stack switch, but you shouldn’t have to.
GM cannot begin to come up with an explanation for my other beef: their failure to allow you to crank the instrument panel brightness to the max when the headlights are on during the day.
You should drive with your full lights on all the time, day or night, because Daytime Running Lights and the stupid ‘Auto’ lights feature just don’t cut it.
When Sonic’s lights are on, you cannot read the IP in bright sunlight, and with most of the IP being digital, this is unconscionable.
GM brought along examples of Accent, Fiesta and Honda Fit for comparison to Sonic. This can be dangerous, if the competitors prove to be better.
Fit is the oldest of this quartet; it has always looked cheap inside, its suspension is noisiest yet has the crispest response, and the engine gets raucous when revved hard.
Fiesta looks good, and is bright ‘n’ shiny inside. But it is saddled with a dual-clutch automatically shifted manual gearbox whose sluggish shift quality pretty much puts it on the trailer.
I’m also not the only one who finds Ford’s Sync communications system unfathomable – Consumer Reports writes off all thus-equipped Fords.
Accent looks nice especially in four-door hatch form, but is duller inside. It runs well, and its suspension felt the softest – good on bigger bumps, a bit flaccid in corners.
Sonic is every bit competitive in all dynamic areas with these.
If Sonic achieves Chevrolet’s goal of 18,000 unit sales annually, it won’t necessarily displace Accent as Canada’s top-selling subcompact.
But it will come a heck of a lot closer than Aveo ever did.
PRICE: $14,495 – $20,995.
ENGINE: LS, LT-1.8 litre;LTZ-1.4 litre inline four turbocharger.
POWER/TORQUE: LS, LT-138 hp, 125 lbs.-ft. LTZ-138 hp, 148 lbs.-ft.
FUEL CONSUMPTION: (L/100 km) city / highway, LS, LT M5-7.7 / 5.6; LS, LT A6-8.3 / 5.5; LTZ M6-7.3 / 5.1.
COMPETITION: Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Nissan Versa,
WHAT’S BEST: Quiet comfortable ride belies the car’s size and price; good combination of performance and economy; some optional high-tech features.
WHAT’S WORST: Narrow cabin; instrument lighting can’t be made bright enough.
WHAT’S INTERESTING: Only car in its segment offering a standard navigation system.
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