Vital Stats

1.4L four-cylinder turbo
138 HP / 148 LB-FT
6-speed manual
Front-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
2,500-2,700 LBS *Est.
Five Passenger
40 HWY *Est.
We Go Cone Dancing In GM's New Subcompact Warrior

2012 Chevrolet Sonic - Click above for high-res image gallery

When the Ford Fiesta first touched down in 2010, the model seemed doomed to follow in the footsteps of the American compact cars that had gone before it. Through December of that year, sales of the smallest member of the Blue Oval family failed to crest more than 4,000 units per month. Despite a pandemic marketing campaign and healthy buzz ahead of the vehicle's launch, production delays and tolerable gas prices did little to help usher the models off of dealer lots. But as fuel prices inch ever skyward, the littlest Blue Oval has begun gaining traction. In May alone, 7,120 Fiesta units leapt off of lots. Even more importantly, the tiny cars carried a higher average transaction price than the outgoing Ford Focus, Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla - all substantially larger vehicles.

With the little Ford poised for some big numbers this year, it's clear that U.S. buyers are embracing domestic small cars like they haven't done in ages. General Motors is understandably keen to prove that it, too, can build a B-segment contender. The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic is the company's latest effort in the category. As the successor to the egregiously disappointing Aveo, the Sonic needs to prove that GM can do more than unload Korean hatches at the dock. We took to the wheel of a few pre-production models in Indianapolis, Indiana to see how the effort is coming along.

Despite retaining a profile that's remarkably similar to its predecessor, the Sonic is an aggressively styled vehicle in either hatchback or sedan guise. Much of the compact's personality comes from its angular visage and massive, scowling quad headlamps, which give the impression that the Sonic is either deep in furious thought or on the verge of eating your cat. It's kind of like a less cuddly version of ALF. Those headlights are built with four smaller lenses instead of a single, larger polycarbonate cover. While the design makes for a striking looker in the flesh, we'd hate to have to scrub bug bits from the details.

Large fender arches dominate the side of the Sonic hatch along with two forward-leaning lines. The upper half of that parallel wraps up into the cabin's window opening while the lower detail slides over the rear wheel well. Move toward the rear of the vehicle and you'll notice a standard spoiler and blacked-out tail lamps.

2012 Chevrolet Sonic side view2012 Chevrolet Sonic front view2012 Chevrolet Sonic rear view

Unfortunately, our pre-pro tester hatchbacks didn't come wearing an interior that was indicative of final models. The good news is that GM allowed us to photograph a sedan with interior bits that were closer to what buyers can expect to see when the Sonic arrives in dealerships at the end of this year.

Chevrolet treats the driver to a small steering wheel with simulated perforation and all the appropriate contours. The piece stands ahead of the new compact's motorcycle-inspired gauge cluster. When we first laid eyes on the massive tachometer and blue LCD screen back at the Detroit Auto Show, we weren't entirely taken with the design, but we've grown to appreciate its simplicity. The large tachometer is easy to read and the massive miles-per-hour reading keeps the driver constantly informed of vehicle speed. Given the substantial adjustability built into the seats and steering wheel, we do wish that the pod was maneuverable as well.

We won't spend too much time picking apart the cockpit until we get some more time with a final production Sonic, but we will say that that the cabin felt cheaper than models like the Ford Fiesta and Honda Fit.

2012 Chevrolet Sonic interior2012 Chevrolet Sonic front seats2012 Chevrolet Sonic gauges2012 Chevrolet Sonic rear cargo area

The Sonic will arrive with two engine options - a naturally aspirated 1.8-liter four with an estimated 138 horsepower at 6,300 rpm and 125 pound-feet of torque at 3,800 rpm and a turbocharged 1.4-liter four with 138 hp at 4,900 rpm and a heady 148 lb-ft of torque at just 1,850 rpm. Those powertrain options should sound plenty familiar, as they're the same beating hearts employed in the larger, heavier Chevrolet Cruze.

The minds at GM expect most buyers to saddle up with the larger displacement four-cylinder and an optional six-speed automatic gear box, though a five-speed manual is also available. Those who opt up to the turbo 1.4-liter turbo will be able to choose between a six-speed automatic and a six-speed manual cogswapper.

2012 Chevrolet Sonic engine

Our first chance to drive the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic was limited to a handful of autocross runs designed to demonstrate just how much work that the company's engineers have poured into the vehicle's chassis and suspension development. In total, 60 percent of the Sonic's body structure is comprised of high-strength steel, which not only aids in crash protection, but also creates greater chassis stiffness for a sharper driving feel. Those familiar with the mashed potato dynamics of the compact's predecessor will be relieved to hear that GM has crafted an incredibly sharp machine - at least for dodging cones. Check out the Short Cut below to see how the Sonic performed. (Special thanks to Craig Cole from for letting us ride shotgun during his run.)

The Sonic relies on a MacPherson strut design up front with a modified torsion beam out back. GM calls the piece a compound crank, and while it lacks the sophistication of a fully independent rear, the truth is that most buyers in this segment will never know the difference. Even with its somewhat rudimentary hardware out back, the hatch is a blast to fling. We were able to line a topped-out 1.4-liter Sonic LTZ equipped with a six-speed manual transmission up against an automatic-equipped Ford Fiesta and a five-speed 2011 Honda Fit.

GM hasn't released final U.S. curb weight information on the Sonic, but the hatch felt significantly lighter on its feet than its Ford counterpart. In Europe, an equivalent Sonic (still known as the Aveo in those parts) tips the scales at between 2,575 and 2,700 pounds, while both the Fiesta and the Fit weigh in at a whisker over 2,500 lbs. Turn-in is blisteringly quick thanks in part to a snappy steering ratio. It takes just 2.4 turns to go from lock to lock, and inputs are precise and tactile. Even with its front-wheel drive configuration, understeer is minimal, and with traction control off, it takes just a few manipulations of the steering wheel to induce a little polite rotation. In fact, the Sonic is every bit as engaging to drive as the Honda Fit, and the Chevrolet routinely generated lap times that were a second or more quicker than its Japanese rival.

2012 Chevrolet Sonic rear 3/4 view

Even so, we missed the instantaneous throttle response of the naturally-aspirated Honda, which makes us hungry for a stint behind the wheel of the 1.8-liter normally aspirated Sonic. Around the short autocross course, the Sonic's front disc, rear drum brake setup returned admirable stopping power and stood up to the abuse of a half-dozen auto journos without producing any fade or ruined rotors.

We'll need to wait until we get a little more seat time over more types of roads with the Sonic before we make a final pronouncement on just how effective the model might be against mainstays of the segment like the Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent and Toyota Yaris, as well as new fighters like the Ford Fiesta and the segment's best-seller, the Nissan Versa. Judging from our short stint behind the wheel, it's clear that GM is finally taking the segment seriously. With a targeted 40 mpg highway from 1.4-liter, six-speed manual-equipped models and a genuinely engaging driving experience, the Sonic has the bones to be a legitimate competitor. If its on-road manners and production interior hit the right marks, the Sonic could easily muscle its way to the top of subcompact buyers' shopping lists.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      It looks okay but it really doesn't come off as a well integrated overall design. The tiny tires don't fit well with the boxy look of the car. The Sides don't quite fit with the more dynamic front and rear views. The Fiesta is a much better formed design.
      Mike K
      • 3 Years Ago
      Another Chevy with a cheap poorly designed interior... Woopty doo..
      • 3 Years Ago
      You couldn't pay me to drive that thing. Horrible!
        • 3 Years Ago
        Unfortunately, I agree. The Fit and Fiesta are classy looking vehicles, that don't look like they were designed by and for children. Not sure I'd want this in my driveway...
          • 3 Years Ago
      Tippy Dobbs
      • 3 Years Ago
      Seems like a decent car, but I'd buy a Fiesta over this any day.
      • 3 Years Ago
      The gauge cluster makes this car look like it was designed for children...
      • 3 Years Ago
      Another yucko sub-compact from the Bowtie brand. GM still doesn't get it.
      Exported from Ohio
      • 3 Years Ago
      Its called the Aveo - in South Korea where it is built. Sonic-the same as the last card with different front treatment- hedgehog. Snooze.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Exported from Ohio
        Sorry but the Sonic will roll out of General Motors' Orion Township assembly plant north of Detroit. This is not a Korean product.
      Jason Golden
      • 3 Years Ago
      With the sophisticated-looking (almost elegant) 2012 Accent on the way, for comparision, the Fiesta, Fit, and Sonic look like cartoonish toys.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Jason Golden
        The Accent is already here, just an FYI. The Rio is on the way....
          Bryan Pizzuti
          • 3 Years Ago
          That's going to be the true battle. This versus the 2012 Rio5, Accent, and Fiesta. The Fit and Yaris are out of it: they're too old and likely will not be updated given what's going on in Japan. The Versa is planned for updating but who knows? The US and Korea will be fighting to own this segment it looks like.
          • 3 Years Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      It looks too much like the old aveo. It looks like it was designed in 1998. It has the stupidest name ever, Sonic? Really? That's a fast food restaurant idiots!!! It has that same tired chevy nose. Does that have to be on every chevy GM??? The Fiesta blows this away. It at least looks somewhat expensive for a cheap car. This Sonic by comparison looks exactly like you'd expect it too - cheap. With all that said, IF it had a decent 5 or 6 speed manual it would be a blast. I've driven the Aveo and sure it's a cheap car, but if it had a proper manual like something out of a miata it would be a blast to drive. Unfortunately GM put the worst 5 speed I've ever seen with the longest throws ever in it. GM cannot make a decent small car. They do everything to a price point unlike the Japanese who refine everything to a certain level regardless of price because their name is on the front and it means something. THERE IS A REASON GM OWED PEOPLE 169 BILLION AND HAD TO BE BAILED OUT AND IT WASN'T BECAUSE THEY MADE GREAT CARS!!!
      • 3 Years Ago
      Styling-wise, it's pretty much a home run, considering the packaging requirements and platform. The interior is a really important part of a car though. I hope GM hasn't cut back where it counts.
        Mike K
        • 3 Years Ago
        GM always cuts back in the interior... go sit in a corvette...
          Mike K
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Mike K
          jtav2002 - I know a couple, they constantly complain about how crappy the quality of the interior is.
      • 3 Years Ago
      What is it with GM and hidden rear door handles, anyway? It's not 1989 anymore.
      Sasha K
      • 3 Years Ago
      Chevrolet has really one upped the competition with this car. All the other brands have cars that have a frowny front end. This car is frowny from the front AND back!
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