Vital Stats

Engine:
1.8L I4
Power:
138 HP / 125 LB-FT
Transmission:
6-Speed Automatic
0-60 Time:
9 Seconds (approx.)
Drivetrain:
Front-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
2,684 LBS
Seating:
2+3
Cargo:
19 / 30.7 CU-FT
MPG:
25 City / 35 HWY
An Aveo By Any Other Name Is, Indeed, Sweet



Whether General Motors likes it or not, the Sonic story starts in 2004, when GM decided to import a cheap, crummy little econobox from Korea. A product of its newest subsidiary, Daewoo, the Chevrolet Aveo had few charms. But it was available as a five-door hatchback, one of the few on the market at the time, and its starting sticker price was under $10,000. It was enough of a pitch that the car sold – and stuck around.

Some of us actually developed a modicum of affection for the little piece of junk. It's not every new car that you can use and abuse and care not a whit about. If GM had marketed the Aveo as a disposable product, meant to be driven hard and left for dead, it might have disappointed fewer people. Instead, the Aveo was famously named the "Least Satisfying" vehicle of 2007 in a Consumer Reports survey.

Hundreds of thousands of Aveos have been dumped here over the years, often into rental car fleets where they would have even greater opportunity to reflect poorly on GM. The company sold some 48,000 Aveos in 2010, over 28,000 in 2011, and stragglers on dealer lots continue to find new homes even as you read this. So it's no wonder the "new" GM doesn't want us talking about the Sonic as its replacement. But that it is. And thankfully, it's a good one. We'd even be willing to call it great if GM would work on a few of the details.
2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ side view2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ front view2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ rear view

Our test vehicle was an $18,690, five-door LTZ. This is the top-of-the-line Sonic, which is why its MSRP was so much more expensive than the $14,635 (plus $760 destination) starting price Chevy is advertising. While nearly $20,000 for a subcompact that in a previous life was the cheapest car sold in America seems high, the Sonic hatchback looks and feels like a quality product from the start.

Its design is aggressive, leaning purposefully forward thanks to two character lines running from the front wheel well towards the rear of the car. The Sonic has the best looking front fascia we've seen on a Chevy in years, with oversize fog lamps complimenting the projector-style headlights, which are wrapped in a black bezel to make them appear even more recessed. They will no doubt prove hard to keep clean, but fashion exacts a price. So too does the clever rear door handle, hidden in the black C-pillar, Chevy Beretta-style. While it does an excellent job of making the Sonic seem like a sportier three-door, little kids will find it hard to reach.

2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ grille2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ headlight2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ wheel2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ taillight

But Chevy isn't building the Sonic just for economically strapped families anymore. This is a car meant to be taken seriously by people who enjoy driving. So slipping behind the wheel you're presented with an instrument panel that looks like it was plucked straight from a sport bike. (That's a motorcycle, mom, not a Schwinn.) A large, hooded tachometer is flanked by a digital display for the speedometer and odometer, which also takes up fuel gauge duty, and communicates other relevant stuff like a compass and fuel economy. There's no temperature gauge, however, not even a little light that goes off when the engine reaches operating temperature. At any rate, the instrument panel looks cool floating above the steering wheel, though after a week of squinting at the cramped display, it still seemed like a bit too much form over function.

That's not entirely a criticism, as in this class of cars some style is needed, if for no other reason than to distract you from some of the corners that get cut in the interest of affordability. Indeed, the Sonic has a few interior shortcomings, most notably the coarse headliner, which seems less like a finished product than the substrate for one. While the dash is a broad expanse of grey plastics, just as you'd expect, that didn't bother us at all. The "leatherette" seating did, as it's got a rubbery taxicab texture that should either be upgraded to real hide, or just be banished altogether. The cloth seats we've enjoyed in other Chevys are much preferred.

2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ interior2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ front seats2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ gauges2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ dash

Speaking of which, under the hood of our Sonic was the same 1.8-liter, four-cylinder that serves as the budget engine option in the Cruze, making the same 138 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque as in its bigger brother. The 1.8-liter Ecotec provides ample motivation, but we'd be lying if we didn't say we were disappointed our Sonic was not equipped with the available 1.4-liter turbo, also shared with the Cruze. Doubling down on that disappointment was the transmission, as our Sonic was saddled with a six-speed automatic. Sonics with the 1.8-liter can be had with a five-speed manual transmission, while the tranny in the 1.4-liter has an extra gear. The automatic will probably serve the interests of the commuter crowd well enough, but we found it annoying – and not just because we would have preferred to do the shifting ourselves. The automatic transmission in our Sonic shifted rather slowly and wasn't particularly smooth either. Even the Sonic auto-box's manual shift mode is GM's standard button-on-the-shifter design that requires moving the shifter to the manual detent before using the shift buttons, and the whole thing is too much of a pain to bother with.

We would be more willing to issue a pass on the automatic transmission if we felt like it were set up for maximum fuel economy, but here is where insult piled atop injury. We only saw 29 miles per gallon overall during our week in the Sonic, in which we traveled some 600 miles, the majority on the highway. Yet this wasn't unusually low, as it's right in line with the EPA combined estimate of 28. It's the 1.4-liter Sonic manual that posts the impressive fuel economy numbers, hitting 40 mpg on the highway and still returning 29 in town. Our 1.8-liter Sonic's official numbers are just 25 city and 35 highway, which just doesn't seem good enough when the plain-Jane Ford Fiesta automatic is rated at 29/39 and the three-year-old Honda Fit even gets an EPA combined rating of 31.

2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ engine

But if the Sonic's not really a threat to the Fit at the pump, we imagine the tables might be turned on an autocross course. The Sonic has a stiff chassis and a well-tuned suspension, and even the steering is fairly responsive. While it pushes like any front-driver sold more for transportation than sport, there's no wallow around corners. The five-door weighs in at 2,684 pounds, which helps immensely in the handling department – although trimming a few more pounds would be greeted with approval. GM deserves commendation for equipping all versions of the Sonic with alloy wheels. The 17-inchers on our test car were shod with low-profile 205/50R17 all-season tires, which rode comfortably and quietly, while providing levels of grip commensurate with the amount of power on hand.

In fact, the biggest compliment we can pay to the engineering team behind the Sonic is that it's well balanced, not just in driving dynamics, but everywhere. The styling is attractive and the interior, despite a few little grumbles, is good. Could it use a big LCD touch screen with a navigation system instead of the tiny two-line display of the stock radio? Maybe, but what's there works well enough. The powertrain might not be perfect, but it's solid and doesn't get in the way of the chassis' fun-to-drive character. Would the Sonic handle better with 18-inch summer tires? Absolutely, but that's beside the point.

2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ rear 3/4 view

What GM has done here is to banish all the cheapness and disappointment that used to be part of the small car experience, and it's done it smartly, making the right calls on all the compromises that need to be made to sell a car for fifteen grand. Given how bad the Aveo was, the Sonic's ascendancy to competitiveness is all that more impressive.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 167 Comments
      dinobot666
      • 2 Years Ago
      I test drove a Sonic with the 1.8 and a manual transmission and liked it quite a lot. I got used to the "motorcycle" instrument cluster, but I'm sure the novelty could wear off pretty quickly. I'm sort of embarrassed to admit that I thought it was a 2 door! I didn't look in the rear seats or look for a rear door handle. It really does look like a 2 door hatch. The one thing I noticed about the car is that the brakes were a bit grabby.
        • 2 Years Ago
        @dinobot666
        [blocked]
      Nick Stürtz
      • 2 Years Ago
      I usually like hatches (I currently have a Mazda2), but I actually think the Sonic sedan looks better.
      Xantia10000
      • 2 Years Ago
      The Sonic doesn't have projector-style headlamps. They are reflector-style that happen to be circular.
      Dean
      • 2 Years Ago
      Being the current owner of a rear-wheel-drive sport sedan, and having owned nothing but rear-wheel-drive sport sedans for over a decade, I have to say, the small offering from Chevrolet, and Ford, have managed to catch my attention. They've both come a long way from the Aveo, and Aspire, type cars that preceded them. The Sonic, and Fiesta, may not be for everyone, but for those on a budget, looking for basic, reliable, transportation, those two cars look to be a great alternative. Those knocking these cars for their lack of refinement, and design, have to realize that these cars aren't aimed at the enthusiast, but towards those who need basic transportation. While I don't intend to go away from driving the kind of car that I do, I have to say that Ford, and Chevy would be on my shopping list if I were looking for cars in that class (while we're at it, add the Focus, and Cruze, to the list as well).
      Dan
      • 1 Year Ago
      I have a 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ sedan with automatic transmission. I've had many cars over a lifetime, always American made. I like the Sonic very much and can't wait to see what Chevrolet does with them the next few years. The around town gas mileage is about 24.2 MPG on mine, not great but fine with me. For a runabout car it has all you need for comfort and a little fun. I recommend the Sonic highly for those looking for an economy car with some interesting extras.
      Christine Mosley
      • 2 Years Ago
      I recently bought one of this. I love it. It is sporty and chic looking. Handles real well. As far as the gas milage i have been averaging 30 miles to gallon. Which I think is awesome. The tranmission is a bit slow but i have noticed it does a bit better if u do not take off real fast or slam on the brakes to stop.
      Alex Brown
      • 2 Years Ago
      What is the extra red piece in the rear light clusters top outer corner that European versions don't have?
        aatbloke1967
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Alex Brown
        The rear side marker lamp. These are not required by countries which adopts UNECE standards - in other words, almost everywhere except for North America.
      David
      • 2 Years Ago
      So, I read the review, and from it, it's rather clear: The Hyundai Veloster beats it in just about every way, but especially on price, fuel-economy, equipment and style, residual value, and warranty, all while having a lighter curb weight and almost zero "cheapness" in the cabin. Gee! What a great car you've built, GM!
        • 2 Years Ago
        @David
        [blocked]
          tipdrip215
          • 2 Years Ago
          Velosturd? OMG how hilarious. That name was played out the day after the Veloster was first shown.
          David
          • 2 Years Ago
          Nice try, but "WRONG!". Veloster starts at $19,000, and I don't need to read about it. I actually have one. However, the reviews have been nearly universally rave reviews, and coupled with the manual gearbox, it's very peppy and satisfactory. You ignorant fanboys keep kidding yourselves about how great this Aveo is. LOL!!!!!!
        hudkina
        • 2 Years Ago
        @David
        The Sonic competes against the Accent... A comparably equipped Veloster costs nearly $23k!
        A_Guy
        • 2 Years Ago
        @David
        The Veloster is know to have a lot of cheap plastic and high cost on packages. Not exactly a winner. Better yet, not exactly the car to compare with the Sonic.
        summazooma
        • 2 Years Ago
        @David
        David, Having driven both cars, I have to say that they don't drive nearly as well as each other and,... shockingly, the Sonic drives better than the Veloster. From steering, to ride/handling balance, to transmission (both DCT & M/T on the Veloster), the Sonic is a better driver. The Veloster Turbo will overcome a lot of this, just because of more power, but I'm of the mind that "how" a car drives is a big deal. Sonic drives much better than I would have given it credit for.
      • 2 Years Ago
      [blocked]
        tipdrip215
        • 2 Years Ago
        Yes, Laser, but if it were the instrument panel of a Fiesta or a B-segment Dodge, whenever we see that, you would say something like it is the benchmark that "Government Motors" should have followed when designing the Sonic.
        • 2 Years Ago
        [blocked]
          • 2 Years Ago
          [blocked]
          • 2 Years Ago
          [blocked]
      Dennis Clouser
      • 2 Years Ago
      No Thanks Gov't Motors! I'll stick with my 2012 Honda Fit with known quality, resale and engineering! BTW - I'd love to know the 0-60 time?
        hudkina
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Dennis Clouser
        It's sad when the only thing left for Honda fanboys to lark about is resale value... Yeah, I'd want to sell my Fit too...
          Dennis Clouser
          • 2 Years Ago
          @hudkina
          We can also tout "Car & Driver 10 Best" for Fit again - even after Fiesta, Sonic etc... and top of recent win in 6 car shoot out (although the Sonic came in a close 2nd but that's against an older Honda design!). No go buy your used Aveo for $4k and let the real engineering to Honda.
          NightFlight
          • 2 Years Ago
          @hudkina
          I think you forgot reliability, lowest TCO, highest owner satisfaction, and it is still winning all of the comparison tests. Yeah, I'd say there isn't anything wrong with the Fit.
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Dennis Clouser
        [blocked]
        IBx27
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Dennis Clouser
        Have fun getting 28mpg.
        Rotation
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Dennis Clouser
        If you care about the 0-60, get the turbo with 6-speed. It's surely a lot faster than your Fit (probably a lot more expensive too).
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Dennis Clouser
        [blocked]
        MyerShift
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Dennis Clouser
        Ignorance is bliss!
      • 2 Years Ago
      [blocked]
        • 2 Years Ago
        [blocked]
          Elmo
          • 2 Years Ago
          Greg, reformed would mean that he doesn't troll around like he used to. He still does troll.
      hudkina
      • 2 Years Ago
      Why does Autblog think every car needs to be a BMW 3 Series to be good? You're reviewing a $19k economy car, not a $35k sports sedan. Stop getting disappointed when $19k doesn't buy you a premium dash, 18 inch summer tires and genuine Italian leather seats... Compared to the Fit, Fiesta, Mazda2, Rio, xD, Accent, and Yaris the Sonic holds its own.
        MJC
        • 2 Years Ago
        @hudkina
        You took the words right out of my mouth. For $18K you expect leather and an LCD display...really?
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