Chevrolet improves its lineup substantially with the new-for-2012 Sonic compact sedan and five-door hatchback.
Positioned as Chevy’s entry model below the larger and pricier Cruze, the Sonic is a peppy five-seater promising up to 40 miles per gallon in highway driving with an uplevel turbocharged four-cylinder.
It’s also pleasantly styled – it looks better in person than it does in pictures – and comes standard with 10 air bags.
The quality of interior materials is way better than what was in the Aveos. Why, the black perforated leatherette covering the seats in the test Sonic could pass for leather.
Perhaps most notable for many car buyers, the Sonic is built in the United States – in Orion Township outside Detroit.
The Daewoo-birthed Aveo had come from South Korea, and prominent Sonic competitors, such as the Ford Fiesta and Honda Fit, come from other countries. The Fiesta is assembled in Mexico, while the Fit is shipped from Japan.
THE SONIC IS LONG overdue for Chevrolet, whose parent company, General Motors Co., had to revamp operations and get federal government financial aid in recent years to survive.
The Sonic shows GM has learned some lessons.
Though the Sonic has a mix of elements from the Opel Corsa, which is GM’s German subsidiary, and some elements from Daewoo, which GM bought in South Korea, the new car is well-tailored to American tastes.
It’s sized right. The 14.4-foot-long Sonic is bigger than the Aveo, with a wheelbase of nearly 100 inches.
The latter is the distance from the middle of one wheel on one side of the car to the middle of the other wheel on the same side and is an indication of the space available for passengers inside.
This wheelbase compares with 98 inches for the Ford Fiesta and 98.4 inches in the Honda Fit, and helped explain why the test Sonic sedan had decent room and comfort for the four passengers.
A few complaints: Three adults in the back seat find it cozy.
Also, the space was cramped below the driver’s right elbow. In the LTZ model, a pull-down armrest sat above the parking brake lever, which was right next to where the seat belt connector was.
I could not get the seat belt connected without first undoing the brake lever, and it helped to raise the armrest, too.
I also bumped the OnStar button with my head while trying to reach near the base of the windshield. My head activated OnStar, whose buttons were at the bottom of the rearview mirror. I had to press a button to stop the OnStar call.
ALSO, THE SONIC CAME with a key fob to lock and unlock the doors, but it turned out to activate the alarm on another car parked in the same office parking garage that I used. When I pushed the fob again, the screeching alarm went silent. This happened repeatedly. It appeared that both cars were using the same frequency.
The base engine is the normally aspirated, 1.8-liter four-cylinder, which develops 138 horses and 125 foot-pounds at 3,800 rpm.
INTERESTINGLY, THE UPLEVEL 1.4-liter, Ecotec turbocharged four-cylinder generates 138 horsepower, too. Torque from the turbo peaks at 148 foot-pounds, however, and it can come on strongly if the driver works the manual transmission right.
In the test car, I could squeal the tires easily at startup and get peppy performance as long as I stayed in the engine’s preferred rpm range. But if I didn’t work the gears right, the sedan lagged.
I never saw anything near the government’s 40-mpg fuel economy rating. In combined city/highway driving, I could manage no better than 27.6 mpg. This could get me only 325 miles on a tank full of gasoline.
Although the brakes worked fine, the Sonic’s rear brakes are drums, not the more expensive and effective discs.