By Jason Allan
KBB Expert Rating: 7.9
Some buyers will be drawn to the all-new 2012 Chevrolet Sonic because it's the only subcompact built in the U.S. Far more will be won over by the fact that it's the most well-rounded driver in the segment. As the bow-tie brand's newest answer to subcompact sedans and 5-door hatchbacks like the Honda Fit and Ford Fiesta, the Chevy Sonic comes into the world facing stiff competition. And if you're looking for standout styling or go-git-'em driving feel, you can indeed do better than the Sonic. But if you like the idea of an entry-level subcompact that drives more like a comfortable compact car, consider the Sonic an early favorite in your quest for affordable and efficient wheels.
In sedan or 5-door hatchback configuration, the 2012 Chevy Sonic is the quietest and most composed subcompact car you can buy. Combined with more conventional styling than some of its key competitors, the Sonic is destined to become a mass-market favorite.
The 2012 Chevy Sonic isn't the smallest car in the category, but it's not as accommodating or flexible as the 2012 Honda Fit. Nor is the interior as polished as the 2012 Hyundai Accent's. And while it proves impressively athletic when pushed, it doesn't encourage that sort of behavior as much as the 2012 Ford Fiesta.
The Chevy Aveo had grown so uncompetitive and unloved enough that when it came time for a new generation, Chevy changed everything including the name. With the arrival of the radically improved 2012 Chevy Sonic, the short list of subcompact cars worth considering is now one car longer.
Driving Impressions Around town and on the highway, the 2012 Chevy Sonic sets a new standard for subcompact driving refinement. The category as a whole has gotten less skittish and less buzzy...in recent years, but the new Sonic ups the ante considerably and drives like a bigger, pricier car than any of its competitors. It's not perfect, though. The up-level turbocharged engine available on LT and LZ models offers excellent fuel economy but suffers from the same quirky power delivery that hurt the Sonic's Chevy Cruze big brother in our most recent compact sedan comparison test. And until spring 2012, the turbocharged engine is only available with a 6-speed manual transmission – a combination that magnifies the engine's idiosyncrasies. Fortunately, the base-level 1.8-liter engine costs less, is available with the 6-speed automatic transmission right out of the gate, and delivers – in some ways – a better driving experience. It may be down on power, refinement and efficiency compared to the turbo option, but it's still one of the category's most powerful engines. One of the front-wheel-drive Sonic's best tricks is how it manages to deliver both segment-leading highway manners with impressive road-holding abilities. It's not stretching the leash to charge a canyon road, but you might be impressed by the grip and stability it delivers if that's what you want to do. We were.
We like traditional tachometers – the needle helps you time shifts and more quickly conveys the relative speed of the engine - but when it comes to tracking vehicle speed, two digits is better.
If your phone and digital music player are one, and you take more short trips than long drives, you'll appreciate the ability to play your music without having to constantly plug and unplug your phone.
Like the outside, the inside of the 2012 Chevy Sonic is a mix of conservative design with a touch of 2-wheeler inspiration manifested in the form of a compact gauge cluster with a digital speedometer. Like many of the newer subcompact cars, a key highlight of the Sonic interior is simply the dearth of weak spots common to the category's cabins only a few years ago. Worth noting are that the cupholders are good but awkwardly placed too rearward between the front seats, the backseat is one of the category's roomiest, and the 2-glovebox layout is especially nice for those who use a dedicated digital music player (the USB port is located in the smaller top box).
The motorcycle-inspired headlights notwithstanding, the 2012 Chevy Sonic is among the more traditionally styled subcompact cars in the segment. While it won't generate as much excitement as the crisper styling of the Ford Fiesta or Hyundai Accent, the flip side is that it won't push as many people away. One fun detail to check out: On the 5-door hatchback model, Chevy's designers "hid" the rear door handle in the black area of the C-pillar, in an effort to give the car a little bit of a 2-door look at first glance. Also, we love that even the base Chevy Sonic includes alloy wheels, as opposed to the covered steel wheels more common on base trims in the category.
In sedan or 5-door hatchback form, a 2012 Chevy Sonic LS includes a 1.8-liter engine, 5-speed manual transmission, 15-inch aluminum wheels, air conditioning, 4-speaker AM/FM/Aux sound system and OnStar with a 6-month subscription that includes convenient turn-by-turn navigation. You might notice power windows and mirrors are missing from the list - Chevy's omission, not ours (but not unusual for base-level subcompacts). A full range of standard safety equipment includes 10 airbags.
A fully loaded 2012 Chevy Sonic includes the 1.4-liter turbocharged engine matched with a 6-speed manual transmission (a 6-speed automatic is coming for spring 2012), leatherette seats, heated front seats, moonroof, cruise control, AM/FM/CD/MP3/USB/Aux/Bluetooth audio 6-speaker sound system, steering-wheel audio/phone controls and 17-inch wheels.
The bad news is that the more powerful, more fuel-efficient turbocharged engine won't be available with an automatic transmission until spring 2012. The good news is that the base 1.8-liter engine is a viable option with more linear power delivery. In fact, the pricier turbocharged engine's key strength isn't the added torque but the 5-mpg advantage in highway fuel economy. We haven't yet tested the 5-speed manual, but we were impressed by both the 6-speed automatic and 6-speed manual transmissions.
1.8-liter in-line 4-cylinder
138 horsepower @ 6,300 rpm
125 lb-ft of torque @ 3,800 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 26/35 (5-speed manual), 25/35 (6-speed automatic)
1.4-liter turbocharged in-line 4-cylinder
138 horsepower @ 4,900 rpm
148 lb-ft of torque @ 2,500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 29/40 (6-speed manual only until spring 2012)
A 2012 Chevy Sonic Sedan LS starts at a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $14,495 including destination. The Sonic 5-door commands an additional $900 – but nets a rear-window wiper – with a starting sticker of $15,395. Loaded, a 2012 Sonic can top $20,000. Overall, the Sonic is priced in line with its key competitors on a feature-to-feature basis. Before heading down to your Chevy dealer, be sure to check our Fair Purchase Price, which reflects what others are currently paying. As for resale value, we expect the 2012 Chevy Sonic to perform better than its Aveo predecessor, but not as well as some of its more proven subcompact competitors.
By matt (WI) on Wednesday, November 27, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 5,900overall rating 7 of 10rating details
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 6
"sporty and fun to drive. Only bad thing is if you have 4 people and going somewhere there isn't enough room for luggage."
2 people out of 2 found this review helpful
By Hot Dog Guy (AZ) on Thursday, November 14, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 17,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Perfect... All around for the price"
Cons: "Sits a little low. Front end bottomed a few times"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"Just over a year old now and our family LOVES the Sonic!... Style, Comfort, space efficient, and spunk!... the gas mileage is great (Avg. 33 daily - 42 Hwy)"
1 person out of 1 found this review helpful
By Daniel (TX) on Wednesday, November 13, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 4,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Styling, fun to drive, excellent handling, comfort"
Cons: "Average mileage, cup holders, no psgnr armrest"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"My wife and I own the 2013 LTZ hatchback turbo with white diamond tricoat. We love driving it with the turbo engine! You can definitely feel that extra torque around the 3,000RPM range when you're needing to get around someone on the road. I have never seen another white diamond sonic out there so we love how unique our car is. Both the exterior and interior styling is quite nice. We chose the hatchback over the sedan though mainly based on styling. The hatchback looks sporty and classy whereas the sedan looks cheap and "rental car" like. The exterior has very sharp styling, with pieces like the headlights outlined in black to make it "pop" more. The interior has the leatherette seats which make it feel more luxurious than what you're paying for. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is also a nice touch. We love the chevy infotainment system! A little glitchy at times though when you start up the car--probably an easy to fix software issue. It is very roomy for how small it is. Great headroom and both of our dogs fit great in the back, especially with the seats folded down. The driving is sporty and I have never driven a car with better handling. Chevy outdid themselves on that. Steering feels so real, yet easy to steer and the suspension is second to none. Braking, however, is not very smooth, and it's not all due to the brake system. It seems like they have the down shifts working overtime when you're stopping to save your brakes but it makes it a little jumpy when you're trying to come to a smooth stop. Also, the engine is a little slow to respond sometimes--just depends which gear. Usually quicker to respond in the city around 3-4000 rpms but slower to respond on the highway in 5th or 6th gear, definitely better on the gas though. The gas mileage was another somewhat disappointing part. However, the numbers always fall into the EPA estimated range. We range about 29-30 mpg combined, mainly city. I am spoiled though, my 1999 civic gets over 40 all the time so I am probably making an unfair comparison. I just expected it to get closer to the 37 end of the spectrum. We do average around 35 when we are highway driving so really no complaints, just more of me wondering why in 14 years we haven't been able to come up with better mileage numbers for small cars. Cup holder placement would be another small complaint--just kind of awkward to reach when you're in the front. Also, no arm rest for the passenger, although there really isn't any room to put it so I understand why the designers did not include one. Like I said, I love this car and it was a great buy. A few minor details that I would change but other than that, I would recommend it to anyone."
1 person out of 1 found this review helpful
By Billmo (FL) on Wednesday, October 23, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 8,900overall rating 3 of 10rating details
Pros: "Better after michelin Exalto Tires"
Cons: "20 K dose not buy much this day and time"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 1
"oThis car or should I say most of them have a 1.8 liter mtr. Made by Daewoo. Owned by GM, Daewoo the car Co that couldn't make it in the USA. The Sonic is loaded with Daewoo Parts The car vibrates and the computer programming stinks. Mine had to be painted after 7 months of ownership. The tires again are Hankooks and they are as bad as the suspension parts. The auto is built on a Opel frame which is manufactured in Korea. The newer Sonics do not have near the problems of the 2012. But more 2012 have been sold. Also the motors and trannys are American made in 2013 and 2014. Hopefully that will make a difference. Let me get back to vibration GM cant repair it and it started after the vehicle had 8000 miles. on it. The gas mileage is not what they say, in town 22 with unleaded 25 with 93 octane and 30 highway. As you can tell I am very disappointed with this car. Again I would advise anyone to look at another brand."
6 people out of 7 found this review helpful
By KevMCM84 (OH) on Monday, October 21, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 212overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "MPG, handling, bike inspired instument cluster"
Cons: "Passenger armrest, lack of HIDs, tiny fender flare"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 8
"I went from a Subaru Impreza WRX STi to this wee little subcompact gem, and I must say that I am thrilled to be driving this vehicle. Sure I took a major dip in power, but the fun factor is just as great. The Sonic RS is so sleek and agile to drive! My CITY MPG is higher than the Subaru's HIGHWAY MPG. At this current moment, i can only think of 3 things - 3!! That would make the Sonic RS the top subcompact car in the United States. A passenger armrest for the front seat, larger fender flares, and Xenon HID headlights. If it is in your budget, you WANT the RS package (or at least the LTZ with the 1.4L Turbo engine). It's the little things that make the biggest differences, and you would not believe the big difference this little car has made for me."
2 people out of 3 found this review helpful
By Great for a small car (AZ) on Friday, October 11, 2013
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 25,500overall rating 8 of 10rating details
Pros: "Drive, great on gas, stylish, fun to drive"
Cons: "Blind spots, not too comfy on long trips"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 7
"This car drives nice. The interior is nice, but I think the cup holders aren't in the most convenient spots. I love that my car came is remote start. The front seats are kinda roomy, but its not great in the back. The blind spots are terrible. If I would have realized the blind spot issue before I bought the car, I would have chosen something else. But its a great car for the price."
5 people out of 5 found this review helpful