By KBB.com Editors
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)
By Chuck on Tuesday, December 09, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 30,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I bought this car for my husband. It is an amazing little car. There are times I push nearly 50 miles per gallon. It fits 4 comfortably...5 is a little squished. I have had absolutely no problems with it at all. It handles well in all driving conditions. It has a lot of get up and go if you want it to."
5 people out of 11 found this review helpful
By Dr. K on Sunday, October 26, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 40,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Great Price, Good MPG, and nice pickup"
Cons: "One arm rest, Seats could be better."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I drive at least an hr every day on my daily drive and love the pickup and fuel economy. Its fun and is a great little car."
27 people out of 47 found this review helpful
By stutz1932 on Tuesday, October 21, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 83,000overall rating 8 of 10rating details
Pros: "Sporty, economical, easy to park and drive."
Cons: "driver armrest is weird. shift to 3rd is strange."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"I picked the Hatchback and it has proven to be quite a fun little car to drive. I would suggest the 1.4 stickshift turbo, because I picked the automatic 1.8 and I think the car would be a lot more fun as a turbo stickshift. With that said, I have found the interior seating to be ok for the price. The comforts and media options for 2012 were better than any other car in its class, mainly because they come standard. The car handles pretty well and has an easy way about it when driving in any condition. The car drives comfortably in the rain, the snow and in LA/DC traffic. The trunk space could be increased because it's difficult to fit stuff with people in the back. If you are by yourself, the back with the seats down provides a ton of space. There is a slight blind spot to the right where the pillar is at, but check a couple of times and you're fine. The gas mileage is decent for the 1.8. I get an average of 35mpg if I can maintain freeway speed under 68 (max). Anything over that and the mpg drops. If you are driving through town, instead of the freeway, then expect to get closer to 30mpg. Other than that, the car is sporty, fun and economical."
6 people out of 17 found this review helpful
By dbGlenview on Monday, October 20, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 8,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Mileage, style, power, driveability"
Cons: "Tiny gauge cluster; lacks engine temperature."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"Have not owned a Chevy since a 1960 model. Sonic is our most trouble-free car ever. Oil life (according to its sensor) could go 10,000 miles, but must be changed at least annually, to keep warranty valid. I wanted Union Built USA vehicle; note: this has about 50% Korean-made Parts. Top Crash Safety rated; 10 airbags. Great Hatchback styling appears to be a 2-door wagon; 4 adults fit just fine. Has reasonable cargo space; privacy cover clips are flimsy (broke), but the cover works better if clips are actually removed! Amazing turbo power when needed, yet 1.4L engine gets over 50mpg highway. With 6 speed transmission, it occasionally hunts for a gear (when going from coast to accelerate). Gets best mileage over speed 42, as 6th gear is reached (overdrive?). Mileage falls with wind resistance, over speed 55mph. Takes corners like a race-car; is fine in 5- inch snow. LT model has virtually every accessory, including cruise, power windows, remote start, great speaker system. Thick pillars and the headrests obstruct most rearward vision, but dual-lens side-view mirrors help immensely. Just like our 2000 Ford Focus, a little warmed air comes through the heater/air conditioner system whenever the fan-only is turned on, and dial set to coolest."
4 people out of 9 found this review helpful
By ziofran on Saturday, October 11, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 14,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Pros: "Peppy. Fun to drive. Best in class for the price."
Cons: "Air conditioning could be better."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I am retired and drive mostly short trips. The turbo works great, I am one of the fastest car on the road. I had a BMW 325i before this and there is not that much difference. Of course it is small, but has plenty of room for two people and a lot of baggage. And gas consumption is great, I average about 28 MPG on an average speed of around 35 MPH. So pretty good. At 65 I get almost 40 MPG."
16 people out of 30 found this review helpful
By Coinneach on Thursday, October 09, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 4,600overall rating 6 of 10rating details
Pros: "Good power and handling, decent fuel economy."
Cons: "MyLink is useless, basic creature comforts lacking"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 6
"I have a 2014 Sonic LT, 6A, MyLink. It's OK for what it is (a low-end disposable runabout), but it has some... issues. MyLink doesn't even come close to living up to the hype. Three audio streaming apps and one nav app that appears to be barely out of beta isn't what I call useful. The system doesn't even look at track number info in mp3 files and doesn't recognize m3u playlists that literally every other playback system has used for 10 years. You don't want your albums played in alphabetical order? You can either deal with it, or manually retag your files. You can't even delete the preset favorites in the bands that you don't use. Performance: surprisingly decent, considering. Off the line, it's faster than my '12 Cruze LS (same engine, 6M trans). Acceleration on the move is very good. Steering is solid when it should be and light when it needs to be. The brakes are numb for the first half inch of pedal, then grabby. Comfort and Quality: The ride is comfortably solid, with no rattles or squeaks. The incredibly obnoxious headrest angle can be mitigated somewhat by reclining the seatback and lifting the headrest to its maximum height. The seat pans are reasonably firm and supportive, but there's only one skinny armrest for the driver and front passenger to fight over and no center armrest at all in back. Since the only people likely to be back there will be in booster seats, I suppose this is a fair omission. The HVAC is very good, but the controls feel... weird. The temperature control detents are squishy and vague. I don't exactly regret having bought a Sonic, but I'll be bringing it back as soon as I can get the payoff below trade value."
4 people out of 11 found this review helpful