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2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT Hatchback Road Test and Review

Benjamin Hunting
by Benjamin Hunting
January 16, 2012
7 min. Reading Time

One would have to go back a number of years to find the last time Chevrolet was able to field a competitive subcompact option, whether it be a hatchback or a sedan. The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic offers both body styles and represents the most competent small car package ever offered by the bowtie-wearing brand. The Sonic is designed to appeal to first-time buyers seeking a stylish, affordable and efficient automobile and it would appear that Chevrolet has managed to hit the mark in each of those categories. The vehicle is also light years ahead of the lineup member it replaces - the lamentable Chevrolet Aveo - in every single respect.

2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT Hatchback: Competition

Like the compact category, subcompact cars have undergone a renaissance over the past couple of years. Entry-level automobiles have benefited almost across the board from a significant investment by automakers eager to cash in on the growing wave of buyers seeking fuel efficient rides that offer a feature-set that is comparable to their larger cousins. In particular efforts from Hyundai (the Accent) and Ford (the Fiesta) have helped to demonstrate how much can be accomplished at a low price point when engineering and design resources are focused on drivetrains, interiors and styling.

The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT is also up against older yet still popular designs like the Honda Fit, a vehicle that has managed to trade on its versatility as a cargo hauler and Honda's reputation for building reliable automobiles. The fact that the Sonic is capable of standing out in such a diverse and talented crowd is a strong indicator that Chevrolet is no longer content to be a back marker amongst subcompact players.


2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT Hatchback: Pricing and Trim Levels

The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic is offered in both sedan and hatchback editions, and each can be ordered in LS, LT, and LTZ trim levels. The base model Chevrolet Sonic hatchback starts at an MSRP of $14,765 while opting for the better-equipped LTZ ups its asking price to just under $19,000. The sedan's pricing checks in at roughly $900 less for both the entry-level and top tier editions of the car.

We were given a Chevrolet Sonic LT hatchback as our week-long test vehicle, and after factoring in the vehicle's optional six-speed automatic transmission, sunroof and various other options packages the version of the car we drove stickered for roughly $19,000.


2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT Hatchback: Exterior

The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT hatchback's styling provides an evolutionary take on the five-door Aveo it replaces, but it's the attention to detail that separates the automobile from previous subcompact Chevrolet designs. The Sonic's front fascia is a bold representation of the brand's single-bar grille look, framed by jeweled projector-style headlights that seem to fall into the 'love it or hate it' category for many who first encounter the vehicle. Chevrolet has also elected to keep the Sonic's side panels clean by incorporating the rear door handle into the black plastic trim at the very top of the frame, giving the five-door hatchback a two-door look.

There's no question that the hidden handle is slick, but it was also a source of frustration for passengers and drivers alike who found themselves frequently reaching out for a door pull that simply wasn't there, forcing them to spend a few seconds puzzling out how they would be able to gain access to the vehicle's cabin. Overall, the strong style lines that run from fender to the top of the rear hatch, in combination with the gentle slope of the roof help to create a somewhat muscular stance for the small automobile.


2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT Hatchback: Interior

The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT features a driver gauge pod ostensibly ripped from the same styling language used to design Japanese sport bikes. The compact unit offers a single-bezel tachometer paired with a rectangular blue LCD information screen that displays the vehicle's speed using a digital readout, the amount of fuel left in the tank via a stack of small horizontal bars as well as the range to empty, average fuel economy, odometer reading and trip odometer. It takes some time to get used to how little dash real estate the setup actually occupies - there's a lot of empty space to the left of the unit - but it does an adequate job of communicating the most important information about the car moment-to-moment.

The Chevrolet Sonic's center stack is handsomely simple, with a small center screen dedicated to the vehicle's audio system (and configuration menus) sitting at the top. Intuitive media controls round out the upper half of the stack, with the automobile's three climate control knobs relegated to the bottom half just ahead of the shifter. Unfortunately, the Sonic continues GM's somewhat annoying trend of transplanting the door lock button from its rightful place on the driver's side armrest to the middle of the car, but this is a small quibble with an otherwise well laid-out interior.

Our particular Sonic featured an orange-on-black color scheme that included tasteful accent panels on the doors as well as inlays for each of the vehicle's seats. In general, the plastics used throughout the interior were comfortable to the touch, and the armrests caused no distress during the nine-hour road trip to the 2012 Detroit auto show that we used as a shakedown cruise for the subcompact Chevrolet.

Interior storage is good, with a number of compartments, pockets and nooks scattered throughout the passenger compartment. Legroom and headroom for forward occupants is surprisingly spacious, even with the optional sunroof installed, and those riding in the rear also had little to complain about in terms of comfort. After roughly six hours on the road it became apparent that the front seats could use a bit more bolstering - at least according to our delicate posteriors - but lateral support was good. There is enough room between the rear seat and the hatch to store a couple of overnight bags, and folding down the bench opens up just under 31 cubic feet of total cargo space - not quite as roomy as some of the competition, but much more useful than the 14 cubic feet of space available in the sedan's trunk.


2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT Hatchback: Powertrain and Fuel Economy

The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT hatchback that we were given to drive featured the vehicle's base 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine. This unit generates 138 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque, and offers a fuel economy rating of 26-mpg city and 35-mpg highway. We saw roughly 30-mpg during our highway-heavy testing - decent numbers, but given the small fuel tank on the Sonic it meant stopping about every 300 miles to fuel up. Our Sonic LT handled its own gear changes via a six-speed automatic transmission, which is an upgrade over the vehicle's standard five-speed manual.

The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic can also be equipped with a 1.4-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine that puts out an identical 138 horsepower in addition to a more robust 148 lb-ft of torque. Transmission choices for this engine are restricted to a six-speed manual in the Sonic, and fuel economy checks in at 29-mpg city and 40-mpg highway.


2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT Hatchback: Driving Impressions

Driving the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT hatchback from Montreal, Quebec to Detroit, Michigan gave us plenty of time behind the wheel of the diminutive automobile to formulate some definite opinions about its road-going personality. The biggest surprise about the car was just how readily it ate up the highway miles. Normally, subcompact automobiles are not the best pick for extensive road trips, but the Sonic was a pleasant companion even during the foul winter weather that plagued the first leg of the journey.

The vehicle's interior was for the most part quiet, and the vehicle's suspension absorbed the rough pavement endemic to Montreal without much drama or jostling. The maneuverability of the Sonic's short wheelbase was appreciate in the narrow parking garages that dotted the area immediately around the Cobo Center in Detroit, and despite the hatchback's small size it never felt bullied out on the interstate by big rigs or SUVs.

The pairing between the four-cylinder engine and the six-speed automatic transmission was mostly harmonious, with only very occasional delays between pedal input and the resulting downshifts. Power from the vehicle's 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine is best described as adequate, and although passing was never a white knuckle experience the one time that noise did intrude into the Sonic's cockpit was when the throttle was nailed to the floor and the hive of bees resting under the vehicle's hood was agitated into producing high RPM grunt.

The Chevrolet hatch never felt unstable, even when loaded up with passengers and gear, and proved itself more than capable of traversing snow-slicked roads without risking getting stuck. The vehicle's electronic stability control system was somewhat more intrusive than one would like, slowing the car considerably when the snow got deeper than an inch or two, but it never completely arrested the Sonic's forward motion and was easy enough to disable if a little more leeway was desired.

One nit to pick with the Chevrolet Sonic's driving controls had to do with its cruise feature. The Sonic's cruise control interface is located on the steering wheel, with the 'speed up' button also doubling as the 'resume speed' toggle - a combination that had the hatchback's speed limit creeping up one mile per hour at a time whenever a driver attempted to re-engage the vehicle's cruise program. The Sonic also seemed to have trouble accelerating and decelerating in one-mph increments using these controls, sometimes dropping too much speed or leaping ahead too quickly after a single push of the button. Granted, these are minor issues, but a thousand miles of highway driving is enough to gives testers plenty of time to focus and obsess about these types of frustrating characteristics.


2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT Hatchback: Safety

The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT offers 10 airbags to help protect occupants during a crash. Front, side curtain and side impact airbags for forward and rear-seated passengers are included free of charge, as are rear thorax and front knee airbags. The Sonic also features with StabiliTrak electronic stability control and traction control, as well as four-wheel anti-lock brakes, and it has been rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

It's important to note that the Sonic comes with rear drum brakes, a technology which is increasingly anachronistic in the compact and subcompact segments. Our test car had no trouble braking on time, however, which indicates that the vehicle's lightweight design might not actually need the increasing stopping power offered by rear discs.


2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT Hatchback: Final Thoughts

The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT hatchback is a surprising car. Chevrolet has gone from 'also ran' to 'pack leader' in the space of a single model year, largely by throwing out lowest common denominator badge engineering and instead listening to what small car shoppers are actually looking for in an affordable automobile. The Sonic's unlikely status as a comfortable highway cruiser also helped endear it to our test crew, as any vehicle that can make the 401 that much more bearable is definitely worthy of consideration.

Finally, the Chevrolet Sonic LT is not that hard on the eyes, with certain angles revealing a sporty look that, while not exactly backed up by the car's actual performance does give a spring to one's step when walking towards the vehicle with the key in hand. Expect the upcoming Sonic RS to dial up that particular aspect of the automobile's character when it hits showrooms later this year.

What We Like About The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LT Hatchback:

• Comfortable highway and city ride

• Stylish looks

• Good interior room, excellent materials quality for its class

We Aren't So Hot On:

• Short highway range from its small fuel tank

• Somewhat buzzy base engine when throttle is opened up

Learn more about the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic.



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