With pump prices permanently stuck on putrid, there's no paucity of petrol-sipping performers available to ease the pain. Now comes the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic, perhaps the most pleasurable of them all.
I didn't have spectacular hopes, just so you know. But the more I drove the little bugger the more I found myself wanting to drive it. For the class, it's a surprisingly zippy, agile, fun ride. Glad I got the optional 1.4-liter Ecotech turbo, which Chevy uses in the Cruze, instead of the also-nice 1.8-liter four cylinder. Some days, there's nothing more annoying than a groaning, straining, anemic puppy that you must shift, shift, shift to get it halfway on its way. Not here, with thanks to a well-done six-speed manual. The engine makes a sufficient 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque, and sounds nifty, too.
Despite its cute appearance, the Sonic subcompact is no toy. Also available as a sedan, my five-door hatchback handled unexpectedly well, what with its sturdy chassis, apt suspension and reasonably compliant steering. There was some wind and road noise, but overall I thought—for the money and segment—this was a was a pretty solid ride.
The Sonic comes in three trim levels; I got the top-shelf LTZ, which comes standard with hill-hold technology and a plethora of safety features, so important in a small car. In fact, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has named the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic a top safety pick. Also standard are Stabilitrak stability control with traction control.
The 2012 Sonic's interior is surprisingly roomy, and I'm a gangly six-footer. The so-called leatherette seats are comfortable enough, and heatable up front. The rear seat has split-back folding, upping the car's utility. All the controls are easy to use and within reach. Further, despite a host of hard surfaces, you don't feel like you're in something cheap. The instrument panel is aesthetically cool in a cockpit sort of way, but not so edgy it chiefly appeals to kids. After all, the segment, in this day and age, garners its share of way-grown types too.
Competing primarily with the Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, and Nissan Versa, the Chevrolet Sonic has a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls mounted on a tilt and telescopic column. There's also a USB port, Bluetooth capability and a six-speaker audio system. Giving your dealer $850 extra will get you a sunroof besides.
Exterior? Not bad at all. The Sonic's shape is neither gratuitously bulbous nor boxy. Its rear is nicely squared. The design is crossover fun but not immature, essentially suitable for both young'uns and...well...let's just say I didn't feel silly in it, and I'm not exactly the targeted demographic. Headlamps aggressively fan outward, and the large-ish fog lamps add to the sporty air. Seventeen-inch wheels are standard for the LTZ, giving the Sonic a rather assertive stance. This is a well-balanced car all around, with no risky—nor possibly alienating—styling or gadgetry.
As for the raison d'etre—the gas mileage; you're looking at 29/40 for the LTZ turbo. Those kinda numbers can attract young Jane and John...and their parents too.
In sum, the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic is good on gas, enjoyable, okay looking, safer than some, and relatively spacious.
Need anything else?
Sure, the LTZ hatchback starts at $17,995, not super inexpensive compared with some rivals. My sticker rounded out closer to 20. But, there's more than enough value here, in my view. This is a different, more holistic kind of small car. Something for everyone.
And did I say it's a hoot to drive?