Since catching a glimpse of the upcoming Chevrolet Sonic earlier this year, I’ve been dying to drive Chevy’s new hatch. The General hasn’t had a serious contender in this segment in a very long time. Sure, they had the Aveo, but it was far from being a rival to some of the traditional imports. In other words, The General has a lot riding on the new
First off, there are a couple of things about the new car that nosy gearheads will want to know, although most consumers likely won’t car to ask. Even though buyers in Canada and the rest of the World love hatchbacks, US drivers still seem to lean towards sedans in the showroom which means Chevrolet has to offer both. While the design team is truly made up of a global team, the car was developed by GM Korea which prompted one journo on the press launch to get into a debate with a GM employee over this being a Daewoo. It may be splitting hairs, but the Daewoo brand no longer exists so who cares? Canadian cars will be built at the Orion Assembly plant in Michigan. Adding to potential confusion, this true “World Car” will be sold as Sonic in some markets and Aveo in others. It would seem that the Aveo moniker is a positive one in some markets. In other cases, the Sonic name was not available for use.
With competitors like the swoopy new Hyundai Accent, Chevy designers had to come up with a shape that was drastically different from the outgoing Aveo, yet was unmistakably Chevrolet. In doing so, they have created siblings with distinct looks. The sedan is stylish and looks modern without taking any real visual risks. The hatch has a more sporty look, with motorcycle inspired tail lamps and rear door handles that are positioned in the c-pillar. This makes them disappear, giving the look of a 3 door hatch.
Drivetrains are based on the big brother Cruze, with a 1.8L normally aspirated 4 cylinder mated to either a 5 speed manual or a 6 speed automatic. Buyers who are looking for a more inspiring driving experience will likely opt for the Ecotec 1.4L turbo that generates 138 horsepower mated to a 6 speed manual transmission. The no shifters can choose the 6 speed automatic.
For the Canadian press launch we drove from the swanky Opus boutique hotel in downtown Montreal to Quebec City, where we crashed at the more tony Hotel Pur. My drive partner and finagled our way into an Inferno Orange Metallic LTZ Sedan with the 1.4L and the manual tranny, which was our ride for the whole day. The drive took us through rural Quebec, on more typical roads than press launches usually have which meant we had an opportunity to do some real world driving rather than canyon carving. Not as much fun, but more useful for evaluation a bread and butter car.
Settling into the interior, it looks pretty funky with lots of interesting details like in dash storage for electronics that include cutouts for cables. Chevy is quick to point out that the motorcycle inspiration is inside as well as outside, with the instrument cluster looking like it was lifted from a bike. It actually looks like it should be removable. Just think what they could do with some sort of iPad type integration to make a removable instrument package that also controlled all of the audio and could be brought to a home dock!
Sadly, the material quality was not up to the same standard as say, a Hyundai Accent. No matter how emphatically the engineer on hand said that Sonic has some touch materials, the reality is that applying texture to hard plastic does not make it soft touch. That being said, the cabin was comfortable and free of wind noises and creaks.
In the Cruze Eco, the 1.4L turbo and 6 speed manual combination transforms the fuel saver sedan into a seriously fun driving machine and yet it falls somewhat short in the lighter Sonic sedan. In second and third gears around town, the LTZ was zippy enough to make blasting through rush hour traffic relatively amusing. Cruising on rural highways is comfortable and quiet, but the real challenge came when we approached a long, steep climb. At the base of the hill, while traveling at 90 kmh, I dropped out of sixth into fifth gear and planted the throttle. Slowly, the speed increased to 94 kmh and then began dropping until it reached 90 kmh just before the crest of the hill. Perhaps the gearing choices are different from the Cruze, but Sonic is not a enthusiasts machine. In fairness, this segment is more about fuel economy and practicality. I had just hoped for a slightly higher level of performance from this package.
With a base price of $14,995 cdn, our close to fully equipped LTZ rang in at $20,495. The only thing missing was a power sunroof, which adds an extra $1,100 to that price. To add some perspective, the class leading Accent starts at $13,199 while a fully kitted out GLS model, including sunroof is $17,999 but can not be had with a manual transmission.
Chevrolet has a lot riding on the 2012 Sonic. The sedan and hatch are attractive and should draw potential buyers into stores. They should also go a long way to bringing previously loyal Chevy consumers back to the brand. Whether they will be able to sway traditional import buyers when the premium price is factored in remains to be seen.