Test Drive: 2012 Chevrolet Sonic 5-Door Hatch

?Chevrolet?s All-new Sonic: A Top Class challenger?

The General Motors Bow-Tie team first displayed its 2012 model Sonic at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit earlier this year. The Sonic delivers a youthful and aggressive design in its five-door hatchback that is destined to seriously challenge the likes of Ford?s Fiesta, the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris.

Sonic actually will be offered in two body styles when it goes on sale this Fall: the stylish but sedate Sonic four-door sedan and the sportier, performance oriented Sonic five-door hatchback.

Two engines will see duty in the new Sonic: the standard Ecotec1.8-liter four-cylinder 130 horsepower engine paired with either a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission; or an optionally available 1.4-liter turbocharged engine that delivers 138 horses along with 148 pound feet of torque. Both engines are DOHC with 16-valves, and are mounted up front in an East/West orientation, driving the front wheels. The turbocharged 1.4-liter four banger is the same engine that is used in the Chevy Cruze, but in a smaller, lighter package with a more pronounced performance feel.

The Sonic will be built later in 2011 at the General Motors Orion Assembly Center in Michigan, which received a $545-million investment in upgrades and retooling, and will help restore approximately 1,000 jobs in the metropolitan Detroit area.

The Sonic projects a sense of strength, stability and refinement from virtually every angle. Its stance is wide and planted and the sharply raked body lines suggests forward motion even when stationary. Up front is a dual element grille, while out back are motorcycle inspired round taillamps. The hood?s leading edge forms a character line above the headlamps that creates a sleek flowing side profile characterized by uninterrupted body side lines, a high beltline and aerodynamic roofline. Side mirrors mimick the shape of the car, seemingly disappearing into the car?s profile.

Though sharing the same basic DNA, the Sonic sedan and five-door models are distinctively different. The five-door comes in a tight, two-box shape with sporty, aggressive, diving feature lines, while the sedan?s ?notchback? profile displays a more sophisticated and mature presence. At first glance, the five-door model?appears to be a three-door hatch because the rear door handles are discreetly located in the ?C?-pillar area. Styling include chrome grille surrounds and matte black honeycomb grille inserts on all models, with a range of large wheel sizes, including 17-inch alloy wheels, attest to its sporty demeanor.

Moving to the inside, the Sonic?s cabin continues with the exterior?s motorcycle-inspired theme, featuring a large, round analog tachometer set within an asymmetrical LCD readout, including a large digital speedometer display. Additional details include: a mid-instrument panel surface, available in two colors (dark titanium and brick) that flow seamlessly into the upper doors, with premium low-gloss finishes. The automatic shift knob displays a ?cobra head? design,? while the manual shifter has a chrome-finished knob. Tubular outboard climate outlets protrude from the instrument panel surface.

All Sonic models feature a MacPherson strut front suspension with coil springs and stabilizer bar, and a semi-independent, torsion beam axle-mount compound link-type rear suspension ? featuring a tubular V-shape beam ? with gas-charged shocks. Front and rear tracks are identical at 59.4, for well-planted stability and exemplary balanced feel. Electronic power steering is standard and features a wear compensator that continually adjusts the system interaction with the steering gear ensuring precise steering action over the life of the system.

At a special 100th Chevrolet Anniversary program staged in conjunction with this year?s Indy 500 race (the Brickyard also celebrating its 100th Anniversary), the Sonic development and marketing teams set up a challenging, comparative autocross course at the nearby Lucas Oil Speedway facility for a group of the national automotive press. Each journalist was able to pilot several preproduction versions of the 2012 Sonic five-door hatchback, powered by the 1.4-liter turbocharged four-banger coupled with the six-speed manual gearbox.

Each driver was given five rotations on the course ? three in Sonics and one each in a Honda Fit and Ford Fiesta with four laps for each rotation. All three of my Sonic runs turned in quicker times that either of my Fit or Fiesta runs. From an objective point of view, the Fit felt great and seemed quick, while the Fiesta (the only automatic in the mix) felt sluggish. The Fiesta fared much better when dropping the gear selector into Low and allowing the transmission to automatically shift into 2nd gear when hitting the rev limiter. The Sonic?s steering input initially felt somewhat benign, but the car managed to turn in better and more quickly than either the Fit or Fiesta.

My Sonic testers were all finished outside in metallic Silver, and featured the dark titanium interior. Official pricing has yet to be announced for the Sonic lineup, but? Chevy internal spokespersons indicated that it would be competitive with both the Fiesta and Fit, which are both under $20,000, even when quite well equipped. Pricing will begin at $14,495 including Destination and Handling charges and run to an estimated ?high $17,000 range.

SUMMARY: The form and structure of the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic are more advanced and visually appealing than both the Ford Fiesta and Honda Fit which come across as somewhat dated. I didn?t find the 4-door sedan as appealing as the 5-door hatch, but surprisingly a small focus group of young women actually overwhelmingly preferred the sedan, finding it more sophisticated and mature, and less ?boy-racer?. Go figure!

The turbocharged 1.4-liter delivered instantaneous throttle response with virtually no noticeable turbo lag. The ride quality though stiff and firm was not harsh or uncomfortable. Handling, though initially feeling slightly numb, performed positively and quickly through the electric power steering.

The interior featured user friendly controls and an uncramped ambience with a sporty, yet functional flavor. In the final analysis, the all-new 2012 Chevrolet Sonic promises to take its place in the winner?s circle ? it is certainly a cut above the Aveo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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