2012 Chevrolet Sonic Review and Prices
Past and Future Reviews
The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic is the best subcompact car for you if you want evidence that America can produce a world-class small car.
The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic is the all-new and immeasurably better replacement for the Chevy Aveo. A rival for the likes of the Nissan Versa and Hyundai Accent, Sonic is built in Michigan, comes as a four-door sedan and a four-door hatchback, and starts at $15,730 with automatic transmission. This solid, comfortable, and surprisingly stylish subcompact is available with base and turbocharged four-cylinder engines. It slots into Chevy’s lineup between the smaller 2013 Chevrolet Spark minicar and the larger Chevy Cruze compact sedan.
Should you buy a 2012 Chevrolet Sonic or wait for the 2013 Chevrolet Sonic? Little reason to wait -- unless you want to sample a sporty new variant, the 2013 Sonic RS, that’ll feature upgraded handling but no additional power. Other than that, changes to the most popular versions of the 2013 Sonic probably won’t amount to more than some new color choices and perhaps a tweaked feature or two. Buy a 2012 Sonic and you’ll avoid the inevitable model-year price inflation while getting a subcompact that’s competitive with the best in class right out of the box.
2012 Chevrolet Sonic Changes back to top
Styling: The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic breathes some life into the small-car styling formula with an aggressive-looking front end featuring a double-tier grille and motorcycle-inspired quad headlamps. The Sonic sedan has a gracefully arched roof, the hatchback a squared-off tail and rear door handles hidden in the rear roof pillars. Both body styles share a well-made and smartly laid-out interior. It’s highlighted by a main-instrument binnacle incorporating digital and analog gauges – another motorcycle-inspired touch.
Size-wise, the 2012 Chevy Sonic straddles the middle of the subcompact-car spectrum; it has almost exactly the same exterior dimensions as the Ford Fiesta sedan and hatchback, for example. Sonics are also competitive for interior space, with above-average headroom front and back. Front seating is adult-friendly. But rear-seat knee space is prohibitive unless front occupants agree to slide their seats at least halfway forward. And narrow rear doorways frustrate exits.
Stem to stern, the Sonic sedan is 14 inches longer than the Sonic hatchback. The hatchback, however, has 19 cubic feet of cargo volume behind its rear seat and 30.7 with the rear seatback folded; the sedan has a 14-cubic-foot trunk. All those cargo volumes are slightly above the class average. Standard on both body styles are 60/40 split rear seatbacks that fold virtually flat and have the sturdy backing and heavy-duty latches associated with more expensive European cars.
Both the 2012 Sonic sedan and hatchback have a three-model lineup consisting of base LS, midline LT, and top-tier LTZ trim. Chevy subdivides each into “1” and “2” trim levels, such as 1LS, 2LT, and for the LTZ, 1LZ and 2LZ. Sonic LS models have less exterior chrome trim, but visual distinctions between the various versions are relatively minor.
Alloy wheels are standard on all, with LS and LT models getting 15-inch-diameter rims and LTZs getting 17s; 16s are optional on LTs. Fog lamps are standard on LTZs and optional on LTs. Inside, LS and LT models have cloth upholstery. LTZs have perforated imitation leather and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Mechanical: The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic turns to the larger Chevy Cruze for both its engines, a move that saves development costs and imbues the smaller car with a bit of brio welcome in this budget class. Otherwise, the 2012 Sonic is conventional for the category, with front wheel drive, a torsion-beam rear axle, front-disc and rear-drum brakes with antilock and antiskid control, and electric power steering.
Standard on all 2012 Sonics is a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with 138 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque. Optional on LT and LTZ models is a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder with 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque (think of torque as the propellant behind acceleration, horsepower as the energy behind momentum). Either engine puts Sonic among the most powerful cars in its competitive set. Neither creates a hot rod, but acceleration is more than adequate for the car’s role.
Chevy’s initial distribution of transmission choices is a little out of the ordinary. Sonic 1LT, 1LS, and 1LZ models come only with a five-speed manual transmission. The 2LT, 2LS, and 2LZ models come only with a six-speed automatic transmission. And the debut batch of Sonics equipped with the turbocharged engine come only with a six-speed manual transmission, narrowing their appeal. Reports say Chevy will make turbocharged Sonics available with the six-speed automatic transmission starting in spring 2012.
Aside from some unpleasant susceptibility to wander in gusty crosswinds, Sonic feels confident on the highway, with roadholding and stability reminiscent of a larger car. Indeed, Sonics weigh some 200-300 pounds more than their principal subcompact sedan and hatchback rivals. Handling is alert and predictable and steering response is impressively direct.
Wind rush and road roar can intrude, and both engines sound gruff under full throttle, but noise levels are no more prominent than in direct rivals. Sonics absorb most bumps without jarring, but a combination of the short, subcompact-typical 99.4-inch wheelbase (distance between front and rear axles) and the relatively taut suspension can turn the ride choppy on scalloped or wavy pavement.
Features: The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic doesn’t go overboard with tech gizmos but gives the subcompact buyer most of the expected features and, importantly, houses them in a cabin with a lively design that doesn’t sacrifice function. Just as rewarding and a departure from past domestic-built small cars are Sonic’s solid-feeling controls, quality plastics, and strategically chosen padded surfaces.
Standard features on every 2012 Chevy Sonic include air conditioning, variable intermittent windshield wipers, automatic off-on headlamps, outside temperature gauge, antitheft alarm, and tinted glass. Also included are remote keyless entry, a height-adjustable driver’s seat with fold-down armrest, a tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, and power door locks.
Power windows with driver’s express up and down are standard on LT and LTZ models; LS models come only with manual windows. Cruise control is standard on Sonic LTZs and optional on LTs. LS models have manual-adjusting outside mirrors; in a nice perk for this price range, LT and LTZ Sonics have heated power mirrors as standard.
All 2012 Sonics come with 10 airbags including front and rear torso-protecting side airbags and head-protecting curtain side airbags for all outboard seating positions.
LS models get a basic four-speaker AM/FM audio system with an auxiliary jack. Optional on LS models and standard on LT Sonics is a six-speaker system with a CD player. Standard on LTZ models and optional on LTs is a six-speaker system with a USB iPod interface and Bluetooth hands-free connectivity for phone and audio streaming.
XM satellite radio is optional on LS models and standard on other Sonics and includes three months’ free service. Steering-wheel-mounted controls for audio and Bluetooth systems are standard on LTZ models and included on LT models equipped with the optional audio upgrade.
All 2012 Sonics also are equipped with GM’s OnStar assistance software with complimentary six months’ basic service. This consists of turn-by-turn directions delivered via the audio system and stolen-vehicle assistance to help police track a purloined vehicle. OnStar uses GPS and cellular phone technology to automatically call for help in the event of crash.
Among other notable features, remote vehicle start is standard on Sonic 2LZ and optional on 2LT models. Heated front seats are limited to the LTZ models, where they’re standard. A power sunroof option is exclusive to LTZ models.
2012 Chevrolet Sonic Prices back to top
Base-price range for the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic is $14,660-$19,420. That’s comparable the pricing of most direct subcompact rivals, although when Sonic’s range breaches the $18,000 mark to account for the LTZ and turbo models it pushes near the ceiling of most in its competitive set.
Sonic sedans are priced slightly below Sonic hatchbacks. (Base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s mandatory destination fee; Chevy’s fee for the 2012 Sonic is $795).
In the sedan body style, the base price for the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LS tier is $14,660 for the 1LS with manual transmission and $15,730 for the 2LS with automatic transmission. The 2012 Sonic LT sedans start at $15,860 for the 1LT and at $16,930 for the 2LT. The Sonic LTZ sedan is priced from $17,460 in 1LZ form and from $18,720 in 2LZ guise.
In the hatchback body style, base price for the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LS is $15,560 for the 1LS with manual transmission and $16,630 for the 2LS with automatic transmission. The 2012 Sonic LT hatchbacks start at $16,660 for the 1LT and at $17,730 for the 2LT. The Sonic LTZ hatchback is priced from $18,160 in 1LZ trim and from $19,420 in 2LZ form.
Adding the turbocharged four-cylinder engine to a Sonic LT or LTZ costs an additional $700. Among other key options, the Connectivity Plus Cruise Package option that includes cruise control and the audio upgrade with Bluetooth, USB, and steering wheel controls adds a reasonable $525 to Sonic LT models. And a package that equips LTs with fog lamps and the 16-inch alloy wheels costs $295.
2012 Chevrolet Sonic Fuel Economy back to top
EPA fuel-economy ratings for the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic are good but not top-of-class. In fact, in a category where 40-mpg ratings in highway driving are the benchmark for impressive gas mileage, only the turbocharged Sonics with manual transmission meet that threshold. This is one penalty of the Sonic’s relatively high engine power and road-hugging weight.
With the base 1.8-liter engine and the five-speed manual transmission the 2012 Sonic is rated 26/35 mpg city/highway and 29 mpg combined city/highway. With the six-speed manual transmission, 1.8-liter Sonics rate 25/35/28 mpg.
With the turbocharged 1.4-liter engine and mandatory six-speed manual transmission 2012 Sonics rate 29/40 mpg city/highway and 33 mpg combined city/highway. Expect the same ratings for the upcoming combo of this turbo engine and the six-speed automatic transmission.
Note that some automakers recommend or require premium-octane fuel for some of their turbocharged engines but Chevy recommends less expensive regular-octane gas for both Sonic engines.
2012 Chevrolet Sonic Release Date back to top
The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic went on sale in December 2011.
What's next for the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic back to top
Having just been introduced, the Chevy Sonic won’t undergo major changes for a few more years. The biggest development on the horizon is the 2013 Sonic RS model, a sporty iteration of the hatchback that’ll feature the turbocharged engine with a choice of manual or automatic transmission, a stiffer suspension, and specific performance-styling trim inside and out. The RS will also introduce to the Sonic line an expanded connectivity suite that includes the Chevrolet MyLink infotainment seven-inch color touchscreen and smartphone-tapping software.
2012 Chevrolet Sonic Competition back to top
Ford Fiesta: Fresh to Ford’s U.S. lineup for model-year 2011, this Euro-flavored four-door sedan and hatchback signaled that domestic brands were once again in the subcompact hunt. Cheeky styling and a range of Gen-Y buzz-generators, such as cabin mood lighting and the Ford/Microsoft-developed Sync connectivity system, are attractions. So is Fiesta’s European-grade engineering that delivers class-leading control and ride quality. The “futuristic” cabin design sacrifices some functionality, rear seating is cramped, and cargo room is mediocre even on the hatchback. The Fiesta bowed with one engine, 1.6-liter four-cylinder. With 120 horsepower and 112 pound-feet of torque it feels quick enough with the five-speed manual transmission but sluggish and discomfited the six-speed dual-clutch automatic. Fuel economy is good: 28/37 mpg city/highway, 32 combined with the manual, 29/38/33 with the automatic, and 29/40/33 with the $700 Super Fuel Economy option. Base-price range is $13,995-$17,395 for the 2012 Fiesta sedan and $16,295-$18,295 for the hatchback. A turbocharged version is reportedly in the wings. Note that the 2012 Mazda 2 basically is a less expensive version of the Fiesta hatchback. It’s worth considering as sound elemental transportation with a dash of driving fun.
Honda Fit: The roomiest car in this group, Fit may also be the most fun to drive if not the most refined on a long highway trip. It comes only as a four-door wagon renowned for its ability to carry four adults in surprising comfort and for its amazing cargo versatility. A highlight is a rear seat that can fold flush with the cargo floor or be tilted to open a lateral channel large enough to carry a flat-screen TV carton. Cargo volume is a class-leading 20.6 cubic feet behind the rear seat, 57.3 cubic feet with the rear seat folded. Fit is no speedster but handling is downright sporty and fuel economy impresses at 27/33/29 mpg with manual transmission and 28/35/31 with the optional automatic. Base-price range is $15,945-$20,310. Fit’s next redesign probably won’t come until model year 2014, though Honda has begun limited rollout of the 2013 Fit EV, a pure-electric model it says has a 76 mile range and can be recharged in just 3 hours when connected to a 240-volt circuit.
Hyundai Accent: Redesigned for 2012 and offered in four-door in sedan and hatchback form, this is the smallest car from the fast-growing South Korean automaker. Its swoopy styling packs a punch and its aggressive pricing includes a long list of features tailored to dazzle showroom shoppers. Accent has one engine, a direct-fuel-injected 1.6-liter four-cylinder with a peppy 138 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automatic optional and fuel economy is an impressive 30/40/34 mpg with either. Accent feels solidly built and interior materials are good, but overall road manners are a step behind those of the Fiesta, Fit, and Sonic. Base-price range is $13,205-$15,955 for the 2012 Accent sedan and $15,355-$17,555 for the hatchback. This basic design is also used for the Kia Rio from Hyundai’s corporate partner brand.