The Chevy Aveo is dead. But don't shed any tears. The subcompact perhaps best known by frequenters of rental-car lots has been supplanted by the sharper, nimbler Chevrolet Sonic sedan and hatchback. Built on a new General Motors global platform, the new Sonic wields universal underpinnings wrapped in a package that's decidedly American. We found the Sonic a nicely designed subcompact with spritely driving dynamics.
The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic, particularly the five-door hatch, has an urban vibe, which Chevy PR folks were eager to point out by unveiling the Sonic in an underground garage in San Francisco amidst a background of pseudo-slummy graffiti, spray-painted by an artist flown in (we won't say "imported") from Detroit. Sharp creases, exposed headlamps and motorcycle-inspired design cues set the Sonic apart from others in the segment, while good fit and finish and standard forged alloy wheels, even on the base model, keep it from looking cheap.
Powering the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic sedan and hatch is either a 1.8-liter naturally aspirated engine or a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine, both which make 138 horsepower. Transmission choices for the standard 1.8-liter engine are a 6-speed automatic or a 5-speed manual; the 1.4-liter turbo is available with a 6-speed manual or an automatic, the latter on late-production 2012 models.
Those who drive hilly terrain need not fear, as Sonic comes standard with a hill-hold feature on both transmissions (especially welcome on the manual gearbox). When the driver is stopped and releases the brake pedal, the brakes electronically hold the car in place for two seconds, thanks to a sensor that detects the tilt of the body when the car is stopped on a slope.
The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic comes standard with 10 airbags, including seat-mounted thorax side-impact, head curtain and knee airbags. Other nice touches not often found standard on a sub-$15K car include a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and 60/40 folding rear seats. The Sonic tops out at about $19,500, which will get you extras like a sunroof, heated seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
We found the handling of the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic vastly improved over the Aveo, thanks to increased body stiffness and strength. Corvette engineers helped to tune the MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension for the U.S. market to strike a balance between fun and comfortable. The Sonic is also quieter than its predecessor. Surprisingly, Chevy engineers say the Sonic's rigidity and cabin quietness are aided by its alloy wheels (which come standard), as opposed to the steel wheels most often found on base subcompacts. However, the Sonic uses front disc brakes and rear drums, the latter the norm for the class because they are less expensive than rear discs.
We think the Chevrolet Sonic has an edge over the Toyota Yaris and the Honda Fit when it comes to sporty driving, although we think the Ford Fiesta and Mazda2 offer good driving dynamics and respectable quality at similar prices. Although it was penned in Korea, the Sonic is built at GM's Lake Orion, Michigan, plant, which we think makes the Sonic the only subcompact built in the U.S.