The sub-compact market has always been a strong area for Canada, mainly because we "like small cars" and appreciate their fuel efficiency and affordability.
The all-new Sonic replaces Aveo in the Chevrolet lineup and has the distinction of being the only subcompact (small) car that's currently made in North America.
What's more, it's built in the Detroit, Michigan area at GM's Lake Orion plant, which received a $545-million investment upgrade to build Sonic. And it has added 1,000 new jobs in an area with high unemployment.
Sonic is offered in two body styles: a four-door sedan and a five-door hatchback. It was designed in Korea and is built on a GM global platform, yet it possesses a distinctly American flavour. While compact on the outside, it has a surprisingly roomy feel to its interior and its front seats can comfortably accommodate an above average-size person.
All the modern connectivity features, USB, Bluetooth for phone and MyChevrolet mobile application, that buyers are looking for are available. Plus, Sonic is designed to be one of the safest vehicles in the segment, with six standard and 10 available airbags.
The GM OnStar system with six months of Turn-by-Turn navigation service is included and you can add features such as XM Satellite Radio, remote start, heated front seats and a sunroof. Active safety features include anti-lock brakes, electronic brake force distribution, Hill Hold Assist and the StabiliTrak electronic stability control with rollover sensing.
A standard hill-hold feature, which comes with both auto and manual transmissions, delays brake release for two seconds on a stationary takeoff, when the Sonic is on an incline. It's particularly handy while trying to juggle the brake and clutch pedals with a manual transmission.
The base engine is an Ecotec 1.8-litre engine paired with either a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. The optional engine (late availability) is an Ecotec 1.4-litre turbo engine with a six-speed manual transmission. While horsepower output is the same (138-horsepower), the turbo engine has more impressive torque numbers.
The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic comes with a standard tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and 60/40 folding rear seats. Alloy wheels (instead of steel wheels) are standard, which is unusual in this highly price sensitive car class.
The competition in this class has certainly increased in numbers, of late. The Toyota Yaris and the Honda Fit are popular stalwarts and new entries include the Hyundai Accent, Ford Fiesta and Mazda2.
My test Sonic was a mid-trim level LT 5-door hatchback ($17,495) with an 1.8-litre engine and an automatic transmission ($1,500). It was a very well equipped version with lots of extras. A sunroof was included in an optional ($1,550) appearance package. The total price came to $22,340.
The Looks Sonic's headlights and tail lights, which are apparently motorcycle-inspired, stick up from the body. Combined with bulging fenders, the car has a stocky "in your face" appearance from a front view. Another distinctive design feature of the hatchback is its supposedly "concealed" rear door handles.
While the trademark dual-port grille is not as prominent as on other Chevy products, there are nice details to this very likeable design. Tight body panel fit tolerances and a top quality paint finish, on my (Crystal) red test Sonic, were good indicators of quality.
The Inside The biker design theme carries over inside with a small mainly digital gauge set with a large, round tachometer. A tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel comes standard and it's a deceptively spacious cabin with excellent headroom, even in the rear.
Tall, narrow storage pockets on either side of the centre stack are another different feature and they appeared to be designed to hold audio players or other connectables. There are lots of storage places for nick-knacks and a hidden storage area beneath the rear cargo floor. With the rear seat folded, there are 869 litres (30.7 cu. ft) of usable cargo space.
Safety Like most vehicles, six airbags are standard, but my test Sonic came with what's called a "Peace of Mind" package ($400), which added knee airbags for the front occupants and seat-mounted side airbags for the rear passengers.
The Drive A remote start feature comes with the Sonic's optional automatic transmission and on a chilly winter morning it certainly comes in handy, especially if it's parked outside. It's an extra button on the key fob that allows the driver to start the engine (with the doors locked).
The head start on the interior heat-up and de-icing can be done while bundling-up to face winter's chilly wrath and frantically searching for the ice scraper ("I'm sure it was right here the other day!").
The automatic also comes with a unique manual mode feature, which is a toggle switch on the shift lever knob. While a handy placement, it does take the driver's right hand off the steering wheel... then again, so does a real manual transmission.
The standard 1.8-litre engine can provide peppy acceleration from a standing start, but the automatic's shift pattern appears to be setup to provide best fuel economy.
Sonic recorded a zero to 100 kilometres per hour time of 10.4 seconds at the AJAC Car of the Year evaluation event, which is a reasonably quick time in this car category.
At the same event, Sonic recorded the shortest (41.8 metres) stopping distance (in category) from 100 km/h, in an emergency braking test.
Sonic's overall package of standard and available safety features is impressive, right down to its extra-large side mirrors.
Other than rear C-pillars, which are a bit wider than usual, driver vision is very good overall. Sonic is an easy vehicle to park and is surprisingly stable at high speeds, due to a suspension that was specially tuned for North American highways.
The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic is a surprisingly roomy, well designed, economical and good to look at small hatchback with a high level of standard features and top-notch safety.
The Specs: 2012 Chevrolet Sonic 5-Door Hatchback
Trim levels: LS, LT & LTZ
Sticker Price: $15,495 to $20,995
Power: 1.8-litre I4, 138 horsepower.
Transmission: 5-speed manual/6-speed automatic
Fuel consumption: 7.7/5.6 L/100 km (city/highway)
Basic Warranty: 3 years / 60,000 km
Powertrain Warranty: 5 years / 160,000 km
Rust Warranty: 6 years / 160,000 km
Ford Fiesta $12,999 - $18,899
Honda Fit $14,480 - $19,980
Hyundai Accent $13,199 - $18,399
Kia Rio5 $14,095 - $19,345
Mazda2 $14,095 - $19,345
Nissan Versa Hatchback $14,675 to $18,975
Toyota Yaris Hatchback $13,995 to $19,990