Read the complete 2012 Chevy Sonic First Drive at AutoGuide.comSonic aims to be the performance champ and fuel economy leader
Chevy’s new Sonic sub-compact will come in two flavors when it finally makes it to sale this Fall, and while the sedan is expected to edge out the hatchback as the volume seller, it’s obvious the 5-door is where the marketing punch is. And Chevy isn’t the first, following Ford in pumping up its new sub-compact with the more youthful hatch design.
This fact couldn’t have been more obvious when Chevy called together a select group of auto journalists to bang gears on a few prototype Sonics well ahead of the official “first drive”. As prototypes the team at Chevy was clear that they weren’t looking for impressions on design, or materials or even ride quality. Lead development engineer John Buttermore said he wanted to get feedback on the car’s handling, looking to do away with any perceptions that might be held about Chevy small cars, while hoping to rid any future reviews of comments about how the Sonic isn’t as much fun to drive as its competitors.
“This was designed to be the most fun to drive car that gets 40-mpg,” says small car marketing director Margaret Brooks.
Ignoring the sedan for the moment, Chevy arranged three pre-prod Sonics and a reasonably tight auto-x course on which to throttle the tiny 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, and its tires. And as a sign of the confidence Chevy has in this new product they also brought out what are regarded to be the performance benchmarks in the small car segment: the Ford Fiesta and Honda Fit.
Memories of the Aveo (the Sonic’s predecessor) may at this point be distant, but the car’s lackluster approach to economy motoring is not entirely forgotten. And with low expectations, Chevy’s boasting about the car’s capabilities seemed a bit extreme.
SONIC OVERWHELMS RIVALS WITH TURBOCHARGED TORQUE
The verdict? It impressed. Matching top-trim levels against each other the Sonic has a bit of an upper hand with 17-inch wheels coated in 205/50/17 tires. It also comes with an optional 1.4-liter turbocharged EcoTec 4-cylinder. Expected to be the volume leader, all models we tested came with that engine.
The turbo engine makes a solid increase in power over its rivals with 138-hp, not to mention what for this class of car is a tremendous amount of torque of 148 lb-ft at a low 1850 rpm. By comparison the Honda Fit is down 21-hp and 41 lb-ft, while the lead over the Fiesta is slightly less at 18-hp and 36 lb-ft. Those numbers might not sound significant but as percentages, they’re huge.