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A Name Everyone Can Pronounce: The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic

The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic

The first thing you should know about Chevy’s new, American-built compact is that it’s not the Aveo. Not only is the name easier—What was that other one anyway: A-VEY-o? AH-vey-o? a-VEE-o? Who knows? Who cares?—but it’s a much better car than its predecessor. Some will think it’s better just because it’s not Korean like the a-VEE-o. Built right here in the good ol’ U-S-of-A at GM’s Lake Orion, Michigan, plant, Chevy will be more than glad to tell you the Sonic is the only small-car class vehicle built here. Its main competitors, according to Chevy, are the Ford Fiesta and Nissan Versa (built in Mexico), the Honda Fit (Japan), and Hyundai Accent (South Korea).

So how does the Sonic compare to its competitors? Its standard wheel is a 16-inch alloy while the others have steel wheels with covers. It’s the only one with two engine choices: a 1.8-liter Ecotec DOHC four, and a 1.4-liter DOHC turbocharged four. The Sonic has 10 air bags compared to the others’ six or seven. Some will say the Sonic looks better; while I’ll agree that the five-door hatch is a good-looking car, I still have some reservations about the shape of the sedan, which is the car I recently drove at Ki-Po Chevrolet in Ransomville. Yes, it’s a better design than the AH-vey-o, as Salesperson Greg Taylor of Ki-Po pointed out to me, but to me it’s still got that awkward “too high for its size” look suffered by most small sedans sporting a trunk. Still, as Phyllis Dillers’s husband Fang noted, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The Monday I showed up in Ransomville for my test drive was a bright, sunny autumn day which found me headed further into Niagara County, up toward Olcott Beach. There’s nothing like a drive on a nice day up and down the back roads. The automatic transmission versions of the Sonic are also manually shiftable. Who actually does this, I don’t know; it’s not quite the same as driving a stick shift car. And when it comes right down to it, if I’ve already paid over a grand extra for an automatic transmission, I’m gonna let the thing shift itself. Being a small car, pickup is good from the standard 1.8-liter engine, and the six-speed automatic was smooth shifting. This setup combines for an EPA-estimated 25/35 miles per gallon city/highway. The manually-shifted turbo is rated a more respectable 29/40 miles per gallon and is probably more fun to drive, and in my mind might just be worth the extra $700.

Interior space in the Sonic is great. The front seat is very accommodating in both leg and head room. Even the rear seat was relatively spacious, although putting three adults back there might be a stretch—or, should I say, a squeeze. It can be done, but count me out of being the middle guy. The trunk on the sedan, while not adding much to the car’s looks, should be enough to carry your bags for a vacation or the booty from your latest shopping excursion. I found the dash layout interesting to look at, with the gauges gathered in a pod designed to look like something you might find on a motorcycle. I wasn’t thrilled with the driver information center, though. You shouldn’t have to read the owner’s manual to figure out what it’s trying to tell you. I think they’re putting too much stuff on the dash these days—too much stuff which can distract one from the job at hand, which is supposed to be driving, not analyzing your trip on the fly.

Overall, I give the Sonic high marks. Affordable, accommodating, and—in the right color/wheel combo (an orange hatchback with the 17-inch rims)—downright hip. Prices start at just $13,735.

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Read more of Jim Corbran's You Auto Know every other week in Artvoice, and more frequently on Artvoice Daily.

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