2012 Chevrolet Sonic preview drive (photos)

Chevrolet is replacing its Aveo subcompact with a new car, the Sonic. Available in both sedan and hatchback forms, the Sonic costs less than $20,000 and comes with 1.8-liter or turbocharged 1.4-liter engines.

Wayne Cunningham
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Chevy showed off its new compact, the Sonic, at this year's Detroit auto show. The car replaces the Aveo in Chevy's line-up, although this same car will be called Aveo in other markets around the world. Chevy felt it could change the name, which had never gained traction with U.S. buyers. The Sonic is available in sedan or hatchback forms, with a base price of $14,995. A fully loaded, high-trim Sonic tops out at just under $20,000.
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The Sonic was designed at GM's Korea studio, and captures current Chevy design elements such as the dual-port grille. The U.S. version of the car will be built at GM's Orion assembly plant in Michigan.
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The five-door hatchback shares a front end with the sedan, but is more than a foot shorter. The hatchback drops off strongly at the back and weighs more than a 100 pounds less than the sedan.
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Rear door handles are hidden in the side graphic. Once we were used to the location, the height felt ergonomically comfortable.
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Because the Sonic hatchback is shorter than the sedan, the cargo area is not large. But it does have the versatility of fold-down seats and high hatchback capacity.
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The Sonic sedan has a more conservative look than the hatchback due to its roofline and trunk lid. But the front-end design is the same. The base Sonic sedan costs less than the hatchback.
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The car's designers chose to make the headlights prominent, showcasing the dual round lights in each casing. This element is more similar to the Corvette and Camaro than the Sonic's closest stablemate, the Cruze.
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Two engines are available for the Sonic, a 1.8-liter four cylinder on lower trim cars, and a turbocharged 1.4 liter at higher trims. Shown here is the turbocharged 1.4 liter. Both powerplants produce 138 horsepower, but the turbocharged 1.4-liter generates 148 pound-feet of torque, 23 more than the 1.8 liter. Fuel economy for the turbocharged engine is 29 mpg city and 40 mpg highway, about 5 mpg better than the naturally aspirated engine.
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Both the sedan and hatchback seat five, with two in front and three in back. Headroom feels ample, but rear legroom can quickly be compromised depending on the height of front seat passengers.
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The Sonic uses a Macpherson strut front suspension and a torsion beam rear suspension, a typical configuration for a compact front-wheel-drive car. Brakes are discs in front and drums in back.
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The Sonic, like most Chevy cars, will be available in three trims: LS, LT, and LTZ. The turbocharged engine is available on the LT and LTZ models, but not the LS. But other features, such as automatic headlights, 10 airbags, and traction control, are standard at all trims.
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Given the size of the Sonic sedan, the trunk is surprisingly large. The trunk has 14 cubic feet of volume, with easy access created by a large trunk lid.
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The Sonic uses electric power steering that does an excellent job mimicking hydraulic power steering. There is resistance as you turn the wheel, and the only time we heard the telltale electric whirring sound was when turning the wheel while stopped.
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One of the unique features of the Sonic is this instrument cluster. Chevy says it was inspired by motorcycle design. It sits attached to the dashboard as a modular component, with a large digital speed display, making it easy to determine velocity at a glance.
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Turbocharged Sonics currently only come with this six-speed manual transmission, although Chevy will make a six-speed automatic available at a later date. The 1.8-liter engine cars have either a six-speed automatic or a five-speed manual transmission. We were impressed by the six-speed manual's gate, which combined precision with a European smooth shifting feel.
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The stereo in the LS and LTZ trim Sonics includes XM satellite radio and a USB port in the glove box, which can handle USB drives or an iPod cable. The audio system only has six speakers, with no subwoofer available.
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The tuning knob on the right let us select folders and tracks from a USB drive loaded with MP3 files. With an iPod, the interface should let you select from artist, album, and genre lists.
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A Bluetooth phone system is also available on the higher trim Sonics. Onstar is also included, with the usual blue button on the rear-view mirror frame.

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