What it is: The Sonic is a so-called B-segment small car that, for once, gives General Motors a competitive entry in a class long dominated by Asian and European automakers.
Base prices range from $13,735 to $18,495 Mileage ranges from 25 miles per gallon in the city and 40 on the highway.
What’s worth knowing: For most of its history, GM was about as interested in small cars as fishermen are in small fish: You’d never want to pose next to one, so why bother. But $4 gas and strict new government mileage requirements have forced all the automakers to think smaller, and GM has been devoting more genuine resources to building appealing compacts. The Sonic, new for 2012, replaces the woeful Aveo, an afterthought car GM imported from its Korean subsidiary. In Chevy’s lineup, it sits between the slightly larger Cruze and the diminutive Spark, which is due next year.
Who it’s for: First-time buyers, commuters with a bigger family car and slim drivers with minimal hauling needs.
What’s good: The Sonic is a spirited ride, for its size, with a comfortable cabin, decent seats, and a good set of convenience features on higher trim lines. It would be a stretch to call it sporty, but the Sonic corners firmly and has enough oomph to keep you comfortable on the highway. The blunt-nosed styling is edgy and will turn off some people, but at least it’s not bland. Buyers can choose from a traditional sedan or a hatch, which many consider more pragmatic because of the easy-access tailgate. There’s also an optional turbocharged engine that amps up performance a bit.
What’s bad: The entry-level trim line lacks basics such as power windows and cruise control. Base prices on all trim lines are for models with a 5-speed manual transmission, with an automatic adding about $1,100 to the price. The instrument cluster and other parts of the interior may strike some drivers as schlocky.
How it stacks up: Reviewers generally like the Sonic because it’s a vast improvement over its predecessor, the Aveo. But that means little to ordinary drivers, who must compare it to other cars on the market today. In that regard, this B car earns a B+. The Honda Fit, with its unique fold-flat rear seat, still offers the most versatility in the class. The Fiat 500 is quirkier and more fun. The Ford Fiesta, Mazda 2, Kia Soul and Scion xB are worth checking out, too.
What to do if you want one: Compacts these days are differentiated by marginal gradations in size, giving buyers a lot of choice in terms of how much car they’re willing to pay for. If you can afford a few extra bucks, for example, it’s worth trying out the Chevy Cruze, which feels more upscale and may not cost all that much more. The Ford Focus and Hyundai Elantra, also worth a test drive, are in the same size category as the Cruze. If you try a range of cars and the smaller ride suits you, congratulations on your thriftiness.