As General Motors departs a past checkered with both mediocre product and bankruptcy, contrasts between its recent past and present are easy to find. None, however, speak to the differences quite so as the discontinued Chevy Aveo and its replacement, the Chevy Sonic. In a product move that is as distinct – and distinctive – as the management styles of longtime GM chairman Rick Wagner (fired by the Obama administration) and his replacement, Ed Whitacre, the General shelved the Korean-built Aveo and its name (Latin, we think, for ‘adios’), replacing it with a fully contemporary – and competitive – take on the B-Segment. For the General this, apparently, is both a new century and a new consciousness.
GM’s government-managed bankruptcy is, of course, well documented. In contrast, the Chevrolet Sonic is only now arriving in showrooms, and impressions are still forming. With delivery of a Sonic hatchback, equipped with the optional 1.4 liter engine and 6-speed manual transmission, we’re prepared to say we’re impressed by the Sonic in a way we’ve never been impressed by a domestic small car entry. There has, to be sure, been any number of cars from the Big Three offering the necessary ingredients. And a handful – notably Ford’s Focus SVT and Dodge’s Neon SRT-4 – have provided credible takes on a small hatch or sedan. But none have come together in quite the coherent way the built-in-Michigan, two-box Sonic comes together.
In profile the new Chevy hatch (there’s also an available sedan) doesn’t deviate too much from its Aveo predecessor; both are design products of GM’s Korean subsidiary, GM Daewoo. Dimensionally the Sonic grows almost two inches in wheelbase (to 99.4), over two inches in width (68.3) and almost five inches in overall length (159). The difference in perceived presence, however, is more substantial, whether during an exterior walkaround or sitting inside. In both instances the Sonic impresses as being several steps closer to VW’s Golf than any small hatch previously available from a Korean studio.
While design impressions are largely subjective, we like the Sonic’s balance between contemporary design and urban/suburban realities. In 5-door form its sheetmetal lacks the retro appeal of Fiat’s 500; nor does it offer the Euro panache of Ford’s Fiesta. In the Sonic’s favor is far more functionality than the Fiat, and far better outward visibility than the Fiesta. With a high roofline and generous door openings, ingress and egress is relatively easy, and once seated inside you’ll find adequate leg, head and shoulder room.
Although categorized as a five-passenger, the middle seat in the rear is best left for purses or your laptop bag; humans won’t be humored. But for those 5’10” and under, you’ll find adequate space – you could call it generous – for four. Within that space are agreeable textures atop the dash and door panels, along with a nicely shaped wheel to direct your traffic. We were less impressed by armrests that lack texture and are unacceptably hard. And while the motorcycle-inspired instrumentation provides adequate info via an analog tach and digital instrumentation, the readout from the speedo was difficult to discern during the day if wearing sunglasses. Finally, the seats (like the Fiats) feel comfortable, but overstuffed. We’re not suggesting a thin, carbon-fiber bucket with a wafer-thin strip of upholstery, but there seems to be almost too much accommodation to, well, accommodation.