2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ road test: An attractive, enjoyable subcompact that’s ready to make small big

2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ hatchback

2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ hatchback

Okay, subsonic would be a more accurate description of this car, but the five-door 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ  does not need blinding speed to attract buyers looking for a feature-laden subcompact sedan.

Before we even start our examination, though, let’s erase any thoughts you might have about that late Korean-made dud, the Aveo,  which the Sonic replaces. The new, made-in America small fry is way better and way more fun to drive than that unfortunate import.

And, let’s concede that, even with gas prices now slipping back a few cents per gallon, the jury is still out on how many American car buyers will be willing to make a sacrifice in size for the sake of efficiency.

Those who are willing to make that sacrifice will find that the Sonic isn’t so much of a sacrifice, after all.

2012 Chevrolet Sonic instruments

2012 Chevrolet Sonic instruments

Think of the Sonic as Chevy Cruze light. The Sonic uses the same engines, similar transmissions, and holds  four adults in reasonable comfort — just like the popular, hot-selling, compact Cruze.

Yes, it’s smaller and, yes, it holds less cargo than the Cruze, but the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic is a city car that can be equally at home on the wide interstates and the winding back roads.

The 2012 Sonic comes in two body styles, a traditional-looking four-door sedan and a five-door hatchback, which kind of resembles a Kia Soul. The hatchback version was the one supplied for my examination.

Two engines are available: a standard 1.8-liter, four-cylinder model that generates 138 horsepower and 125 pound feet of torque; and an optional turbocharged, 1.4-liter, 4-cylinder powerplant that generates an identical 138 horsepower, but a beefier 148 pound-feet of torque.

The base engine can be teamed with a 6-speed automatic transmission or a five-speed manual. The turbo motor can be paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual shifter.

2012 Chevrolet Sonic front seats

2012 Chevrolet Sonic front seats

The test car combined the slightly more expensive turbo engine with the 6-speed manual transmission, my favorite among the powertrain choices but probably not the one that will be chosen by the bulk of Sonic purchasers.

The car I drove is EPA-rated at 29 mpg city/40 mpg highway, while the standard engine combined with manual shifter is calculated at 25/35 and its counterpart with automatic transmission is expected to average 26/35. I averaged an overall 34 mpg in a week of restrained urban and suburban motoring. Both engines run happily on regular-grade fuel.

While a subcompact front-wheel drive hatchback is not a realistic substitute for a sports sedan, the pint-sized Sonic I piloted for a week was entertaining to drive.

Despite the engine’s diminutive displacement, the turbo assist boosted power enough to give the Sonic a 0-to-60 mph time of approximately 8 seconds. Not neck snapping, for sure, but certainly more than merely adequate for a subcompact.