Like a Golf (Again) - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Long-Term Road Test

2012 Chevrolet Sonic Long Term Road Test

2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ: Like a Golf (Again)

September 28, 2012

So as usual I’m telling someone that he’d really like the Sonic because it’s like a VW Golf. Then he tells me that he’s never driven a Golf. Aargh, now what?

So this is what a Golf is like.

The Golf is a square-rigged hatchback, a shape we take for granted now but almost completely new in 1974 when VW introduced it in Europe. Ital Design’s Giorgetto Giugiaro penned the shape as the latest in the long, long line of concept cars that VW had commissioned as it tried to figure out something to replace the Beetle.

It’s kind of fashionable to remember Giugiaro for the shape of the mid-engine Lamborghini Miura, but actually he’s had a more lasting influence on the course of design with the simple space-efficiency of the hatchback. It’s just a two-box design that lets people sit upright, which turns out to be way more comfortable and way more cargo friendly than the traditional longer, lower, and wider shape of a sedan.

Also like a VW Golf, the Sonic has a long-travel suspension and not a lot of roll stiffness in the front. The suspension rates are relatively soft, so the Sonic feels supple as it rides over the bumps. When you crank on the steering, the body heels over a lot (a lot!). Some people think a lot of body roll means poor handling but actually it’s all a matter of taste really, and the body roll lets the car telegraph its intentions to you in a way that makes it very predictable and natural to drive. The Sonic is good enough on the skid pad and in the slalom to prove that this approach works. I don’t know if the Sonic corners with its inside rear wheel cocked in the air like an old Golf, but I kind of hope it does.

The Sonic’s engine has a VW-style personality as well, as the powerband seems very, very wide, and you’re always surprised at the way it pulls from very low rpm to very high rpm with an elastic sort of rush. This is a sign of great drivability, although the very, very tall gearing of the Sonic when the turbocharged inline-4 and six-speed manual transmission are matched together (a measure to squeeze every last mpg from this powertrain package), will catch you out sometimes when you inadvertently let the revs fall below 1,000 rpm.

So this is what it means when someone (I can’t possibly be the only one), tells you that the Chevy Sonic drives like a VW Golf. Now that we're seeing images of the latest VW Golf from the Paris auto show, it's kind of a reminder that the Sonic is part of a kind of tradition -- an approach to practical mobility that is international in scope.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, @ 12,094 miles

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