December 21, 2012
You know that solid door thunk that car journos are always going on about? The one that German luxury sedans have mastered to perfection, that lauded "bank vault" shudder that writers and salesmen always gush over? Here's the switchgear equivalent: the Sonic's turn signal indicator. I'm not kidding. First off, this is a typically thick GM stalk. And the detent action pleases in both sound and feel, fostering a perception of quality and solidity you never expect at this subcompact level.
Considering the problems we had with the upholstery (which seem largely abated), this small detail makes clear how a car, particularly its interior, is the sum of multiple suppliers, some better than others.
Dan Frio, Automotive Editor @ 16,600 miles
August 13, 2012
We got the call Saturday morning that Harbor Chevrolet had completed the swap-out of seats in our Sonic. By 10 a.m., the car was vacuumed, washed and ready for pickup. The service folks and I went back to a bay for some photos of the old seats before they were boxed up for return to GM (where a team will doubtless apply "CSI"-like forensics tests to find the source of olfactory unpleasantness.)
As I shot, we talked about what the problem might have been and a service advisor described his own smell nightmare: He once had truck tires that, as he put it, "smelled like plumber's crack" when they'd sat in the sun for a while. So I guess things with the Sonic could have been worse.
But now came the moment of truth.
August 11, 2012
It's interesting how a road trip can change your perspective on a car. After my 750-mile trip, I'm still a fan of the turbo Chevrolet Sonic, I still like its packaging, but I'd be hesitant to buy one myself.
One reason is the seats. They feel fine for a couple hours, but once I was past that threshold, the flat seat-bottom cushion was a problem. Definite case of dead butt, and I was still in some discomfort for about an hour after I arrived home. It's hard for me to lobby for Chevy to put more expensive seats in an inexpensive car, but I could use more firm support.
Also, while the manual air-conditioning is up to the task of cooling the car in triple-digit heat (although I'm not a good judge of this... I never set any auto climate control system below 72 degrees, and I never went past the "2" fan speed in the Sonic), the car has a lot of upright glass area -- because it's a tall hatchback. And the single visor doesn't extend. So when driving north on Interstate 5, the afternoon sun came streaming in from the west and there was no way to shade my face.
So what did I like?
August 10, 2012
We finally got the call we'd been waiting for: The replacement seats for the Sonic arrived at Harbor Chevrolet. The Sonic was on holiday and then on assignment with Erin for a few days. When Erin returned, we took the car in. The installation should be finished today.
The service advisor let Erin take some photos of the seats, still in their boxes.
August 09, 2012
I copied James and also went to Palo Alto this week (yeah, right after I got back from my Seattle trip in the BMW X3). Although James and I were bound for the same destination, in true SoCal fashion, we drove separate cars -- as you can see, I picked our 2012 Chevrolet Sonic.
I didn't plan as well, though, so I enjoyed a numbing drive on Interstate 5 there and back. This was one of my few stops -- a hole in the wall ramen place I found while trying to escape the Silicon Valley office parks. I never met a bowl of hot noodles I didn't like, but man, I wish I'd gotten the tonkatsu broth instead of the miso.
The Sonic hasn't gotten much road trip love thus far. I've taken it on a couple 200-mile drives before, but this was a half-day, 375-mile haul each way. I knew the Sonic's tall gearing might come into play on I-5, which gets contentious (angry L.A. drivers mixing it up with truckers) and hilly (the Grapevine/Tejon Pass), but it was a little more of an issue than I thought.
Nearly every single passing maneuver necessitated dropping out of 6th gear. If I happened to be in a long line of cars passing a truck (as I was on perhaps 30 occasions), I needed to drop to 4th to stay in the power. On the Tejon Pass, I often needed 3rd, and in a couple instances on California Highway 152's Pacheco Pass, I reached for 2nd gear.
I like shifting... actually, I love shifting manual-gearbox cars. Even when I know a computer could do it better. And had I been on a back road, or U.S. 101 like James, or Highway 1 near the Hearst Castle, I would have been happy to do all these gearchanges. But when you're just trying to make time on the interstate, it gets a little old. I'm all for lowering fuel consumption, but please, let me a have few more revs.
On the upside, the shifter is a precise piece and the clutch work is easy, so it certainly wasn't wholly unenjoyable. I just tried to imagine I was driving in Europe stirring the gears in a car with a diesel engine and a narrow power band.
Also, ride quality was plenty compliant for the long trip -- more so than just about any other car in the Sonic's class. And its spacious cabin makes you feel like you're taking a road trip in a larger car. Other motorists may have been seeing a red subcompact, but the Sonic rides and feels like a car built on a larger, C-segment chassis.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 10,758 miles
July 31, 2012
Back in the '80s, when I was first learning to drive, I was taught that my hands should be at the 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock positions on the steering wheel. But the professional driving schools I've attended (thanks to my job here at Edmunds) suggest 9 o'clock and 3 o'clock, so I've adjusted. (They also suggest 8 and 4, race car-style, but I just can't seem to make that comfortable yet.) There are some steering wheels that accommodate this positioning nicely, but the Sonic is not one of them.
Maybe I have tiny baby hands, but the 9 and 3 positions on this steering wheel feel way too chunky for me. Looks to me like the designer didn't expect Sonic drivers to have their hands at 9 and 3.
What about you? Where are your hands when you drive?
Bryn MacKinnon, Senior Editor, Edmunds.com, @ 9,953 miles
June 28, 2012
I'm just back from driving some Fords around and it reminds me again that the Chevy Sonic is pretty notable for its expansive field of view.
It's easy to understand why the front bulkhead might loom above you, like it seems to do in the Ford Fiesta. Much of the structure for a car depends on the rigidity provided by the bulkhead, so it's understandable if it occasionally seems as if the thing has been designed to be more like a railway bridge than a simple dashboard.
June 25, 2012
Word of warning: This is what happens when you get too close to my dog Mya. Face full of tongue. As happy as she was to get buckled in the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ long-termer, we didn't take her on a long road trip this weekend but rather just across town to a friend's house for a barbecue party.
Still, there was enough material from the excursion to warrant a dog report.
After doing this in numerous cars, I've learned to really appreciate when the seatbelt fasteners protrude from the seat and when her doggy mat can easily be tucked into the seat. Not to say those are deal breakers if those are missing from a car, it's just nice when they are present.
The Sonic doesn't have any storage (no in-door cubbies or cupholders) in the backseat but since this wasn't a long trip it wasn't a big deal. Just threw her leash in the footwell.
There was the issue of the absence of rear vents to cool down the cutest backseat occupant ever but we just aimed the vents on the dash in her direction and she seemed fine with that (no heavy panting).
June 05, 2012
The scent of the Chevrolet Sonic's interior does not exactly recall the rich aroma of a Connolley leather interior from a classic Jaguar.
But neither does it recall a bad day in Houston.
As a guy who lived through the 1970s, when the vinyl interior of cheap cars would coat the inside of your windows with a film of chemicals for about the first year of ownership or so, probably I'd just crack the windows of the Chevy whenever it's parked outside on a warm day and leave it at that.
The truth is, I've been in new cars that smelled much worse than this.
And no, I don't miss those 1970s Isuzus at all.
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 9,046 miles.
May 31, 2012
Our little Chevy Sonic is easy to slide in and out of freeway traffic, and offers a great view out its right side to the rear.
I didn't realize just how wide the Sonic's C-pillar is until I took this quick photo. It certainly doesn't obstruct my rear view while driving.
Kelly Toepke, News Editor @ 8,886 miles
May 29, 2012
This is my husband sitting in the front passenger seat of the Sonic with our son's rear-facing child seat installed in the back seat behind him. This picture is just for illustrative purposes. Nobody actually sat in the front passenger seat for the duration of the long weekend. It won't surprise you that this seating position is not very comfortable.
If our whole family had to go somewhere together, we took a different car. But I did enjoy driving our two kids in the Sonic when it was just the three of us. It accommodated all of our stuff, including a pack-and-play in the box stuffed into the front passenger seat, and was easy and fun to drive.
Bryn MacKinnon, Senior Editor, Edmunds.com @ 8,765 miles
May 16, 2012
It seems that GM/Chevrolet might have been reading the saga of our malodorous Sonic. A Chevy rep contacted us and said the company would like to replace the upholstery in the car. We're in the process of setting up the appointment with a dealership now, and we'll let you know what happens.
Meanwhile, we could try driving around with this Takahashi-crafted mega-freshener. Old car couldn't be worse than fish car. Could it?
Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor
May 14, 2012
One of many things I love about Edmunds is that people here are generous with their expertise. My colleague Jim Chong brought me a special smell-killing product that he felt sure would work in the Sonic.
Jim told me that this unit, Hippo the Odorbuster, is sold in Korean grocery stores to eliminate refrigerator odors caused by such foods as kimchi and fish. "I've used it in my refrigerator for years and it's great. Arm & Hammer has nothing on this," he said.
The product is a two-part, vented plastic unit, with activated charcoal on one side and a deodorizing ingredient suspended in a gel on the other. I removed the outer and inner plastic seals and put it to work in the Sonic, using the car's handy deodorizer caddy/cup holder.
May 07, 2012
Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @8,359 miles
May 02, 2012
I didn't like the idea of having an open box of Arm & Hammer bouncing around in the car, so last night, I decided to put a goodly amount of the powder in a little plastic bowl and cover it with a thin layer of cheesecloth. That would minimize the mess and still allow for the soda to neutralize the smell.
April 30, 2012
OK, I'm not totally down on the Sonic. It's slowly revealing some objectionable quirks, but this isn't one of them.
Despite how forlorn that little appendage looks, I'm a sucker for a captain's armrests in an econo-car. It works and immediately makes the Sonic feel like a more expensive car. Cheap date, I guess
Dan Frio, Automotive Editor
April 30, 2012
This little dashtop panel looks like it opens to reveal hidden storage. Doesn't.
A very real odor problem, a soggy high-engagement clutch, and now this illusory trickery. Starting to get a little sour on the Sonic.
Dan Frio, Automotive Editor
April 25, 2012
If I were an alarmist -- which I'm not -- I could spend time worrying about whether the odor in our car was something more than just annoying. This infographic shows some of the chemicals used in the manufacturing of some car interiors (not the Sonic in particular). On the surface, it's a little disconcerting.
This article, however, discusses the controversy over the possible health risks of interior materials in more detail. Automakers including GM criticized the study that raised the issue. GM at the time said that it has a good reputation for health and safety leaderships and uses "a strategic selection process for materials based on a health and environmental assessment" that takes into account how materials will affect vehicle occupants as well as employees.
Do you worry about whether the materials used to create car interiors might pose a danger to your health?
Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor
April 25, 2012
My colleague Dan Frio and his olfactory-champ wife are so right. Our Sonic does stink like three-day-old fish. I haven't had a chance to try banhugh's baking soda trick, but it sounds like it's worth a try. I also decided to check in with Chevrolet customer service last night, via its live chat feature, and pose the question there. This doesn't seem to be a transient problem, and it really does ruin the ride of an otherwise fun car.
I had an interesting few minutes with Matt, the customer service rep on the other end of the Internet. Of course, since we don't have smell-o-rama on the Web yet, he couldn't appreciate exactly what the stink is, or what it might represent. So he recommended that I take the car into the dealership.
In addition to having instant, 24/7 access to customer service, another great feature of chat is that you don't have to take notes. With a little copy/paste, you have an instant record of the conversation. Here's some of what Matt and I discussed:
Matt: I'm sorry to hear about your problem! What does it smell like?
Customer: It smells kind of fishy or chemicalish. I was reading a review that described it as "a heavy chemical smell from the vinyl seats." My friend Dan, whose wife has an excellent nose for smells, also isolated it to the seats.
Matt: [The dealership] might be able to help you with the problem and remove it.
Customer: OK. Any idea how they'd do that? We've tried leaving windows open, a shot of Ozium, etc.
Matt: If it's a seat or a panel causing the problem, they might be able to exchange it for another, otherwise I don't have information in my resources to be able to know exactly what they would do. Do you need information on a Chevrolet service center?
Customer: Sure And if they want to give us leather seats, we'd really like that ;)
Matt didn't pick up on my hint or the emoticon, but he did give me several Chevrolet dealerships to choose from. As the conversation closed, there was this exchange:
Matt: Do you have any other questions for me?
Customer: Well, one more: Does your knowledge base show other Sonic owners having this issue?
Matt: Is your vehicle a manual?
Customer: Yes, it is.
Matt: Okay. It may be your clutch -- I would definitely take it to a service center for further assistance.
Now, people here at Edmunds know their stinks, and there's some doubt to the smelly-clutch theory. Nevertheless, there may be an odor-removal service visit in our future.
Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @7,713 miles
April 23, 2012
Mike Magrath is off on some picturesque Mediterranean island this week to drive something fast and fancy. As such, I have no compunction about taking this moment to refute one of his past claims. And to call him a jerk.
But first, Mr. Magrath says that the Sonic's center stack looks like an elephant. On this point he is correct, it does. I half expect it to blow a peanut at me.
However, Mike Magrath also says that the two "ear bins" on either side of the radio controls are "useless." I beg to differ, as the above photo can attest. Have a walkie-talkie and an open bag of Chex Mix? Well, the Sonic makes it that much easier to yell at Takahashi over the radio while safely keeping one's salty cereal safely unspilt.
So there, check mate. Jerk.
James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 7,487 miles
April 23, 2012
As I've said several times, I like our long-term Sonic. It's a great little city car with a decent amount of aggressive styling. But on the highway?
I realized the other morning that I hadn't driven the Sonic on the freeways here. In L.A. we have rain grooves carved into the pavement and that causes the Sonic's rearend to shimmy a little at highway speeds. Motorcycles do the same thing, but you get used to it. After a few times on a bike, you don't even feel it any more.
But not with the Sonic. It feels unsettled and does little to instill confidence. A lot of this, I think, has to do with the tires. Once you're out of the metropolitan areas, though, the rain grooves go away. Likewise, so does the shimmy.
Other than on these specific road surfaces, the Sonic is a perfectly decent long-distance car if you're on a budget.
Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor @6,700 miles
April 17, 2012
A few months ago I posed that the interior of our 2012 Chevy Sonic was disjointed. Some of you agreed with me, some of you did not. Some of you said I was too old to get it, others thought I needed to grow up. This is what happens when things like taste and preference are brought into a conversion. People disagreeing with me is part of the game.
Those of you who think I was wrong can take stock in the fact that Ward's Autos has just named the 2012 Chevy Sonic as the recipient of one of the publication's "10 Best Interiors" awards.
Ward's like the Sonic's "two glove boxes, storage bins on either side of the center stack, a bottle holder in each front door and three cupholders between the two front seats." Ward's also liked the "gear-shaped tachometer and asymmetrical cluster" saying it provides the driver with information "and does it with flair."
One man's flair is another man's distraction. Can't argue with the cupholders in that car, though.
Mike Magrath, Features Editor, Edmunds.com
April 05, 2012
No, the mirror pictured above is not from our Sonic, and no, I do not have a French tip manicure.
I hopped in the Sonic last night and started my usual routine of adjusting the seat, wheel and mirrors. When I went to flip the day/night lever on the rearview mirror, I was greeted by something rather unexpected.
Bing bing bing! OnStar.
Whoops. I accidentally hit the OnStar button. I quickly cancelled the connection by tapping the phone icon button. But that led me to the guts of this post.
That OnStar button is right where I rest my thumb to flick the mirror dimming lever with my index finger. That seems like a design oversight. Sure, you could just flick it with resting your thumb, and perhaps there are some drivers out there who operate it in that fashion. But I contend that there are probably plenty of people who have accidentally hit this button when they were reaching for the lever.
I know, I know I'm nitpicking. But in a car that I'm generally pleased with, I think I'm allowed. After all, if we don't point things like this out, they may never change.
Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor @ 5,970 miles
April 05, 2012
A pet peeve of mine (well, of the vehicle design variety) is a cluttered information display. I don't like this "not at a glance" readability that our Fiat 500 displays, nor do I care for it in the Sonic. In particular, it's the trip computer's average MPG function that bugs me.
February 28, 2012
The three-second rule is alive and well in the automobile industry, where all of you car's warning lights must perform a "bulb check" each time you fire up your machine.
If, as they should, the lights briefly come on then go out, you've learned two things. First, the bulb hasn't burnt out and the warning circuit is working; And second, as we all know, lights that go out after the bulb check period indicate the lack of a problem with that system. Or you haven't yet put your seatbelt on, or you forgot to release the parking brake, or your high beams are on, or the cruise control is armed, or whatever.
That's the easy part, but who is going to notice lights that don't come on? To do that you must first know which ones you're supposed to have. You know, the RTFM part.
In the case of our 2012 Chevrolet Sonic, the three apparent dark circles in the upper right corner are not the sign of a problem. There are no lights there, is all. They're blanks, room for future expansion or a mere styling cue to make eveything look even.
Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 3,494 miles
February 28, 2012
The back seat of the Sonic saw some action this past weekend. Get your minds out of the gutter people, I'm talking about that normally vacant space being used to show some visitors around L.A.
Older subcompact cars were often called penalty boxes due to their cramped cabins. This was especially true in the back seat, with cushions that were usually thin, flat and low to the floor in an attempt to maximize passsenger space. The result was most folks' legs ended up splayed out and unsupported. Not so with Sonic, whose high rear seat is thickly padded and contoured for proper support. The Sonic's tall cabin translates into generous legroom back there -- at 34.6 inches it's just 0.8 inch less than a Cruze's -- and it even has about an inch more headroom than a Malibu.
John DiPietro, Automotive Editor @ 3,447 miles
February 14, 2012
I agree with Magrath that the Sonic's dashboard design looks like a sad elephant. I'd also add that its materials quality and selection could be better. If I could transplant the Kia Rio's cabin into the Sonic I'd be a happy guy. However, none of the above dulls my enthusiasm for this car when I drive it.
Its turbocharged engine is wonderful, providing ample punch off the line and making it eager to dart through traffic. The steering is sharp and I appreciate that the controls work with a similar amount of effort. GM apparently put in a lot of effort to make them work with such a consistency and it makes a big difference. It just feels right.
Last night, however, I realized why I like the Sonic so much. It reminds me a lot of the GTI, a car I like for similar reasons. Yes, the turbo engine has a lot to do with it, but I found my driving style and level of enjoyment to be reminiscent of one of my favorite cars on the road. Heck it even has a VW-esque long-throw shifter, though, it's less damped in its motions and the one-two shift can be notchy at times.
And like the GTI, this Sonic is also going to be a divider amongst our staff. Already battle lines are being drawn amongst the "Love its" and "Hate its." Count me in the former camp. In the subcompact class, this is the car I'd buy.
James Riswick, Automotive Editor @ 2,829 miles
February 13, 2012
I'm not sure how we've gone this far into our long term review of the Sonic without mentioning this, but the interior of the Sonic is completely chaotic and disjointed. What is going on here?
First, let's start with the instrument cluster that I guess is supposed to be motorcycle inspired. I should mention that this is not, in any way, a motorcycle. But like a motorcycle, this cluster of things -- speedo, tach, information screen -- has just been glued somewhere relatively in front of the driver. This method of attachment makes sense on a motorcycle as the rider only has handlebars in front of them. This method is annoying on a car where you have an entire dash to work with. Sticking something on top of it just looks funny.
Next up is the center console. Two useless bins, a giant seam, a slot that throws your parking card onto the carpet as soon as you accelerate, and at least 11 different materials. From dead-on it looks like a sad elephant.
There are circles, squares, rectangles, seams, cut-lines, knobs, lights, buttons, fake metallic finish, levers and every other kind of design feature-- other than wood or carbon fiber-- you can think of all crammed into one relatively small package. On the plus side, the materials and assembly of them are quite good for this class. Another bright spot are the seats. They're attractive, supportive and the leatherette feels good.
After a few days of being in it, the girlfriend finally spoke up on the car and summarized my thoughts, "An adult could never buy this car. The interior is hyperactive -- like five guys all under 20 designed it for guys under 16 who drink too much Redbull."
Judging by GM's Sonic Super Bowl Spots, she might not be too far from the truth.
Mike Magrath, Features Editor, Edmunds.com @ 2,800 miles
February 09, 2012
Here is Senior Editor Erin Riches with a video review of the 2012 Chevy Sonic. This video covers the whole Chevrolet Sonic model lineup but the action footage is Erin driving our long-term Sonic LTZ.
February 06, 2012
So, there's this purposeful-looking slot dead-center on the Sonic's center stack... Is it some sort of audio-related port? Nope. It's much simpler than that, but certainly convenient.
February 01, 2012
Despite its small size, the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ fits my 6-foot 2-inch tall frame very well. It has more than enough of every adjustment I could need or want. Its telescopic wheel pulls back far enough, the seat height adjuster drops low enough and the seat goes back more than far enough.
I also like those large bins on either side of the center AC vents, the simplicity of the manual climate control buttons and knobs, and the folding driver's seat armrest.
And then there's the gauge cluster.
February 01, 2012
I fully realize the Chevy Sonic is a small, inexpensive car. But dang, the door armrest feels like it's little more than hard plastic. Which is exactly what it is.
I understand the need to keep costs down with a car like this, but the plastic is so hard and uncomfortable that there's almost no need for the armrest because you have no desire to put your elbow there.
Of note, this is of course much more of a problem when you wear short-sleeve shirts like I do almost every day, leaving your elbow without any form of padding.
On the bright side...
The adjustable driver's seat armrest is considerably more cushy. Nice. And for me, anyway, it's at the perfect height. And, it doesn't interfere with your shifting even when in the down position.
January 30, 2012
OK, our new long-term 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ's gearshifter doesn't really detach but the other night while driving the car and trying to quickly do a three-point turn in the face of approaching traffic, the cover for the shifter did pop off. Not the best moment for that to happen.
But, not to worry, it's not broken. The little hooks for the plastic trim didn't break off so I was able to slot it back into place. And the cover hasn't popped off since but just wanted to point out that it did.
January 27, 2012
As small cars go, my preference has always been for the Volkswagen Golf.
Ive tried to be a Honda Civic guy. Ive also always taken an interest in small practical cars from strange, out of the way places. You know, like Croatia. Italian-style small cars are clever, even when theyre being built in Japan like the Suzuki Swift. Ive even tried to like a German-designed Opel built in South Korea and sold as a Pontiac.
But really I like the VW Golf. So when I say that the Chevy Sonic is pretty much like a VW Golf, its kind of a big thing for me. Its as if the GM guys finally decided to quit fooling around with trying to prove how clever they are and just, what the heck, built a Golf.
January 26, 2012
This morning, I gave you all my two cents on the Sonic's exterior styling. Now, let's head inside.