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 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
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 20, 2012
I put a lot of freeway miles on our long-term 2012 Chevrolet Sonic over the weekend. A lot of it was light traffic, but I did time in stop-and-go jams as well.
One thing that struck me about it is that it just feels natural to be in this car. It feels like my car. I've never felt that way about a Cruze, Malibu or Equinox.
It starts with a really normal driving position. OK, so you sit a little tall in this car (as you do in most of these short-stuff budget hatchbacks), but there are plenty of adjustments, so it's not bad. Second, there's the interior room. It feels spacious. I'm not bumping elbows with the front passenger, and another (small) adult can sit in back and still have adequate room. Also, the A/C system is up to the task of keeping the cabin cool on a 90-degree day with three aboard.
Alas, when you're running the A/C is exaggerates the one thing I don't like about this car -- its pokeyness off the line. Seems to be a combination of an EPA-friendly, this-is-how-you-drive-a-manual-son (read: dead) throttle calibration and the A/C compressor sapping power.
Whatever. It's annoying, but it doesn't ruin the driving experience for me (though, admittedly, you don't have to run the air-conditioner all day, every day where I live). I like the clutch takeup otherwise, and I like how the shifter moves fluidly through the gates. On most freeways, I really like the ride quality -- only over the really broken ones does the ride get harsh. And I think the steering is nice and precise.
Add in a nice dose of hatchback utility, and you have an Erin-friendly car.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 9,501 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
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 16, 2012
EXT. DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES, DUSK
A 2012 Chevrolet Sonic turns onto Broadway. Once a shining boulevard of vaudeville palaces, the street is noticeably rougher now. But the marquee of the fully restored Orpheum Theater shines into the dusk, signaling that Los Angeles, a city that would prefer to knock down its history than preserve it, has perhaps changed its ways. Tonight, the Orpheum is hosting the Los Angeles Conservancy/American Planning Association's screening of "Chinatown," a dark tale of Los Angeles' determination to grow and forget its past--whatever the cost. The Sonic snaps a smart right turn into a narrow alley.
An attendant points the Sonic into a wafer-thin parking place. He's determined to pack as many vehicles as possible (at $10 each) into the lot. The Sonic slips into its place, leaving its passenger and driver just enough room to exit.
PARKING LOT, NIGHT
Hours later, the movie is letting out. Now, every parking place is taken, and some rows are partially blocked. The Sonic's driver has to back up for several rows to find a way out of the lot. The car has no problems maneuvering through narrow rows. It slides onto the street and makes its way through the changing downtown cityscape: bright lights, darkened blocks, the encampments of Skid Row. It's comforting that the doors lock automatically once the car is underway. The Sonic is easy to drive. Nimble. Fun. Unpretentious. What you want in the naked city at night.
LITTLE TOKYO, NIGHT
Another parking lot, not as congested as the first one. The passengers exit. The Sonic rests, awaiting its next action sequence.
Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @6,583 miles
March 14, 2012
As a freeway companion for a long drive, our Sonic is pretty agreeable. The ride is comfortable for a short-wheelbase car. Overall wind and road noise seem below average. (Incidental note: check out in the photo how the tall gearing keeps engine to just 2,000 rpm at 70 mph in sixth gear.) There's lots of storage space for your stuff. The six-speaker sound system isn't a $6,300 Bang and Olufsen, but it certainly gets the job done.
As for seating, I can't seem to really find a driving position I really like in this car (even though there's telescoping steering wheel and height-adjustable seat), so I'm not really as comfortable as I'd prefer for a long drive. But that's pretty minor. Overall I think our Sonic works pretty well for long drives.
Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 4,570 miles
March 02, 2012
Although most readers of this site know that the Sonic was largely a project of GM's Korean operations, to the casual observer, the site of Hankook tires on a Chevrolet might be a bit alarming.
No need to worry, though, as this Chevy rides just fine without a set of Goodyears connecting it to the road. In fact, the Sonic is one of the best riding Chevrolet vehicles I've driven in years.
Obviously, not all of the credit can go to the tires, but they're a big part of the overall equation. Road and tire noise is moderate and the grip levels seem well suited to this hatchback. No need to fear the Optimos.
Ed Hellwig, Editor, Edmunds.com
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 06, 2012
Some things don't need to be "improved." I submit the above. Thoughts?
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.