Wrap-Up - 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Long-Term Road Test

2012 Chevrolet Sonic Long-Term Road Test

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2012 Chevrolet Sonic: Wrap-Up

February 12, 2013

Read the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic introduction to our long-term fleet.

See all of the 2012 Chevy Sonic long-term updates.

What We Got
The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic was on our radar as soon as GM announced it as the successor to the compact Aveo. This was an important car for Chevy in a growing segment. It wasn't a question of would we get one, but which trim level.

Standard equipment on the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic was a 138-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. Also standard was a five-speed manual transmission, but that's not a very desirable combination so we went with some options.

We passed over the base LS and midgrade LT trims in favor of the top-tier LTZ. A 1.4-liter turbocharged inline-4 is optional in the LT and LTZ trims, and it was our preferred choice. The engine generates the same 138 hp but torque is up to 148 pound-feet. It's available with a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearbox. We chose the manual to get the most fun out of the turbocharged engine. We also went with the more utilitarian hatchback over the standard four-door sedan.

Our 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ included leatherette upholstery, 17-inch wheels, heated seats, steering-wheel-mounted controls and prewired connectivity for Bluetooth and iPod. After negotiation, we purchased our Sonic at the invoice price of $18,018. It was time to hit the road.

Our Chevy Sonic Impressions

  • "The Sonic LTZ isn't a hot hatch, but 'warm hatch' probably isn't too far off the mark. The steering has pretty good feel to it, and there's respectable grip from the Hankook 205/50R17 tires. It reminded me a little of our old GTI long-termer, actually. The suspension is compliant in that long-travel sort of way, but you can press on in the Sonic up to a certain point and still enjoy yourself.... The turbocharged 1.4-liter engine and manual transmission are a big draw as well. Together, they make the Sonic feel pretty lively as I powered out of corners. It does make me wonder how a regular Sonic with the normally aspirated engine, automatic transmission and non-LTZ wheels and tires would be. You know, the Sonic a lot of people will probably buy." — Brent Romans

  • "Alas, when you're running the A/C, it exaggerates the one thing I don't like about this car: its pokiness off the line.... It's annoying, but it doesn't ruin the driving experience for me.... I like the clutch take-up 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

  • "Our Sonic's throttle calibration is going to result in premature clutch wear.... When you engage the clutch from a standstill in any manual gearbox-equipped car, you feed in the throttle at a rate you think will both a) avoid a nasty bog/stumble, and b) not excessively slip the clutch. After years of driving manual gearboxes, you have a keenly honed sense for this balancing act.... The problem arises when the car attempts to execute this balancing act at the exact same time you are doing it.... The resulting fight between the driver and the Sonic's smarty-pants electronic throttle results in way too much throttle being applied while you're still letting the clutch in.... the process just bootstraps itself into frantic, runaway clutch-slipping stupidity." — Jason Kavanagh

  • "Last night, 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." — James Riswick

  • "Despite its small size, the Sonic 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... and then there's the gauge cluster. Love it. It's small, cool-looking yet very readable, with a design that simultaneously emphasizes the tach and speedo in two different prominent ways. Compact and well-placed, I find it very easy to gather the information I require in a quick glance. It's everything Toyota's center-mount Prius gauge layout is not." — Dan Edmunds

  • "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." — Erin Riches

  • "You know that solid door thunk that we're 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." — Dan Frio

  • "...Remove the 'rough shifts' part of that and you have the Chevy Sonic. It cuts off the first second to half-second of every song when played through an iPod/USB device. It's maddening, especially on albums where one song's end is the next song's intro.... Please stop doing this. Thanks." — Mike Magrath

  • "At first glance, the hatch area at the back of our Sonic looks fairly standard. 60/40 fold-down seat? Check. Rigid tilt-up cargo cover? Check.... But it does have a couple of tricks up its sleeve.... The floor, you see, is also the lid of a hidden basement storage compartment that you can remove altogether to increase the total size of the storage space.... If you drop the floor into the basement and stow the security cover, the Sonic easily becomes the two-bag hatch Mags and the Riz were hoping for. There may even be enough extra room for a laptop bag or two, to boot. OK, it's no Honda Fit, which has no equal in this class when it comes to cargo flexibility or outright capacity, but the Sonic hatchback nevertheless offers some decent storage tricks of its own." — Dan Edmunds

  • "Notice how close the OnStar buttons are to the lever. When we first got the Sonic, I spent a long weekend with it.... I really enjoy driving it. It has a good ride, good shifter and good torque. During that time, I accidentally called OnStar four times. After the second incident, I learned to use the cancel function that comes up on the car's head unit. OnStar buttons on a manual day/night mirror... not a good combination." — Erin Riches

Maintenance & Repairs

Regular Maintenance:
Our Sonic LTZ was equipped with an oil life monitor, and the manual asked that we follow it. So at roughly 7,500-mile intervals we found ourselves at the dealer for fresh oil. Two visits occurred during our nearly 17,000-mile test, averaging an affordable $45 each.

Service Campaigns:
Open recalls and service campaigns kept our Sonic busy during its first year. There was a recall for missing brake pads, which did not apply to our vehicle. But other items did affect our car, including an issue with the airbag module insulator, windshield washer hose and fuel pipe quick disconnect. These were handled during normal service (http://www.edmunds.com/chevrolet/sonic/2012/long-term-road-test/2012-chevrolet-sonic-ltz-first-service.html) visits.

A few issues required special attention, and sometimes multiple trips to remedy. We had the driver window switch replaced after it stuck in the down position. Foul-smelling front seats led to their replacement about six months into our test. All repairs were paid under warranty. In fact, the only out-of-pocket expense incurred was $178 to replace a tire after an errant screw punctured it near the sidewall.

2012 Chevrolet Sonic Fuel Economy and Resale Value

Observed Fuel Economy:
The EPA prepared us for 20 mpg in the city, 40 mpg on the highway and a combined average of 33 mpg. Over the course of 16,977 miles we averaged 29 mpg in the Sonic. Our best single tank of 40 mpg was repeatable, however. And the range on that tank was more than 389 miles.

Resale and Depreciation:
One year ago we purchased a Sonic LTZ for $18,018. We didn't quite put 17,000 miles on the car before it was time to sell. Edmunds' TMV® Calculator valued our car at $14,393 based on a private-party sale.

As part of our usual pre-sale evaluation, we stopped at CarMax for an estimate. It returned a price of $13,000. That wasn't bad. We figured that we could not list it at $15,000 since that was too close to the price of a new car. And if we listed at $14,500 we'd probably end up at $13,500 after haggling. We decided this was too small a margin to justify the private-party sale and cashed out at CarMax.

Summing Up

Pros: Well-tuned suspension, eager motor once it gets going, able to return 40 mpg with a light foot, useful cargo area, plenty of room for tall drivers, simple interior controls.

Cons: Finicky clutch pedal, meager power at low engine speeds, seats aren't supportive enough for long drives.

Bottom Line: The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic is a solid, compact hatchback that delivers competent handling, impressive mileage and plenty of interior room for a reasonable price. It's competitive in its segment and deserves consideration if you're shopping for a well-rounded four-door that doesn't cost much to run.

Total Body Repair Costs: None
Total Routine Maintenance Costs: $89.68 (over 12 months)
Additional Maintenance Costs: $177.65
Warranty Repairs: Relocate airbag insulator, replace front seats, replace fuel pipe connector, attach windshield washer hose, replace driver window switch
Non-Warranty Repairs: Replace one damaged tire
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 2
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: 5
Days Out of Service: None
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: None
Best Fuel Economy: 40.2 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 21.8 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 29.0 mpg
True Market Value at service end: $14,393 (private-party sale)
What it Sold for: $13,000
Depreciation: $5,018 (28% of paid price)
Final Odometer Reading: 16,977 miles

Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.

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Past Long-Term Road Tests