You are probably familiar with the old saying that “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
Maybe you haven’t heard this one, though.
“Don’t be over self-confident with your first impression of people.”
According to a website I ran across, that is an old Chinese saying. But I’m not really sure about it because I have yet to run across that or anything like it in a fortune cookie. Still, if it’s on the Internet, it must be true, right?
What am I getting at here?
Simply this: Don’t let your first impression of a new car be your last.
For instance, when I looked at the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic sitting in my driveway, I resigned myself to a week of the kind of drive and ride that would be dear to a Sierra Club member’s heart but also be boring and pedestrian.
Turns out I was wrong.
Equipped with a manual transmission and a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine, the Sonic gave me unexpected fun behind the wheel.
No, there wasn’t neck-snapping acceleration or sports car-like maneuverability on tight turns, but it’s stay with me was far from a dull seven days.
Considering the past failures of many automakers, especially domestic manufacturers, to produce subcompacts with a little life and fun in them, the Sonic is a triumph. (No pun intended for those of you who may be fans of old British roadsters from the 1950s and early ’60s.)
I hasten to add there that I had the turbo version, which is available in the LT and LTZ trims and boosts torque to 148 pound-feet, or 23 more than you’ll get in the 1.8 I-4 normally aspirated engine that comes in the base LS.
Though both engines are rated at 138 horsepower, that extra torque in such a small vehicle does make a difference in throttle response from a dead stop.
The top-of-the-line LTZ with the optional turbo engine is going to cost a bit more -- the LTZ hatchback starts at just over $18,000, the sedan at just over $17,000 with both about $3,000 more than the base LS -- but I think it’s worth it. I can think of nothing duller in driving experience than a non-turbo four-banger with a six-speed automatic transmission.
The fuel economy also is better in the turbo, which is rated at 29 mpg city, 40 highway to the 26/24 stick, 25/35 manual in the non-turbo. At today’s gas prices, it isn’t going to take you as long to make up for that extra money you’ll have to put down upfront for the turbo.
Going beyond the engine, the Sonic’s styling fits in with most of its competition. This particular genre is not something that particularly appeals to me, but then I’m not the generation Chevy is aiming at with this car. Long past it, in fact.
It goes have a couple of features that I found interesting. The way the rear door handles are molded into the rear pillar makes for a smooth, virtually uninterrupted flow from on the sides from front fenders to rear, and interior controls on the center stack are uncomplicated and easy to operate.
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I have found that some manufacturers, in an apparent appeal to the potential Gen-X and Gen-Y buyers, like to make the radio operate on miniature buttons to do things like change a radio station manually or switch from AM to FM. I didn’t know the younger generation was growing up with such tiny fingers. Pity those in cold climes who have to wear winter gloves.
You will notice from the picture, too, the knobs near the bottom of the stack for operating the A/C. Pure genius in simplicity!
The front seat is roomy and comfortable enough, and backseat passengers get decent legroom as well. Lower that backseat and cargo space in the hatchback jumps from 19.7 cubic feet to 30.7, which isn’t as much as some of its competitors offer but still isn’t bad. Trunk space in the sedan, on the other hand, is 14 cubic feet, which is pretty close to what you get in the larger Chevy Cruze sedan.
Bottom line: The Sonic isn’t something that is going to appeal to a lot of buyers, but for those shopping in the subcompact segment, it’s a big improvement over past efforts from Chevy. And many others, for that matter.