2012 Chevrolet Sonic Expert Review

3.9 Overall Score
Performance 3.9 Comfort 3.7 Styling 3.7 Value 3.6

Editor's Overview

New for 2012, the Chevrolet Sonic has popped on the scene as a solid all-rounder that is fun, quiet and stylish without pushing the extremes of those descriptions. Competent, capable and built in America, the Sonic happily eclipses the underwhelming Chevy Aveo that preceded it.

You'll Like The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic If...

In sedan or 5-door hatchback configuration, the 2012 Chevy Sonic is the quietest and most composed subcompact car you can buy. Combined with more conventional styling than some of its key competitors, the Sonic is destined to become a mass-market favorite.

You May Not Like The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic If...

The 2012 Chevy Sonic isn't the smallest car in the category, but it's not as accommodating or flexible as the 2012 Honda Fit. Nor is the interior as polished as the 2012 Hyundai Accent's. And while it proves impressively athletic when pushed, it doesn't encourage that sort of behavior as much as the 2012 Ford Fiesta.

What's New

The Chevy Aveo had grown so uncompetitive and unloved enough that when it came time for a new generation, Chevy changed everything including the name. With the arrival of the radically improved 2012 Chevy Sonic, the short list of subcompact cars worth considering is now one car longer.

Interior Features

Like the outside, the inside of the 2012 Chevy Sonic is a mix of conservative design with a touch of 2-wheeler inspiration manifested in the form of a compact gauge cluster with a digital speedometer. Like many of the newer subcompact cars, a key highlight of the Sonic interior is simply the dearth of weak spots common to the category's cabins only a few years ago. Worth noting are that the cupholders are good but awkwardly placed too rearward between the front seats, the backseat is one of the category's roomiest, and the 2-glovebox layout is especially nice for those who use a dedicated digital music player (the USB port is located in the smaller top box).

Exterior Features

The motorcycle-inspired headlights notwithstanding, the 2012 Chevy Sonic is among the more traditionally styled subcompact cars in the segment. While it won't generate as much excitement as the crisper styling of the Ford Fiesta or Hyundai Accent, the flip side is that it won't push as many people away. One fun detail to check out: On the 5-door hatchback model, Chevy's designers "hid" the rear door handle in the black area of the C-pillar, in an effort to give the car a little bit of a 2-door look at first glance. Also, we love that even the base Chevy Sonic includes alloy wheels, as opposed to the covered steel wheels more common on base trims in the category.

Driving Impressions

Around town and on the highway, the 2012 Chevy Sonic sets a new standard for subcompact driving refinement. The category as a whole has gotten less skittish and less buzzy in recent years, but the new Sonic ups the ante considerably and drives like a bigger, pricier car than any of its competitors. It's not perfect, though. The up-level turbocharged engine available on LT and LZ models offers excellent fuel economy but suffers from the same quirky power delivery that hurt the Sonic's Chevy Cruze big brother in our most recent compact sedan comparison test. And until spring 2012, the turbocharged engine is only available with a 6-speed manual transmission – a combination that magnifies the engine's idiosyncrasies. Fortunately, the base-level 1.8-liter engine costs less, is available with the 6-speed automatic transmission right out of the gate, and delivers – in some ways – a better driving experience. It may be down on power, refinement and efficiency compared to the turbo option, but it's still one of the category's most powerful engines. One of the front-wheel-drive Sonic's best tricks is how it manages to deliver both segment-leading highway manners with impressive road-holding abilities. It's not stretching the leash to charge a canyon road, but you might be impressed by the grip and stability it delivers if that's what you want to do. We were.

Pricing Notes

A 2012 Chevy Sonic Sedan LS starts at a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $14,495 including destination. The Sonic 5-door commands an additional $900 – but nets a rear-window wiper – with a starting sticker of $15,395. Loaded, a 2012 Sonic can top $20,000. Overall, the Sonic is priced in line with its key competitors on a feature-to-feature basis. Before heading down to your Chevy dealer, be sure to check our Fair Purchase Price, which reflects what others are currently paying. As for resale value, we expect the 2012 Chevy Sonic to perform better than its Aveo predecessor, but not as well as some of its more proven subcompact competitors.

Notable Equipment

In sedan or 5-door hatchback form, a 2012 Chevy Sonic LS includes a 1.8-liter engine, 5-speed manual transmission, 15-inch aluminum wheels, air conditioning, 4-speaker AM/FM/Aux sound system and OnStar with a 6-month subscription that includes convenient turn-by-turn navigation. You might notice power windows and mirrors are missing from the list - Chevy's omission, not ours (but not unusual for base-level subcompacts). A full range of standard safety equipment includes 10 airbags.

Notable Options

A fully loaded 2012 Chevy Sonic includes the 1.4-liter turbocharged engine matched with a 6-speed manual transmission (a 6-speed automatic is coming for spring 2012), leatherette seats, heated front seats, moonroof, cruise control, AM/FM/CD/MP3/USB/Aux/Bluetooth audio 6-speaker sound system, steering-wheel audio/phone controls and 17-inch wheels.

Favorite Features

Digital Speedometer

We like traditional tachometers – the needle helps you time shifts and more quickly conveys the relative speed of the engine - but when it comes to tracking vehicle speed, two digits is better.

Bluetooth Audio

If your phone and digital music player are one, and you take more short trips than long drives, you'll appreciate the ability to play your music without having to constantly plug and unplug your phone.

Under the Hood

The bad news is that the more powerful, more fuel-efficient turbocharged engine won't be available with an automatic transmission until spring 2012. The good news is that the base 1.8-liter engine is a viable option with more linear power delivery. In fact, the pricier turbocharged engine's key strength isn't the added torque but the 5-mpg advantage in highway fuel economy. We haven't yet tested the 5-speed manual, but we were impressed by both the 6-speed automatic and 6-speed manual transmissions.

1.8-liter in-line 4-cylinder

138 horsepower @ 6,300 rpm

125 lb-ft of torque @ 3,800 rpm

EPA city/highway fuel economy: 26/35 (5-speed manual), 25/35 (6-speed automatic)

1.4-liter turbocharged in-line 4-cylinder

138 horsepower @ 4,900 rpm

148 lb-ft of torque @ 2,500 rpm

EPA city/highway fuel economy: 29/40 (6-speed manual only until spring 2012)

Editors' Notes

Some buyers will be drawn to the all-new 2012 Chevrolet Sonic because it's the only subcompact built in the U.S. Far more will be won over by the fact that it's the most well-rounded driver in the segment. As the bow-tie brand's newest answer to subcompact sedans and 5-door hatchbacks like the Honda Fit and Ford Fiesta, the Chevy Sonic comes into the world facing stiff competition. And if you're looking for standout styling or go-git-'em driving feel, you can indeed do better than the Sonic. But if you like the idea of an entry-level subcompact that drives more like a comfortable compact car, consider the Sonic an early favorite in your quest for affordable and efficient wheels.

Road Test Video Reviews

2012 Chevrolet Sonic Owner Reviews

182 Reviews
41% 37% 20% 2% 1%
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Love the handling and size, but had some issues internally.

Overall this car has been average. I have had several issues including different types of leaks from the coolant to the oil. The hose that attached to the coolant was cracked. I also had something happen to the intake sensor. This caused weird vibrations and shaking with the car. Sometimes when locking the car it wont beep so I have to open the car door and close it again to make sure it beeps. Also, the automatic shift knob broke and now the little plastic piece comes off and it wont click. . But regardless of these issues that I ended up getting taken care of, I personally like the car. It is easy to handle and maneuver. I love how small the car is and I can park it anywhere I need which is amazing when living in the city. . I like all of the little compartments in the car because even though it's a small car I can fit a lot of things. I have taken this car to music festivals, camping trips, road trips, and it has been able to fit all of the gear and luggage just fine. I have a bike that I travel with sometimes. I don't have a car rack for it so I put it in the car. When the seats are put down it fits great. . The stereo bluetooth is great. Though the stereo sound quality could be better it gets the job done. . I also really like that the handles on the back doors are in a unique place. The back seats are not too small of a space for passengers. Overall, I rate this car average on a scale because it has had some issues mechanically but otherwise, the handling and size fits my lifestyle. It can be fun to drive which is a plus:).

- Corinne T

What's a Sonic?! And why I love it!

I bought my sonic preowned from a Chevrolet dealership. I had never heard of a Sonic before. I was kind of off put by the vehicle at first but after taking it for a test drive I decided to purchase. My car has been through a house fire and was rear ended and totaled two years after purchasing. I bought back the car because it still was running and was only at 75,000 miles. The transmission was recalled by the dealership and taken care of. I keep up maintenance on my oil. The car has had very few problems, it recently needed a new starter and control arms. I have a issue where the automatic shifter won't give me my key when I turn of the vehicle unless I shake it. Overall the Sonic has been a wonderful car and I love it. It is getting to small for my family but I absolutely love it and would recommend it to anyone. it gets amazing gas mileage and has been a dependable vehicle.

- Michelle S

The good, the bad and the ugly of owning a sonic.

The sonic has eaten tires. We have replaced the tires 5x in 170, 000 miles. The clutch was replaced. The turbo sensors are constantly needing attention. The air intake cover had to be replaced also. Other than that I love it. I love the fuel economy, the small size and ease of use. It is hard to get manuals serviced since the parts are not readily available. This is a Chevrolet problem since they do not stock them. So if you need something replaced and do not get serviced by the dealership, expect to wait. I love the hatch back also. It is very roomy for hauling things. We have an antique stall and haul things in the sonic all the time. And get 37 miles to the gallon consistently. I do not like the redesigned sonic and will most likely not buy it again.

- Ruth V

2012 Chevy Sonic. A very fun little car to drive.

I have a 6 speed manual transmission. The transmission shifts very smoothly. It gets amazing gas mileage and never feels underpowered, even when running the air conditioner. . I love the orange color. The interior is very comfortable and the controls are well placed for the driver. Because of the light weight, sometimes driving in the snow can be a challenge. I have found that turning the traction control off helps immensely in situations that I may otherwise have gotten stuck in. The back seat is roomy enough for 2 adult passengers to sit comfortably in back. The hatchback is easy to use and provides plenty of storage space. The hatchback cover does a good job with hiding what is in the back of my car. I would definitely buy this car again.

- Leah L

Our getaway car: it is very spacious with enough room for traveling.

Love the sonic it is very comfortable, easy to get in an out of. Comfortable seating and adjustable seating. Air and heat works great! Heats and cools quickly. Trunk opens from the inside. Spacious trunk. We have never had problems with the sonic. Regular oil changes and air filters. Great gas mileage according to my husband. He bought the car with me in mind. We like to take time to get away when we can and it's a wonder! You don't really realize the car as it is smooth sailing. On the interstate or highway. It handles quick changes if necessary even in town. It's the best car we have ever owned and definitely consider buying another one next time.

- Candace D

Why I went from a popular foreign car to a Chevy Sonic.

My Chevy Sonic has very good handling and drives like a sports car. It is very compact, great on gas, but still has room in the hatchback area for storage. This particular model has 11 airbags and the frame is designed as a tubular roll cage and is extremely safe for a compact car. The dash display is all digital and lets you chose various options, such as average speed to how many miles you can expect to drive based on how much gas you have left, which is the feature that I use the most. It also has a digital media reader in the glove compartment for mp3s, and can be used with OnStar and or Sirius.

- Mica D

Oh the look on people's faces when they try to open the back door.

I love my Sonic!! It has been a very reliable car for many years now. I've traveled across the US and back in my Sonic twice and it still runs like a dream with excellent gas mileage and a very low maintenance cost all in all. I've had to replace the stick shift button as the original was poorly manufactured but the replacement part was made better and was very low cost. The only complaint I've ever had about my Sonic was that the all around airbags really limit visibility at times for a car that has so many safety features I feel this was sorely overlooked in the design.

- Sandra S

The size is definitely my favorite thing about my car. I can fit it anywhere.

Although the Chevy sonic 2012 looks small, it is very spacious both in the front and in the back. My car is smooth to drive and rarely has any problems. The only issue it has had in the two years that I've had the Chevy sonic is that the drivers side axle has broken twice. We don't know why since it has been replaced and I don't drive long distances or strain the car in any way. The Chevy sonic is very good on gas, I fill up my tank once every two weeks for about twenty five dollars, depending on the cost of the gas at the moment it can even be lower.

- Maria R

It's great on gas, but its not meant to be fast. So if you want a fast car.

With my sonic for a while there I was having problems with my car tire air pressure. My light was always coming on and I was filling them three times a week. I had to take it to the dealership to get the light turned off. Apparently it was just a faulty light. The performance of the car is at about a 4. It's not very fast but it's something that I need. Its reliable and great on gas. I also love how little and comfy it is. I can usually park wherever I want. It pretty much is an all around great car. It gets me from point A to point B.

- Nicole F

The silver surfer is a economic save

The car is too small there has been several issues with the engine as well as the oil pan has leaked. When it is very windy the car tends to sway because it is very light weight. Because the car is very lightweight it also gets stuck in the snow often even though it has four-wheel-drive. On the plus side the car is very compact making it easy to park in small spaces as well and not taking up much room in my driveway and garage. It is a great starter car for teens And is very dependable beyond the negative aspects.

- Jasmine J

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