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Web Exclusive - 2012 Sonic LTZ Turbo

GM finally nails the small car, big fun segment

Justin Cesler Feb 14, 2012
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How am I even supposed to start this thing? It's a 1.4-liter turbocharged Sonic. There, that feels better. Yeah, you know, that new small car from GM that makes less than 150 lb-ft of torque and just over 130 flywheel horsepower. Uh huh, the same kind of car that you usually get from a rental company at the airport; that's the Sonic we're talking about. The entire engine displaces less air than a typical bolt-on supercharger system and it doesn't even make enough torque to properly tighten an LS1 crank bolt. It's tiny, it's slightly feminine and it sounds like an electric sewing machine covered in Dynamat. It should, by all accounts, be a terrible car, especially because GM made it and not someone with small car skills like Honda or Toyota.

But here's the thing about the all-new Sonic... this car doesn't suck. In fact, it is probably one of the best new cars of the year and, dare I say, a real blast to drive. We've had this one for a little over a week and despite the constant ribbing from our muscle loving co-workers, we've enjoyed almost every minute of driving it. Is it a Corvette? No, of course not, but it's not supposed to be. This is a fun commuter that sips (40+ MPG) 87-octane gas, bobs and weaves through traffic as if it were a go-kart and looks damn good doing it. At a little over 2,600-lbs, the Sonic feels nimble, quick and responsive, which is more than we can say for many of the larger GM products currently out on the market. In short, this is a turbocharged blast -- nothing that's going to set a land speed record -- but something that will make your ride to work a lot more fun.

Let's talk specs. Under the hood, the only engine we would recommend is the turbocharged 1.4-liter ECOTEC, so we're not even going to bother to tell you about the 1.8-liter naturally aspirated slug -- erm, version -- that GM also offers. For 700-additional smackaroos you get the turbo ECOTEC, the only turbocharged motor available from any manufacturer in this class, which GM rates at 138-hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. While not earth shattering numbers, that's enough power to get the Sonic moving from 0-to-60 in 8.2-seconds, although it certainly feels much quicker than that out on the road, thanks to peak torque -- all 148 lb-ft -- coming in at 1850 RPM and staying that way until just above 5-grand. Yeah, it's flat and you can feel it every time you tip into the throttle.

Along with the turbocharger, the 700-dollar upgrade also buys you a 6-speed manual transmission (as opposed to the standard automatic or 5-speed box found in the 1.8-liter models) and we found nothing to complain about in the cog-swapping department. Let's say the stock shifter had a better feel than an '04-06 GTO but worse than a late model Corvette, nothing to complain about really but a short-throw aftermarket unit would be welcome. The clutch was nice and easy, as you would expect, but quick enough to chirp the tires into 2nd or 3rd if you so desired. Leave it in 6th gear and you're in gas mileage mode, sipping down almost none of the pricey stuff to the tune of 40-plus miles per gallon. Drivetrain aside, all of the usual "GM small car" issues seem to have been fixed and the interior is -- wait for it -- actually quite accommodating. We're not talking rental car nice, we mean legitimately comfortable and rather aesthetically pleasing, which is somewhat rare for GM but almost unheard of in this segment. Compared to other cars in the same class, we felt like the Sonic was a step ahead, borrowing interior details from higher end models and coming to the table with a clean, exciting style that really suits the attitude of the car. Then there is the gauge cluster. Obviously inspired by the rowdy sport bike crowd, the instrument cluster of the Sonic is most assuredly radical but this isn't a novelty piece of design -- oh no, the instrument cluster flat out works -- and it just so happens to look great doing it. The LCD display is bright and everything appears to be exactly where you would need it, which is to say the Tach is easy to read, the speedo is quick to update and the additional info is easy to spot on the fly.

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Now, we know we're not going to win you over a little story on the internet and you may still be thinking that there is a guy from GM holding us at gunpoint to write nice things about the new Sonic, but I assure you, this is a sporty little car that you're probably going to enjoy if you go out and drive one. Simple as that, try it out, bang it around some turns, feel the little turbo motor do some work and most of all, enjoy yourself. It's possible to have fun in a sub 200-hp car if the rest of the vehicle is well thought out and lightweight, which is exactly what the Sonic brings to the table. Oh, and did we mention that you can own a brand spankin' new turbo Sonic in any awesome color you like for less then 19-grand out the door? Yeah, that's something to think about...



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