Limited cabin tech
If the Sonic does go off the road, it has OnStar at the ready, the familiar blue button on the rearview mirror frame. The OnStar hardware includes a GPS chip and data connection. But while an OnStar operator can detect if the car crashes or send it turn-by-turn directions to whatever destination the driver requests, Chevy does not take advantage of this data pipe into the car to offer in-dash weather forecasts, gas prices, or other useful information.
OnStar is the only navigation option available in the Sonic from the factory, as there is no option for onboard navigation. However, in the LTZ trim, a Bluetooth phone system comes standard. Although operated by voice command, the radio display shows some feedback from the phone system, such as the number dialed.
It was disappointing to find that the Bluetooth phone system did not make my paired phone's contact list available through voice command, because I certainly don't know any of the actual numbers. This system does have an option for creating voice tags for numbers, but that would require much more setup than the phone systems in the Ford Fiesta or Hyundai Elantra.
However, the Sonic LTZ turbo did include a USB port. And while I prefer to see these ports mounted in a car's console, making them accessible from the driver seat, Chevy included a convenient upper glove compartment very suitable for portable electronics. The USB port was in this upper hatch, and there was plenty of room for an iPod.
As there isn't an LCD in the dashboard, the monochrome radio display served for music selection from satellite radio, iPod, or USB drive. Using the menu knob on the right side of the radio controls, I found it easy to select categories on my iPod for album, artist, and genre. With a USB drive plugged into this system, the display only showed folders and files. Voice command offered only minimal control over the audio system.
Being the top trim of Chevy's least expensive car did not mean much of an audio system upgrade. Where a base Sonic only gets a four-speaker system, the LTZ turbo gets six speakers. The additional tweeters make for mediocre sound quality when compared with other offerings in the automotive world, and Chevy does not offer any optional premium system or subwoofer.
Music reproduction, while mostly adequate, was flat, with the more delicate tones buried among the more audacious sounds. Heavy bass did not rattle door panels, which shows the car's build quality, but neither was it inspiring. Trilling high notes were a lost cause, sounding distant if they came through at all.
The 2012 Chevy Sonic LTZ turbo proved very drivable, once I adapted to getting its small engine revved up appropriately. The six-speed transmission shifted easily and it delivered on its promised fuel economy. The ride quality felt well-engineered so as to deliver comfort without a lot of bouncing around.
The cabin features some clever design. I particularly liked the minimalism of the instrument cluster. Cabin tech doesn't seem to have been much of a priority for Chevy. Although it included the de rigueur Bluetooth phone system and USB port for music, youthful buyers will probably be attracted to the more robust music and phone systems in competitor's cars.
|Model||2012 Chevrolet Sonic|
|Power train||Turbocharged 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, 6-speed manual transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||29 mpg city/40 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||32.6 mpg|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single-CD|
|MP3 player support||iPhone integration|
|Other digital audio||USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio|
|Audio system||6-speaker system|
|Price as tested||$17,995|