Those planning to cart around friends should consider the hatchback for the additional rear headroom it offers. I'm 6 feet tall, and my scalp rubbed the sedan's ceiling. The hatchback provided about an inch of scalp relief. Backseat legroom is in short supply with the driver's seat positioned where I needed it. At least the seatback's cushioning is supple enough that I didn't mind resting my knees against the seat.
Unlike passenger dimensions, cargo room has grown in both the sedan and the hatchback. For a small car, the sedan's trunk is large -- 14 cubic feet, up from the Aveo's 12.4 cubic feet -- plus it features a standard 60/40-split folding backseat. The hatchback also stacks up larger than average, with 19 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat, up from 15.0 cubic feet in the Aveo. The 30.7 cubic feet you'll get with the seat folded isn't as large as the Accent or Versa hatchbacks, but it is more than the Fiesta offers.
Features and pricing
Chevrolet uses a similar pricing approach with the Sonic as it does the Cruze. The base model comes well-equipped at a higher price than some competitors, as opposed to a rock-bottom price that impresses at a glance but comes with few features.
The $13,735 starting price (not including a $760 destination fee) includes features uncommon in the segment, including a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver's seat, a driver's armrest, alloy wheels and hill-hold assist for manual versions. Air conditioning, power door locks and remote keyless entry are also standard.
The most-expensive LTZ trim level ($16,535 for the sedan) gains leatherette upholstery, heated front seats, a USB input for music players, Bluetooth, cruise control and steering-wheel audio controls. The faux leather would look much better without its perforations on the seat and back cushions; they make it look cheap compared with the optional leather interior on the Fiesta. The cloth seats are just as comfortable as the leatherette seats, but cloth can't be had on heated seats.
The available iPod integration includes Bluetooth streaming audio and functions very much like the stereo in the Cruze and other GM products. The Fiesta's optional Sync system has an edge in its voice commands, which make it easier to select songs from a large music collection.
The 2012 Sonic earns the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's highest accolade of Top Safety Pick, having earned the agency's best score, Good, in frontal, side, rear and roof-strength tests. As of this writing, the Sonic had not been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Ten airbags are standard, including front, side-impact and knee airbags for front occupants, plus side curtain airbags for front and rear passengers. Antilock brakes, stability and traction control are also standard.
Sonic in the market
Logical buyers looking strictly at the numbers may not find the base Sonic's high starting price and lackluster gas mileage attractive. The Sonic's aggressive styling and sporty driving experience appeal to shoppers who are more in tune with their emotional side, a rare strategy among cheap cars.
Based on driving experience and style, the Sonic works. Even its higher price is justifiable thanks to the numerous standard features. If Chevrolet managed to squeak out better gas mileage from base models, buyers' pesky logical voices would be easier to quiet.
Starting MSRP: $13,735--$18,495
MPGCity: 25 -- 26 Highway: 35
138-hp, 1.8-liter I-4 (regular gas)