Wheels

Road test: Chevrolet Sonic 1.3 diesel

By: SERGIO DAVIDS 2012-04-26 12:55
Chevrolet’s Aveo, a product of its then subsidiary Daewoo, was/is the embodiment of a rental car; a cheap, adequate and sadly forgettable city runabout. Despite its shortcomings, the Aveo is well established and even earned itself a makeover back in 2009.

In 2011, however, the newly invigorated Chevrolet decided to revamp the ageing Aveo as a new model, ready to take on its Korean and US competitors. At first glance the Sonic might seem like an Aveo with a body kit but spend some time behind the wheel and you’ll find there’s much more to this hatchback than meets the eye.
 
My first impressions of the Sonic back in 2011 changed from “Hmm… not bad”, to “I could see myself owning this” after a week behind the wheel of the 1.3 diesel.

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In terms of design, the Sonic has possibly the best-looking fascia I’ve seen on a Chevy in some time, excluding the current Camaro of course. It’s assertive, radical and a welcome change from the Aveo. The oversized fog lights compliment the projector-style headlights, though I’m not a fan of the recessed exposed housing.

The rear seems to be an afterthought with minimal changes, save for the new tail lights. Overall it does an excellent job of making the Sonic look like a sporty hatch, provided drivers are looking through their rear-view mirror.
 
But how does it drive?

The 1.3-litre produces 70kW at 4000rpm and 210Nm from 1750-2500rpm and is mated to a six-speed manual. It’s quite an achievement for Chev to deliver such outstanding figures on such a relatively small engine. Fuel consumption is rated at 4.6 litres/100km; I managed 5-litres/100km. Overall, compared to the Aveo, its superb; compared to its modern rivals you’ll still rate the Sonic a pleasurable experience.
 
The stiff chassis and well-tuned suspension enables the Sonic to handle corners admirably while steering is fairly responsive. The Sonic is well balanced and while you’re not exactly going to be grinning behind the wheel, the drive is excellent and well suited for a daily runabout. The Sonic packs a solid driving experience into its hatchback frame.
 
INSIDE THE SONIC

The Sonic has a few minor interior shortcomings, most notably the coarse materials used throughout. The fascia is an expanse of grey-on-black plastics though admittedly I wasn’t expecting anything different from Chevrolet having been in the dull confines of the Cruze for a few months. To be fair, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a vehicle in this segment, with the exception of the Ford Fiesta, with an interior that isn’t made of bland materials.

To its credit the Sonic has an interior that, despite borrowing elements from its Spark and Cruze siblings, comes into its own with a funky design.
 
The overall design is eye-catching; I even warmed to the industrial interior theme. The accommodating cabin makes it one of the most “liveable” options in its class. It’s not exactly as high-end or striking as Ford’s Fiesta but it makes up for it in interior space as I always found the Fiesta to be little snug for rear passengers.
 
And then there’s the price…

For all its fun-to-drive qualities, features and interior space and the Sonic carries a steep price tag of R181 700. Given a R20 000 deposit, R20 000 trade-in and interest rate at 8%, you’re probably looking at monthly repayments just shy of R3000 with a total repayment of around R191000.

If money is an issue (when is it not?) you could opt for the 1.4 LS at R159 900. It’s not nearly as much fun to drive as the 1.3 but has all trimmings of the diesel with a saving of just under R22 000.
 
From Korea (Hyundai i20 and Accent) to Japan (Toyota Yaris) and even its US counterparts (Ford Figo and Fiesta), the Sonic has no shortage of rivals in SA and each with a well establish following.
 
That’s a tall order for any model not the least of which one that’s had a cheap rental car image to build on. The Sonic, despite its great looks and performance, is not as feature-packed as it’s US or Japanese rivals nor as striking as its Korean counterparts. That said, it’s not as dull as the Figo or as tedious to drive as a Yaris and is on par in terms of value with an i20 or Kia Rio.
 
In the hotly contested B-segment, it all comes down to value for money and brand loyalty. There’s no denying Chevrolet’s revival has earned itself a huge following… case in point the Cruze and Spark.
 
What Chevrolet has done dismisses any misgiving of “cheapness” or tedium that used to be associated with the Aveo. The Chevrolet Sonic is well-suited for drivers who want a large hatch that offers good fuel economy without compromising on performance or handling.

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