Let’s get it out of the way that, as much as Chevrolet would love to target a car like the Aveo at someone like me, I chose long ago to never own anything in this category of cars. And yet, I found myself at the GCC launch event for the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic anyway, lured in by the promise of a free overnight stay at the Atlantis hotel in Dubai.
General Motors held the entire media shindig in the massive Atlantis parking lot, with several mini-events designed to highlight the various features of the car.
Available in sedan and hatchback forms, our first walk-around of the sub-compact Sonic revealed a car built well enough, as we’ve come to expect from the Koreans. Indeed, the Sonic is built in Korea as a replacement for the Aveo, and GM says they’re positioning it as a rival for the Toyota Yaris, the Hyundai Accent and the Ford Fiesta.
In keeping with the budget theme, the interior is made up fully of hard plastics, with a cardboard-like headliner, and no upholstery on the doors whatsoever. So in terms of cabin materials only, the Sonic falls at the bottom of this class, but the soild-feeling plastics are textured so nicely that we doubt consumers would care. They’d care more about the superb cabin space though, which is among the best in its class, if not the best.
Out of the six mini-events, four of them were complete fluff. One event was to drive and park a car wearing vision-distorting goggles while listening to a team-mate’s instructions over the Bluetooth. Another involved hitting a big bouncy football with the car into some goal-posts. Yet another was some team thing involving glasses of water on the roof and boxes in the boot. There was also a part where a team had to get together and spray-paint designs all over a car in the hot sun, by which point I was just sitting it out and watching the other journalists getting over-excited over nothing.
But then, right after a brief autocross session ended with everyone else’s jaws dropping as they watched one journalist’s handbrake-induced “amazing drifting” skills, I managed to get some useful drive-time. Chevy’s handlers had conveniently left the cars for the autocross course unattended, with permission to play with them if anyone chose to.
And play I did. Doing multiple hard-acceleration laps of the tight cone-laden autocross course, the Sonic proved to be a good handler, going wide with understeer likely due to the skinny tyres. Body roll isn’t very obvious and the turning circle is tight, although the lazy steering needs to be winded way too much to make speedy 90-degree turns. The non-ABS brakes on the base model seemed pretty decent under hard use too, although the decent a/c started losing steam when the car was worked too hard, obviously.
The most interesting activity of the day turned out to be the “Sonic Hunt,” where we finally got to take the cars onto public roads, albeit still restricted to the outer fringe of the Palm. I and a team-mate were required to hunt for specific “clues” on the Palm and take photos of them. I did the driving over the slippery brick roads and through small roundabouts, which the Sonic handled rather easily without any untoward tyre-slipping like we experience with larger powerful cars on these pretty-yet-unsafe surfaces. As far as we could remember, the ride comfort was nothing to complain about either.
Power was on par for the class, the 115 hp 1.6-litre motor expectedly strung out on hard acceleration, but the standard 6-speed automatic digs up enough juice to overtake snail-paced trucks on the Palm. There is manual-shifting capability involving a thumb-button on the gear-lever, which it holds gears too. In the end, we finished the “hunt” first in our group, although there were no prizes for that.
The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic is a competent entry in this field in terms of design and driveability. The Ford Fiesta has better interior materials, the Hyundai Accent looks better, and the Toyota Yaris is a Toyota Yaris. But the Ford lacks space and power, the Hyundai lacks features, and the Toyota Yaris is a Toyota Yaris. With a starting price of Dhs 43,000 in the UAE, the Sonic has a real chance here.