It's finally happened.
Chevrolet's U.S. lineup finally has a solid, refined, competitive and, yes, even fun-to-drive subcompact.
It's called the Sonic, and Chevy is aiming the car at 20-somethings who are eyeing the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Nissan Versa and a few other budget-priced models.
Last week I had the opportunity to drive the 2012 Sonic for 100-plus miles in the San Francisco Bay area. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this car. The Sonic is not a cheap-feeling econobox.
The base model, the Sonic LS, carries a $14,495 sticker price that includes transportation, 10 airbags, air conditioning, power door locks, a hill-hold feature and other equipment. It's nicely equipped. A four-door sedan and a five-door hatchback are offered.
The LS was not available at the press event so my drives were behind the wheel of the Sonic LT, starting at $15,695, and LTZ, $17,295, plus options.
The Sonic was developed on General Motors' new global, subcompact, front-drive vehicle platform, and it replaces the Aveo in Chevy's U.S. model line. The "Aveo" name was discarded for the U.S. market but is still on models sold outside North America. The version of the Sonic for North America will be assembled in Orion Township, Mich.
Here are a few, quick observations:
Interior quiet: During a traffic light stop, I opened a window and was surprised to discover the loud clanking of a diesel engine. An old pickup was in the adjacent lane. With the windows closed, the engine's noise was nearly covered. Credit is given to thicker window and windshield glass than in the old Aveo, along with triple door seals in some places.
Highway noise: GM engineers did a very good job of keeping the passenger compartment quiet at high speeds, targeting road, engine and wind noise.
Stiffness: There's a solid feeling overall, something you would expect in a car costing $10,000 more.
Ride, handling: As I said earlier, it's fun-to-drive -- precise steering and little body roll.
Seats: I kept hearing, "These seats are very comfortable, lots of support" from other journalists.
Plenty of power: Under the hood is essentially the same engine family found in the Chevrolet Cruze. Understandably, the engines are more nimble in the Sonic, which is as much as 418 pounds lighter than a Cruze depending on engine and transmission.
Will the Sonic be a sales hit? It should be; it deserves to be. The price is right, and GM engineers focused on the right ingredients for success.