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2012 Chevy Sonic

Fun meets safety in an affordable, made-in-the-U.S. minicar

by Josh Rubin in Tech on 09 August 2011

Driving supercars is exhilarating and the stories of craftsmanship and engineering that goes into them are unparalleled. But some of the most impressive creativity and innovation behind car design can be found among other classes of autos as well. Chevy's Sonic, the latest contender in the small-car class, is an awesome affordable car with an anticipated five-star safety rating, made right here in the U.S. Eager to see another example of the Renaissance happening in Detroit, I visited GM last week to tour the design center, safety facilities, and of course, drive the Sonic. I was more than pleasantly surprised that the miniature domestic model achieves the dream of safety and sport with a sticker price of $14k.

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The Sonic comes in a four-door sedan as well as a five-door hatchback. Both models feature motorcycle-inspired headlamps, a high waistline and a low roofline. This slightly squat stance affords better handling, while a slight increase in width also makes for a roomier interior than typical small cars.

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While I had a chance to drive both models on GM's amazing proving grounds, it was the five-door LTZ with a 1.4L turbo engine and six-speed manual transmission that I enjoyed the most. "The little engine that could" was quite zippy, the steering responsive and the suspension firm but forgiving.

The real test was when three of us packed in the car with John M. Buttermore behind the wheel. Buttermore, the Sonic's lead engineer, is not only a second generation GM engineer, he's also a champion racecar driver. The Sonic breezed through big 90-mile-per-hour turns holding the road with little more than a quiet screech from the tires. Adding the weight of a full car of course slowed acceleration down a bit, but not nearly as much as expected. And the suspension quality didn't vary from when I was driving solo.

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Before starting the drive we had a chance to witness a crash test of the Sonic at GM's safety facility. The test was a 40 m.ph.. offset head-on collision, meaning the driver's side of the car slams hard and fast in to a massive concrete and steel block. It was over in what seemed like a second and upon inspection it seemed the driver's compartment remained intact, thanks to the car's reinforced steel frame and 10 airbags that not only protect the front and sides of the cabin, but also the knee area and headliner as well.

For something small, fun, cheap, safe and American, the Sonic is where it's at.

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