2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ automatic
2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ automatic. Click image to enlarge

First Drive: 2012 Chevrolet Sonic
Test Drive: 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ hatchback
Test Drive: 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ sedan

Manufacturer’s web site
Chevrolet Canada

Review and photos by Greg Wilson

Photo Gallery:
2012 Chevrolet Sonic

When it was introduced last October, the top-of-the-line Chevrolet Sonic LTZ hatchback with the turbocharged 1.4L four-cylinder engine was only available with a six-speed manual transmission. Then, mid-way through the model year (March, 2012), GM began offering an optional six-speed automatic as well—the same Hydra-Matic 6T-40 automatic transmission already available in the Sonic LS and LT models powered by the normally aspirated 1.8L four-cylinder engine.

In our first test drive of the Sonic LTZ last year, we didn’t like the manual transmission’s tall gearing and perhaps that’s one reason why more than 80 percent of Sonics built to date at GM’s Orion Township assembly plant in Michigan have been built with automatic transmissions. A more likely reason is that the majority of buyers in North America, even in the entry-level subcompact class, now prefer automatic transmissions.

2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ automatic
2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ automatic
2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ automatic. Click image to enlarge

The increasing popularity of automatics is due in part to their evolving sophistication, particularly those paired with smaller engines. In the past, choosing an automatic transmission in a small car meant sacrificing straight-line performance, but that has changed: according to independent tests by AMCI, the 2012 Sonic’s 0 to 96 km/h time with the automatic is only 0.2 seconds slower than with the manual (8.0 sec vs 7.8 sec), and the Sonic LTZ is faster than a comparable Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, or Hyundai Accent.

And while fuel consumption has traditionally been thirstier with an automatic transmission, a Sonic LTZ equipped with the automatic is only slightly less fuel efficient than a Sonic with the manual, averaging 6.7 L/100 km vs 6.3 L/100 km (Natural Resources Canada figures). By the way, the turbo engine uses regular grade gasoline.

Just so you know, the Sonic 1.4 turbo automatic is more fuel efficient than the Sonic 1.8 automatic, which averages 7.1 L/100 km.

Still, reality bites: my onboard fuel consumption display was showing an average of 8.5 L/100 km after 1,553 km on the odometer of this press car. A lot depends on how hard you drive it.

Perhaps the most important characteristic of an automatic transmission is the way it shifts. The Sonic’s automatic transmission gear ratios are nicely spread out with low first and second gears providing prompt off-the-line response despite a momentary turbo lag, surprisingly smooth gear changes under hard acceleration through 3rd, 4th, and 5th, and a top gear ratio that provides low engine revs at freeway speeds (2,000 rpm at 100 km/h in 6th gear) and good highway fuel economy (6.7 L/100 km).

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