Review and photos by Lesley Wimbush

It’s an oft-repeated phrase at most driving schools that it takes longer to unlearn a bad habit than it does to learn correctly in the first place.

2013 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ 5-door
2013 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ 5-door. Click image to enlarge

The same thing goes for impressions. Muck the first one up, and you’ll spend twice the effort trying to undo the damage.

Thus, the Chevrolet Sonic has a heavy row to hoe, erasing the dismal legacy left by GM’s previous subcompacts.

The Aveo/Wave/Swift can’t really be called “forgettable”, since it remains an experience that legions of owners, including some good friends of mine, won’t soon forget. The earlier 1.6L engines had a rather nasty tendency to consume timing belts before the 80K mark – as an “interference” engine, all its working parts must move in carefully timed sequence to avoid critical damage. At 70,000 km, a friend’s car had such catastrophic damage – we whistled in admiration after opening it up and seeing tangled valves, punctured pistons and metal fragments throughout the block. Really sweet, but totally not car-folk, they were inexplicably attached to their little hatchback and couldn’t be convinced to scrap, sink or unload it.

Fortunately, with a little ingenuity, we were able to replace the engine with a later version re-engineered to be a little hardier.

I’d recently driven Chevy’s smaller Spark, and was pleasantly surprised to conclude that it was a fairly decent little car – but overpriced. It’s been years since I was a twenty-something scraping together enough change to score a still-running relic from the want ads – but 18 big ones could score one heck of a nice used car with enough left over for a year’s rent.

2013 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ 5-door
2013 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ 5-door. Click image to enlarge

The Sonic, on the other hand, makes a good first impression. Instead of the bland, noncommittal styling of the previous generation of GM subcompacts, this hatchback boasts sharp creases, an angry little blacked-out face framed by slanted headlamps, and muscular wheel arches. The roofline slopes downward while the beltline gradually reaches up – creating a sense of forward motion. And the LTZ model pumps up the edge-factor with 17-inch aluminum wheels, large fog lamps, a jaunty little roof-mounted spoiler and an Inferno Orange Metallic paint scheme.

Unlike the drab, budget interiors of yesteryear, the Sonic has a rather nicely executed cabin. There are the hard plastics you’d expect in this category, but clearly some thought has gone into their design. The swooping dash provides plenty of legroom underneath, and flanks an interesting yet simple centre stack that houses a large colour touchscreen. There’s a fairly decent sound system, although knobs would be infinitely preferable to the irritating up-down arrow controls.

Cars like the Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent have really upped the ante when it comes to content and amenities: for just under $20,000, a recently driven Rio5 featured push-button start, back-up camera, power seats and a heated steering wheel. While the LTZ has leather bucket seats, featuring plenty of bolstering as well as graduated seat-heaters – they are manually adjustable. With a base price of $22,645, my tester came to a total of $24,705. The large seven-inch Mylink screen featured neither Navigation nor back-up camera.

2013 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ 5-door2013 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ 5-door
2013 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ 5-door. Click image to enlarge

The LTZ does, however, have Bluetooth, Stitcher compatibility for streaming audio, heated power mirrors, USB port, OnStar with turn-by-turn navigation, and a driver information centre with compass and temperature display.

There’s a beautifully contoured steering wheel wrapped in stitched leather, and it both tilts and telescopes. While there’s no centre console, there’s a leather armrest, and plenty of cubbies for sunglasses, change and keys.

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