New Car Review: 2013 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ Turbo

Orange 2013 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ Turbo on winding road
The 2013 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ Turbo.

There are only so many ways to package and design a modern small car. That accounts for there being a bit of a resemblance between the all-new, American-built Chevrolet Sonic and the car it replaced, the unloved Korean import Chevrolet Aveo. The second-gen Aveo was so vastly improved over the first-gen that I gave it a largely favorable review. Two and a half years later, it's become clear that was more of a reflection of how bad the early Aveo was than anything else.

The Chevy Sonic is a completely different story.

In the Sonic, Chevrolet has managed to build a relevant small car in the USA. One that can, with a straight face, be compared to its direct competitors in the marketplace (Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, Nissan Versa and, to some extent, the Fiat 500).

Rear view of the 2013 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ Turbo.

First of all, we're talking about the 5-door here. Chevy hasn't sent a 4-door sedan over yet, and our guess is that there's a significant difference in character and capability. The 5-door's starting price is $900 higher than the 4-door, at $14,765.

The first thing you want to do, and thankfully you have this option in all three trim levels, is to check the option box that gets you the 1.4 liter Ecotec Turbo engine. It's 138 horsepower, 148 pounds per foot of torque, and with the 5-speed manual transmission, it's fairly fun to drive. I say "fairly" because even Chevy is being honest that in this case, "fun" and "fast" aren't necessarily joined at the hip. They claim 0-60 in 8.2.  Not bad, but not killer.

Where the Sonic shines is in the gas mileage. An EPA estimated 29 city/40 highway.

Popping for the LTZ model like our tester hikes the base price to $17,235, and gets you 17" aluminum wheels (a jump up from the standard 15s),  heated leatherette front seats, cruise control, fog lamps, and an upgraded audio system with auxilary, USB and Bluetooth capability. Don't want to shift it yourself? We'd try to talk you into it, but if you have to have an automatic, $18,235 gets you a six-speed with paddle shifters.

The 2013 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ Turbo interior.

Inside, it's a world away from the Aveo's penalty box accomodations and looks like the same design team that's given us the Malibu and Cruze interiors may have had a hand in this project as well. Not only does it look good, it's comfortable over the course of a day at the wheel and the high-roofline design of the 5-door means even six-footers like yours truly never feel cramped.

With the turbo engine ($700 well spent), the Orange Metallic paint ($195) and destination charge ($760), the bottom line on the Sonic LTZ Turbo 5-door we drove was $18,890. That is a chunk of change for the smallest car Chevy currently sells, but it's less than the Ford Fiesta and there's $5,000 between this and a loaded Cruze. We also drove an automatic version of the LTZ Turbo. A tiny bit less fun, but less of a downer than we expected. It also gets credit for maintaining that 29 city/40 highway fuel economy estimate. Bottom line on that tester was $18,585.

Whether it's your next car is your call. But regardless, Chevy has to be given enormous credit for building a small car this good, this competitive, and doing it on their home soil rather than importing the cheapest car they could find from elsewhere.

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