PHUKET: Alasdair Forbes test drives the new Chevrolet Sonic.
Friday 17 August 2012, 03:19PM
You may have noticed posters along the bypass road recently, asking “What is so you?”
The answer – we’re sure you’ve been dying to know – is the new Chevrolet Sonic, pitched straight at the slot in the market currently occupied by the Honda Jazz and Toyota Yaris.
There’s a significant difference; while the Jazz and Yaris come only in hatchback versions in Thailand, the Sonic (supposedly the successor to the less-than-universally-admired Aveo, though the Aveo is still coming off the line in Rayong) is available in both saloon and hatchback design.
Oddly, from the side, the Sonic saloon looks like a Toyota Corolla, while the hatchback looks more like a Jazz.
The current test car at the local Chevy dealer on the bypass road is the top-of-the-range LTZ automatic, with a six-speed auto box.
The 1,400cc engine, coupled with the 1,236 kilo kerb weight should make the car less powerful yet heavier than its two main rivals. But line them up side-by side and the Sonic would come second in a race up to 80 kmh, behind the Jazz, but ahead of the Yaris, which says something for the under-bonnet technology.
So this is a serious contender. Especially when it comes to price: The top-end Jazz will set you back B747,000 and the equivalent Yaris B734,000. The Sonic LTZ auto costs B679,000, or B687,000 for the hatchback. That’s as much as B68,000 difference for a car that compares very well with the competition.
Another way the Sonic scores in a big way is on the in-car electronics and other technology it’s loaded with.
There’s a radio and a CD player, of course. But there’s also a Bluetooth connection for phones and for music from a smart phone.
Note: the brochures all say “for select phone” – the local dealer’s expert could get her iPhone working with it just fine, but it didn’t seem to like talking to Samsungs. Certainly worth checking if this is likely to be a deal-breaker for you.
For music there’s still a direct jack on the radio console, plus a USB port in the glove box. Just load your thumb drive with your favourite songs.
The ride feels solid and competent on the highway. And it’s also very quiet, thanks in part to the slippery body design (no Chevrolet Cruze-style whistling from the windshield) and in part to the aluminum cylinder head with “silent” chain, which reduces engine noise significantly.
Off the main road, and pushing it around bends, the handling is really very good for a car of this class.
The six-speed automatic box keeps the revs in the power band under acceleration, and everything gets to be kinda fun, thanks to traction control, stability control and electronic brake distribution. The agility of the car and the lack of roll in bends is impressive.
You’ll be happy to know, too, that if you still manage to really mess things up, there are 10 airbags.
The LTZ has an option to switch to manual gearbox. Well, as near as an automatic comes to manual. Chevrolet refer to this as “thumb-controlled gear selection”, though at the side of the gearshift slot it’s labelled “M”.
This can be engaged or disengaged at any time. The odd thing, though, is that the gear change is a button on the side of the gear stick, so this means you could be heading into a dodgy situation, trying to select the correct gear, with just one hand on the wheel.
There are other controls on the steering wheel, so it’s odd that Chevrolet didn’t opt for gear paddles on the wheel as well. It’s not as if the technology is new.
Regarding space, in the front, the Sonic is very comfortable, with easy adjustments for seat position and rake, and steering wheel height. The back seats are not for basketball players; taller people may find things a bit scrunched. There is, however, plenty of luggage space, with both rear seatbacks folding flat.
The instrumentation is simple, taking its cue, apparently, from the Ducati motorbike cluster, with a conventional tachometer but a digital speedo. Visibility is good all round.
All in all, this is a bright new addition to the Chevrolet range. Expect to see lots of Sonics on the roads of Phuket very soon.