Never say General Motors can't think outside of the box. As its Detroit rivals tout their European-engineered, Mexican-built subcompacts, GM is replacing the aging Aveo with a Korean-German-American confection called the Sonic, to be produced for our market in Orion Township, Michigan. What's more, Chevy thinks it will be the enthusiasts' choice in the segment, and has brought us to an autocross outside of Indianapolis -- with some competitors in tow -- to prove it.
Among the many qualities the outgoing Aveo was not known for, confident handling might top the list. It thus comes as no surprise that GM dumped the wet Kimchi-noodle Daewoo platform in favor of a new architecture woven from a few Opel Corsa DNA strands. High-strength steel makes up 60 percent of the new car's structure -- roughly the same percentage Ford quotes for the Fiesta. North American models have additional bracing at each corner. All this structural integrity comes at a (literally) heavy price, as the Sonic weighs in at some 2800 pounds, a good 300-pounds more than most entries in the segment. Sonic lead engineer Joaquin Nuno-Whelan also attributes the ballast to a relatively large footprint (about 1.5-inches bigger than the Fiesta in both wheelbase and track) and a class-leading ten standard airbags.
Regardless, no one's going to be picking on this fat kid: the Sonic employs the same four-cylinder engine lineup as the even larger and heavier Chevrolet Cruze. With either the 138-hp 1.8-liter base engine or the 1.4-liter turbo, rated at a provisional 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque, the Sonic handily outguns most competitors. Chevy expects the turbo to achieve the all-important 40-mpg benchmark when paired to a six-speed manual transmission, which it always will be, since the 1.4-liter Sonic can't be had with an automatic [UPDATE: Chevrolet says it will offer a six-speed automatic with this engine beginning early next year]. The 1.8-liter comes with either a five-speed stick or six-speed automatic.