Our forays through the cones are in turbocharged, preproduction Sonics. These are early-build examples lack dash graining but boast impressively consistent panel gaps and a fundamentally good layout. The view out is relatively unobstructed, the small steering wheel both tilts and telescopes, and the rear seats have enough room for two adults. Designers also did a commendable job injecting personality into the cabin. A motorcycle-inspired gauge cluster, dominated by a large tachometer and digital speedometer, speaks to the car's sporting intentions and, we might add, is easier to read at speed than the instruments in Chevrolet's V-8-powered sports cars. Unfortunately, there isn't quite enough material quality to make the style convincing. We haven't yet become so spoiled that we expect a soft-touch dash in this segment-- though the Fiesta provides exactly that -- but the Sonic lacks even a patch of squishy stuff on the door armrest. The gauges, framed in unconvincing faux aluminum, look a little like an aftermarket affectation, especially on lower-end models that don't have a vibrant dash color. From a purely functional standpoint, though, the Sonic's interior is one of GM's best pound-for-pound efforts.
With a bit of tire squeal, the Sonic makes its way onto the course. A short shift into second before the first turn briefly exposes the car's weight, but once the turbo catches its breath, the car shoots energetically through the cones. In fact, we soon gather up too much speed for a set of S-curves, at which point we stand on the brakes and prepare to eat a row of cones. That's when the Sonic serves up a delightful surprise. Rather than understeering badly as most front-wheel-drive cars would in this situation, the Sonic turns in obediently with nary a squeak from the front tires. The U.S. engineers cite their extensive chassis work (most of the actual platform development took place in Korea under the direction of the Corsa's lead engineer). In addition to the aforementioned structural reinforcements, the American team played with damper and bushing rates and swapped in a faster steering rack. The seventeen-inch Hankook Optimo tires went through an exhaustive twelve-round development process (versus the usual three for four) to find a compound that would provide better response and ride without adding too much rolling resistance. With stability control disabled on the second run, the back end's readiness to rotate nearly catches us off guard -- and then becomes our greatest ally -- through a fast sweeper and then a succession of tight second-gear changes.