The next throw of the dice in the B-segment class will take place on November 29th, when Naza Quest debuts the Chevrolet Sonic into the ever-burgeoning scene. The car, which is built in GM’s Rayong plant, will arrive in both five-door hatch and four-door sedan forms, as reported earlier.
The successor to the Aveo will only be available in a single trim level here, this being the range-topping LTZ, and this means that there’s only a six-speed auto transmission for the car in both body-style versions, complete with gearknob-located Driver Shift Control manual selection.
At the heart of it all is a 1.4 litre Ecotec VVT four-cylinder mill, with 100 hp at 6,000 rpm and 130 Nm of twist at 4,000 rpm. Not huge numbers, but Naza Quest is confident that the cars will take on the competition in terms of pep.
The 4.4 metre-long sedan is targeting the likes of the Toyota Vios, Honda City and the booted-versions of the Ford Fiesta and Mazda2, while the 4.04 metre-long hatch is aimed at conquering sales from the Honda Jazz as well as the Fiesta and Mazda2 hatches. There was no mention of the recently-launched Nissan Almera, but that one is definitely in the game.
Novelties include a number of motorcycle-derived design cues, including an exposed round design headlamp array as well as an instrument cluster readout that screams digital. A quick aside on the headlamp; it’s novel, but looks to be a polish trap in the long run. Chevy is also touting an Euro-ride tuning for the Sonic’s front Macpherson, rear torsion beam suspension.
Features include 60:40 split fold-down rear seats, tilt-adjustable steering, a six-speaker single CD/MP3 audio system with USB connectability and six speakers. Plenty of storage spaces and cubby holes, and in terms of rear cargo space, there’s 468 litres for the sedan and 253 for the hatch.
Going the LTZ route has the interior dressed up in grey/black Breva-pattern seats and a grey/Dark Titanium dashboard, and the LTZ also sports five twin-spoke 16-inch alloys wrapped with 205/55 series rubbers.
Safety kit is made up of ABS, EBD and brake assist as well as ISOFIX points, and the LTZ trim means that the Sonic comes with dual airbags. In Thailand, five colours are listed, these being Royal Grey, Switchblade Silver, Summit White, Oceanic Blue and Black Sapphire, which should also be the colour palette available here.
Pricing hasn’t been announced, but at the media preview for it and the Orlando MPV held at the Litar Elite Gokart Speedway, the indicator was that the Sonic is expected to roll in at about RM82,000, which would bring it closer to the RM85,000 mark in a drive-off state.
The preview was brief, and consisted of basic acceleration, handling and wet braking efficency tests, and given the kilometre of tarmac travelled per session round – and there were two for each run, marshalled – you’ll perhaps not take my musings as being definitive about it.
Still, there were some rather interesting bits revealed. Now, as far as segment offerings go, the Sonic should be able to dice it with what’s out there, but besting them (individually or collectively) may be another thing altogether.
At the pre-session briefing, mention was made of the Sonic’s interior noise levels, and how better it happens to be in this regard than its competitors. Well, under heavy acceleration, there’s a high degree of engine noise being transmitted into the cabin – I’d put that down to the raucous nature of the Ecotec mill; while willing, it’s zingy when worked hard.
That’s not the point about the noise and vibration levels though, which is I think is par for the course (arguably, not better than the Fiesta’s, even from that short sampling time), but putting all that good work into more refined body sealing and expansion acoustic baffles as well as a three-layer dash insulation and under-body acoustic deadeners sounds rather redundant when you don’t get things right mechanically to begin with.
In this case, a distinct, very noticeable whine, which continued to pitch and drone along merrily as I made my way around the go-kart track – I finally placed it, coming from whenever the steering travelled anywhere off-centre. Which was about 90% of the time.
Given that the Sonic mules were unregistered examples, and didn’t seem to have much wear on them, it’s likely an anomaly. Still, less than reassuring, sonically (no pun intended) at least. The steering itself is a bit lifeless, though there’s at least decent progression and adequate heft on the turn.
As for handling, the car felt alright enough going around the course, soft-ish in its focus and predictable in its scope, with the hatch that bit livelier in feel, as expected.
The terrain offered little avenue to explore further, so I’ll defer judgement on whether its Euro-tuned suspension gives the Sonic mastery over the class-leading Fiesta’s. My guess is probably not.
Pace-wise, the 1.4 litre unit isn’t going to shame the likes of the Ford either, which has close to an additional 20 ponies, but the Sonic felt acceptably fast hauling four on board – in this regard, the car looks to be targeting other rivals on the list. Brake efficiency is also what you’d expect, the car coming up cleanly and without fuss when stomped.
In terms of build quality, it’s pretty tight though (well, mechanical whine notwithstanding), and the cabin feels a decent place to be in – I remained unconvinced by the location of the shift-knob gear toggle selector, however. It doesn’t push my buttons on the third-gen Focus, and it doesn’t here either.
On the whole, the Sonic joins a segment blustering with competitive offerings, and it’ll be intriguing to see just how it shapes – and adds – up in the market.
Some brief notes on the Orlando, which was supposed to have arrived in the second-half of last year. According to Naza Quest, the seven-seater is expected to be priced in the RM120-RM140k region, and is due to be finally launched here next month.
The Korean-made MPV’s rear third takes some getting used to visually, but I rather like how it looks. Inside, the cabin feels spacious from the second row perspective – I didn’t get to the last row, but two others did, and reported ample room for rear occupants.
As is already well-known, it sits on the same platform as the Cruze, and shares much of what’s on the sedan, build-wise, including the 1.8 litre mill. I didn’t have a favourable impression of the Cruze when I drove it years back, but this one proved far more pleasant.
The Orlando went about the course in happy enough fashion, even with a second stint behind the wheel with six on board stretching things. Certainly not pacy, but not completely breathless either, and there’s a fair bit to like in its dynamics and movement. We should find out more about it and the Sonic twins in due course; as for the Trailblazer SUV, word is that one will only be launched early next year.