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ROAD TEST: Chevrolet Sonic 1.3D LS & 1.6 LS
Filling the shoes of the Aveo on most markets - in South Africa the older model soldiers on as a Vivo fighter - the Chevrolet Sonic injects some much-needed spunk into the brand's small car effort.
In truth the Aveo was really just a tarted up Daewoo Kalos, which was just one generational rung above the Lanos, but the Sonic was designed from the ground up to reflect Chevrolet's modern attitude.
And it's a design that really is packed with attitude, from that staunch body shell with pronounced wheel arches and concealed rear door handles to its aggressive face that looks like it wants to slap anybody that doesn't like its beady eyes.
And not everyone does.
You'd almost expect to find a powerful turbopetrol engine under the bonnet but instead my test unit was endowed with something very much at odds with its hot hatch styling - a 1.3-litre turbodiesel engine.
Nonetheless, that proved to be the perfect tool for a trip from Gauteng to the coast, during which the little oil-burner sipped 5.1 litres per 100km while hovering just within the speed limits, mostly 120-130km/h.
Credited with 70kW at 4000rpm and 210Nm from 1750rpm, it's no hot rod on the open road and especially when faced with hills and overtaking manoeuvres, where some gearbox work is needed, but it does generally hum along comfortably and quietly under normal highway conditions and I wouldn't expect much more given the engine size and outputs.
BANG FOR THE BUCK
It's also a breeze to drive around town, so much more so than the laggy Polo BlueMotion. Though the turbo only really comes alive above 2000rpm, you can still accelerate from below that mark without having to change gears - unless there's real urgency involved.
A downside is that motor's a bit on the noisy side at low revs and feels a little lumpy under acceleration.
I also spent some time with a 1.6-litre petrol version, which puts out 85kW and 155Nm, but this experience was mainly around the city. It's not the most rev-happy motor around, and even has a slight flat spot early in the rev range, but it delivers strong performance and decent bang for the buck when compared to most rivals at the price.
Almost at odds with its styling, the Aveo doesn't have the sportiest handling or steering set-up in its class, but buyers will appreciate its compliant ride quality.
If I can fault the comfort factor in any way, it's not easy to get really comfortable behind the wheel. The pedals are a tad too upright and there is no footrest. At least the steering adjusts for height and reach and the driver's seat for height.
Another nitpick is that the electric windows don't have a one-touch operation.
The seats were comfortable on the long journey and the black fabric looks like it'll stand the test of time. Same goes for the rest of the interior, which offers ample stretching space and decent rear legroom. The 290 litre boot is good enough for two or three people's luggage, but if you've got a family then the sedan will be more up your alley.
Back to the subject of styling, it's clear that designers tried to translate some of the exterior's aggression into the cabin (complete with bike-like instrumentation). It creates a refreshing vibe but I have mixed feelings about those elephant ears on either side of the central air vents. At least they're a nice place to stash your keys.
While not standing out as a class leader in any particular area, the Sonic does have a refreshing style about it and, though not cheap at just over 180 grand, it is well priced and well-powered in relation to its competition in the diesel hatch market. It's well equipped too.
Chevrolet Sonic 1.3D LS (70kW) - R181 700
Chevrolet Sonic 1.6 LS (85kW) - R171 600
ALTERNATIVES - DIESEL
Citroën C3 e-HDi 90 Seduction (66kW) - R220 900
Ford Fiesta 1.6 TDCi Ambiente (66kW) - R197 990
Peugeot 207 1.6 HDI Sportium (82kW) - R222 900
VW Polo 1.2 TDI Bluemotion (55kW) - R183 500
ALTERNATIVES - PETROL
Ford Fiesta 1.6 Trend (88kW) - R197 600
Hyundai i20 1.6 GLS (91kW) - R169 900
Kia Rio hatch 1.4 (79kW) - R157 995
Mazda2 1.5 Dynamic (76kW) - R193 000
Renault Clio 1.6 Yahoo (83kW) - R159 900
Toyota Yaris 1.3 XS (73kW) - R183 000
VW Polo 1.6 Comfortline (77kW) - R195 600