The magic number automakers seem to be striving to hit is 40 mpg highway. It is a nice, around number, and apparently very achievable with today’s technology, given the rapid growth of this group. And today it has a new member; the 2012 Chevy Sonic with the 1.4 liter turbocharged engine.
The Sonic, a replacement for the ugly and underwhelming Aveo, will be GM’s new entry into the subcompact market. It faces strong competition from cars like the Ford Fiesta and Hyundai Elantra, both of which offer 40 mpg on the highway. But with the 1.4 liter turbo engine backed by a six-speed manual transmission, the Sonic will get a very respectable 29 city/40 mpg highway, for a combined mileage of 33 mpg. However, if you opt for the automatic transmission (which 90% of Americans do) then the fuel economy rating drops to 25 city/35 highway, which is worse than the base 1.8 liter non-turbo engine that’s rated at 26 city/35 highway.
In other words, get the manual.
I like this new trend where premium engines no longer deliver just more power, but better fuel economy as well. In the case of the Chevy Sonic, the 1.4 liter turbo engine pumps out a healthy 148 horsepower and 138 ft-lbs of torque, whereas the non-turbo produces 138 horsepower and a whimpy 123 ft-lbs of torque. Yet another reason to go for the turbo, which is packed with fuel-and weight-saving ideas like an integrated exhaust manifold, piston oil jets, and variable valve timing.
Still, the Sonic faces an uphill battle in the heated battle for subcompact sales, especially within Generation Y. Maybe a video game tie-in is in order?
Chris DeMorro is a writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs. You can read about his slow descent into madness at Sublime Burnout or follow his non-nonsensical ramblings on Twitter @harshcougar.