The Chevrolet Sonic has come out of nowhere to become the top-selling subcompact in America.

Unlike General Motors' previous small cars, the tiny Sonic handles and accelerates well and is quiet on the road. It sits low to the ground and has a curved, aerodynamic look that helps boost gas mileage to among the best in its class.

GM at first was going to name the car the Aveo after its cheap predecessor, but it was changed to distance the new car from its past.

The little Chevy has managed to shove aside established mini-car leaders like the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris to give Chevrolet a leader in a market where no one considered its products. Here's why the little car is a symbol of Detroit's comeback from financial disaster:

LOOKS: For a tiny car, the Sonic looks aggressive. It's got a rounded, downward-sloping hood, big grille and double round headlamps.

PRICE: Starts at $14,785 for the four-door hatchback and $14,185 for the sedan.

WHERE IT'S MADE: Orion Township, Mich. It's the only subcompact manufactured in the U. S. The Aveo, which the Sonic replaced, was built by GM in South Korea.

UNDER THE HOOD: Base engine is a 1.8-liter, 138-horsepower four-cylinder engine. A newer 1.4-liter, 138-horsepower turbocharged engine has more power at low RPMs and is much smoother. Six-speed manual and automatic transmissions are available.

GAS MILEAGE: 1.4-liter with manual gets 33 mpg in combined city and highway driving and 40 mpg on the freeway. The automatic gets 31 mpg in city and highway driving. With the 1.8-liter, it's 30 mpg with a manual and 28 with an automatic.

ELECTRONICS: Can be equipped with Chevrolet MyLink radio, which allows use of phone for Internet radio, and voice control of electronic devices. Can project phone navigation system onto car's dashboard screen.

FEATURES: Five-star rating from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Ten air bags that protect front, side, head and legs. Manual transmission won't let you roll backward on a hill.

THE DOWNSIDE: Lack of low-speed power. Sub-par gas mileage with base engine and automatic transmission. Can get expensive, over $23,000 for a sporty RS version with a sunroof and the much nicer turbocharged engine.


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