• 6-speed automatic now available with optional turbo engine
  • 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder offers more efficiency, extra torque
  • Automatic transmission adds $1,070 to the bottom line

Chevrolet is now offering a six-speed automatic transmission on the turbo-powered version of its subcompact Sonic sedan and hatchback. The optional 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine provides more power and better fuel economy than the base 1.8-liter engine, but was previously available only with a six-speed manual. Now drivers who prefer just two pedals can also take advantage of the turbo.

All new for the 2012 model year, both the Sonic sedan and hatchback bring improved safety and fresh style to the economical subcompact segment, including motorcycle-inspired design cues inside and out. Even the $13,865 base model boasts ten standard airbags and stability control, helping the Sonic to be named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

While the base Sonic LS is available with an automatic, only moving up to the LT or top-of-the-line LZ model brings the $700 turbo engine option. The LT sedan with a 6-speed automatic starts at $16,135 and climbs to $16,835 with the turbo. The hatchback is $800 more than a similarly specified sedan.

The extra money buys two advantages from the turbo motor - more torque and better fuel economy. While the base 1.8-liter engine and the 1.4-liter turbo both produce 138 horsepower, the turbo has 148 lb-ft of torque compared to just 125 lb-ft in the base engine. Peak torque in the turbo is also available across a wider range of engine speed, which means more immediate engine response and better acceleration.

Opting for the automatic transmission reduces fuel economy slightly, but even with the 6-speed automatic transmission, the turbo gets the best fuel economy. With the turbo and the automatic, the Sonic returns an EPA-estimated 27 mpg city and 37 mpg highway. The best possible fuel economy with the base engine comes with the standard manual transmission, which is rated at 26 mpg city and 35 mpg highway. That's good, but not as good as the turbo engine with either transmission.

When it was only available with the manual, the Sonic's turbo engine option likely appealed mostly to drivers who wanted more thrills behind the wheel. Now with the available automatic, everyone can enjoy the efficiency advantages of the turbo without having to choose their own gears.

What it means to you: Regardless of transmission choice, the optional turbocharged 4-cylinder engine in the Chevy Sonic offers the best fuel economy and performance.

author photo

Nick Palermo is an automotive writer and lifelong car nut. He follows new and late-model used vehicles for AutoTrader.com, writes about vintage cars for Hemmings Classic Wheels and blogs on all things automotive at LivingVroom. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and twins.

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