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5. 2012 Mazda3 Skyactiv
What’s the best car of 2012? Who knows. Is a Porsche GT3 RS 4.0 better than a Ferrari 458 Italia? What about the Scion FR-S? Or a Prius Plug-in Hybrid? The past year has seen the launch of numerous excellent vehicles, including some we really didn’t expect to be any good. That said, we’ve put together our list of the top five surprisingly good cars of 2012, starting with the updated Mazda3.
We thoroughly enjoyed the new 3 (read our 2012 Mazda3 review here), something that’s not at all surprising at first. What is more of a shock is that it was Mazda’s new Skyactiv model, designed primarily for fuel economy, and that it managed to deliver in that department while sticking true to the brand’s Zoom-Zoom slogan.
Adding to our reasons for placing this car on our list of surprisingly good cars is the technology behind it. At both a preview event and the actual drive, Mazda gave us a deep-dive into the engineering solutions behind its new SkyActiv technologies, rethinking every aspect of the engine and transmission for this updated model. When Ford sold off its shares in Mazda recently many skeptics proclaimed that in this new era a smaller company like Mazda couldn’t possibly hope to be competitive without a large partner like, say, Toyota. But Mazda has proved them wrong, not only competing, but perhaps delivering the the only 40 mpg car that’s actually fun to drive.
According to the EPA, the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic will receive a lower rating than GM’s optimistic 40-mpg figure. The standard model with a five-speed manual transmission, powered by a 1.8L four-cylinder with 135-hp is getting an EPA-estimated 26/35/29-mpg rating for city/highway/combined. The six-speed automatic transmission is just slightly less at 25/35/28-mpg. The 1.4L turbocharged four-cylider with 138-hp does achieve the 40-mpg rating however.
This news makes the Sonic a little more disappointing, despite its price point. Those seeking the best mpg might not even look its way, as its larger Cruze counterpart gets 25/36/29-mpg with the same 1.8L and six-speed manual transmission while the Cruze Eco with an automatic transmission gets 26/39/31-mpg. For now, the Aveo successor will have to compete on price with the base LS model starting at $13,735 while the LTZ can top out at $17,235 in hatchback form – or $17,935 for the turbocharged 1.4L.
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Debuting at the Detroit Auto Show in both hatchback and sedan forms, the Sonic will compete against established rivals in the sub-compact segment like the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris, not to mention newcomers like the Ford Fiesta. Aiming to attract younger buyers with sporty styling, the Sonic also has power on tap with a standard 135-hp 1.8L 4-cylinder, as well as an optional 138-hp 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder – both of which are borrowed from the Chevy Cruze.
No fuel economy numbers have been released but expect close to if not over 40-mpg highway from the 1.4T engine. Helping get what will no doubt be excellent fuel economy is a 6-speed automatic transmission, with the option of a 6-speed stick shift on 1.4T models.
The interior looks to be a massive leap forward from the Aveo, taking inspiration from the Cruze and using higher-grade materials. And like the Aveo RS concept from last year’s Detroit show, it retains the motorcycle-inspired instrumentation with a large, circular analog tachometer and a digital speedometer.
Designed for functionality, the Sonic hatchback gets 19 cubic feet of cargo room behind the rear seats, which expands to 37 cu-ft with the seats folded flat. Chevy claims that’s better than the Fiesta, although in terms of roominess, the Fiesta is hardly a benchmark in the segment. The Sonic sedan does, however, get 15 cubic feet of space, which is roughly the same size as you might expect in a mid-size sedan.
As for features, all models will come equipped with stability control and 10 airbags, while optional goodies include remote start and heated front seats.
Pricing for the Sonic sedan and hatch will be released closer to the car’s on sale date later this year.
See video of the Sonic Z-Spec concept after the jump: