Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

It ran beautifully along the Palisades Interstate Parkway, winding through New Jersey and New York. To say the least, it was surprising — a subcompact Chevrolet sedan that handled twists and turns with aplomb.

The 2012 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ, also available as a hatchback and in two other trim iterations (base LS and popularly equipped LT), is proof that General Motors now takes small cars seriously.

The Sonic replaces the lackluster Chevrolet Aveo, which remained a bottom runner in the subcompact car segment even with a few notable improvements in its latter years.

To be succinct, the Aveo was a wimp, no matter how much I tried to defend it as a decent low-cost car with good fuel economy, great for motorists who did not care for, or could not afford, anything else.

The truth is that most drivers, even those on super-tight budgets, want more. They want attractive styling inside and out. They want cabin materials and an instrument panel that don’t automatically define the car as cheap. They want a car that provides easy connectivity with their various electronic gadgets. Most important, they want a car with highway guts that also offers world-class safety and fuel economy.

They got some of those things, such as cute exterior design, in the front-wheel-drive Aveo. They get all of them — especially power, handling and safety — in the all-new, front-wheel-drive Chevrolet Sonic.

The new car comes with a standard 1.8-liter inline four-cylinder gasoline engine delivering a maximum 138 horsepower and 125 foot-pounds of torque with a fuel economy of 26 miles per gallon in the city and 35 miles per gallon on the highway.

My Sonic LTZ came with GM’s optional (and recommended here) ECOTEC Turbo 1.4-liter gasoline engine delivering a maximum 138 horsepower and 148 foot-pounds of torque with a fuel economy of 27 miles per gallon in the city and 40 miles per gallon on the highway.

Compare that with what was offered as standard equipment in the discontinued Aveo, some copies of which remain on Chevrolet dealer lots nationwide. You got a 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder engine producing 108 horsepower and 105 foot-pounds of torque offering 27 miles per gallon in the city and 35 miles per gallon on the highway. You got a motorized wimp.

The Sonic complies with the latest trend sweeping the global automobile industry. Car manufacturers have discovered that less financially endowed consumers have standards and tastes that must be met in the product offered. Credit their exposure to China’s automotive market for that realization.

China’s motorists, most of them new to the car market, put a great value on what they call “face.” That means an economy car must look and perform like something better. It must be simultaneously representational (“I am somebody.”) and aspiring (“One day, I will be a big somebody.”).

As a result, no automobile company nowadays is willing to offer a “cheap” economy car in major world markets. That includes India’s Tata Group, which once tried to sell its super-cheap Nano car in India and other developing nations. Tata subsequently discovered that a Nano with upgraded safety equipment and other features is more acceptable, even at a higher price.

GM/Chevrolet has learned a similar lesson. The new Sonic is proof.