New & Used Chevrolet Sonic: In Depth
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The Chevrolet Sonic is a relatively new subcompact sedan or hatchback, introduced for the 2012 model year. It's the first small Chevy in decades to be truly competitive--and it's succeeded in erasing some of the memories of underwhelming efforts like the Chevy Aveo.
The Sonic's rivals include cars like the Ford Fiesta, Fiat 500, Nissan Versa, Honda Fit, and Hyundai Accent.
As it happens, the car sold as the Chevy Sonic in North America is actually still known as the Aveo in the rest of the world. But the name had acquired such a reputation for poor resale value, unimpressive safety ratings, and lackluster performance and fuel economy that it had to be put to bed. The new Sonic really is that different--and despite a name that may evoke either hedgehogs or hamburgers, it's doing well and selling to a new generation of buyers for whom a Chevy actually represents a daring and exotic choice after a lifetime of small Japanese cars.
The Sonic sedan and hatchback arrived for the 2012 model year. Both are comfortable and relatively refined, with road noise noticeably squelched compared to in most cars this size. Going from the old Aveo to this Sonic, Chevy practically leap-frogged the whole subcompact segment, offering a better package than it had or its competition does now, and the second-smallest Chevy is now built in the U.S. as well.
The Chevy Sonic is now one of the larger "subcompacts" in a class that's suffered quite a lot of bracket creep in its dimensions, but it leaves room below the Sonic range for a new nameplate: the Spark minicar, the smallest car sold with a Chevrolet badge in decades. Given modern safety standards and feature requirements, it's not surprising that the Sonic is a bigger and heavier car than the Aveo. But it's more substantial, and considerably more entertaining to spend time in.
The Sonic comes standard with a naturally aspirated 1.8-liter four-cylinder that's efficient and good enough, but it's the optional turbocharged 1.4-liter that really wakes this little Chevy up. It's more powerful, more refined, and just plain smoother, and actually carries better fuel-economy ratings thanks to its smaller displacement. Either engine can be had with a choice of six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. All Sonics have electric power steering with nice weighting that provides a reassuring feel on the road.
Gas mileage for the Sonic is also much better than the Aveo. With EPA highway ratings that hit the 40-mpg sweet spot (with the 1.4T; other models get slightly lower ratings), the Sonic rivals the best in this class, while performing somewhat better.
While the Sonic still doesn't have a package that's as intensely space-efficient for cargo versatility as that of the Honda Fit, the interior comfort is good Between those two body styles, sedans are about a foot longer—at 173 inches, the length of a compact, really—and in our opinion their styling doesn't look like an afterthought. Trunk space for the sedans is surprisingly vast (19 cubic feet), although the versatility of the hatchbacks is hard to beat. Our only letdown, where the hatchback is concerned, is that its load floor is quite high—making it somewhat less useful and versatile than the Fit.
The Sonic is also one of the safest--if not the safest--small-car picks, especially among value-leading subcompacts. With top five-star federal safety ratings, and IIHS Top Safety Pick status, the Sonic currently earns a perfect 10 in our Safety category (comparing it to other vehicles in its size and price class).
Standard equipment in the Sonic includes keyless entry, air conditioning, and alloy wheels, even on base models. At the middle of the lineup, the Sonic LT gets an upgrade to satellite radio and six-speaker sound, plus power windows and power heated mirrors. To get some tech essentials, like a USB audio input and Bluetooth, you'll need to reach up to the LT or LTZ, but prices remain affordable, at less than $20k even for a loaded LTZ.
In late 2012, Chevy also unveiled a new, production-ready version of the Sonic sedan, dubbed the Chevrolet Sonic Dusk which had previously appeared as a concept model in 2011. The idea behind the Dusk is to add luxury touches to the Sonic.
For 2013, Chevrolet introduced a sporty Sonic RS variant, offered only in five-door form, that keeps the same 138-hp 1.4T engine but has a number of visual cues to give it more of a 'hot hatch' look. On the outside, there are different front and rear fascias, rocker-panel extensions, and special fog lamps, plus 17-inch wheels and a retuned exhaust. Inside, vinyl-and-faux-suede sport seats with red stitching, special trim, and piano-black accents, and the Chevrolet MyLink touch-screen interface is standard.
MyLink also migrated to some other Sonic models for 2013; it is available on LS and LT trims and standard on the Sonic LTZ. The same year, Chevy added six-speaker sound systems and blind-spot mirrors to the Sonic and also included remote start capability on all models equipped with the automatic transmission. MyLink will soon work with a smartphone-based navigation app. The only big change for 2014 was the addition of 4G LTE connectivity for OnStar and onboard data.