New & Used Chevrolet Sonic: In Depth
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The Chevrolet Sonic is a subcompact model offered as a sedan or five-door hatchback. It was introduced for the 2012 model year and is the first small Chevy in decades to be truly competitive. To its credit, the Sonic has 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, uninspired performance, and lackluster fuel economy that it had to be put to bed here. 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 the sound levels 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. 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. This resizing left 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 also more substantial in a good way, and considerably more entertaining to drive.
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 returns 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 with the former Aveo. With EPA highway ratings that hit the 40-mpg sweet spot with the 1.4T, the Sonic rivals the best in this class.
While the Sonic still doesn't have a package that's as intensely space-efficient or versatile for cargo carrying as that of the Honda Fit, the interior comfort is good and there is adequate space inside. Sonic 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 as do many four-doors in the category. 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. But the Sonic is more entertaining to drive than the latest Fit, and most would probably agree that the Chevy wins the styling comparison as well.
The Sonic is one of the safest small-car picks, especially among value-leading subcompacts. Current Sonics receive top five-star federal safety ratings, and top 'Good' scores in all but the IIHS's small front overlap test, where its performance is deemed 'Marginal.'
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, initially 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. The car also receives a shorter final-drive ratio to improve engine response and rides on a lowered, sport-tuned suspension. 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. Chevy added an RS sedan for 2014.
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.