- Refined, smooth ride
- Nicely weighted steering
- Comfortable, well-sized seats
- Power and efficiency from turbo four
- Aggressive, non-econobox design
- Coarse, gutless base engine
- Brakes could be firmer
- Why isn't USB standard?
The 2014 Chevrolet Sonic is light-years ahead of its Aveo predecessor, which Chevy hopes you'll forget. It's stylish, comfortable, drives nicely, and has excellent safety ratings and infotainment features.
Now three years old, the 2014 Chevrolet Sonic has established itself as Chevy's first viable and even desirable subcompact in many years. It's no longer the smallest Chevrolet, a role now occupied by the Spark minicar that anchors the bottom of the lineup. The Chevy Sonic is on the large end of the subcompact scale; ten years ago, it would likely have been deemed a compact car, based on both its footprint and its features and options list.
That size, however, gives it an edge over some of the smaller subcompacts it competes against--including the Ford Fiesta and the Hyundai Accent. Other competitors include the Nissan Versa four-door sedan and the new-for-2014 Versa Note hatchback, the Toyota Yaris, and the all-new 2015 Honda Fit now in dealerships. The Fit excepted, the Sonic is a better and more enjoyable car than some of those competitors, and its sales popularity for a small Chevy reflects that. It is offered as both a five-door hatchback and a four-door sedan, and for 2014, it received a few updates both to its safety features and the infotainment system.
Both body styles share the same wheelbase, front styling, and front doors, but differ considerably behind the center pillar. The rear doors of the hatchback have their handles hidden in a black trim panel--purportedly to give it more of a coupe look--while those of the sedan are conventional. Inside the cabin, the twin-cockpit design echoes other Chevrolet models but sports edgier design--including a "motorcycle inspired" instrument cluster. Still, the controls and passenger accommodations offer a high quality of materials and finishes.
Two adults can fit comfortably in the front, and the rear seats are surprisingly spacious for a subcompact--though four adults will still have to negotiate a bit to give rear-seat riders enough leg room. The rear seatbacks flip forward, turning the hatchback into a moving van and making the sedan, with its surprisingly long trunk, almost into a sort of mini-pickup truck. While neither is quite as versatile in its interior configurations as the near-magical Honda Fit, neither model has any serious packaging flaws.
The base engine is a conventional 1.8-liter four, but we greatly prefer the optional turbocharged 1.4-liter four--the same pair of engines offered in the Cruze compact. The turbo four gives stronger acceleration, it's more fun to drive, and it gets better gas-mileage ratings too. Only the 1.8 is offered in the base LS trim level, to keep costs down, but in our view, it's worth it to step up to the LT to get the better engine. Either engine can be ordered with a six-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed automatic transmission.
On the road, the Sonic is enjoyable to drive considering its modest price, and the electric power steering in particular is nicely weighted. It feels strong and sturdy, not tinny, and refinement is better than many competitors, with engine and road noise well suppressed. Plus, the Sonic gets good safety ratings: five stars from the NHTSA, and Good on four out of five IIHS tests (although a 'marginal' small overlap rating). All models have 10 standard airbags, and blind-spot mirrors, and Chevy's added an optional crash-avoidance system for 2014 as well.
And compliments to Chevy for making alloy wheels, Bluetooth connectivity, and steering-wheel audio controls standard on every trim level--even the base LS--along with air conditioning and remote keyless entry. Remote start comes standard on automatic LT models, and a Connectivity & Cruise package adds a USB port and cruise control to the LT as well.
There's also a sporty-looking Sonic RS model, offered only as a hatchback. It doesn't actually offer any more power, but its appearance has been upgraded with changes to the front fascia, unique wheels, a retuned exhaust, and a variety of interior trim items (sport seats, special steering wheel, aluminum pedals).
With its focus on young buyers, infotainment is a strong point for the Sonic. The available Chevrolet MyLink system, new last year, includes a 7-inch color touchscreen display, hands-free connectivity, streaming audio (along with Pandora and Stitcher apps) and voice recognition. MyLink can be added to any Sonic, and is standard on the top LTZ model as well as the RS.
For 2014, Chevy offers the Bringgo navigation app for the Sonic as well as the Spark minicar, where it launched last year. For a one-time $50 fee, drivers can run Bringgo on their smartphones, which plug into the dash and display both maps and routing on the MyLink display. It's an inexpensive way to add navigation at a much lower cost, and we think the "smartphone, dumb screen" model will spread rapidly among tech-savvy consumers.
2014 Chevrolet Sonic
The 2014 Chevrolet Sonic has an aggressive, crisp look that dispenses with the economy-car blahs
The 2014 Chevrolet Sonic isn't bland, and while you wouldn't call its lines edgy, they're aggressive enough to make it look fresh--even in its third model year. It's bolder and much sportier than both other cars in the class and its predecessor, the Chevy Aveo.
The five-door hatchback is the more cohesive of the two body styles, with the angled window line ending in a truncated tail. The rear doors have their handles hidden in the black trim connecting the pillar and door, giving it a sort of coupe-like impression, and the short rear and longer front overhangs combine to make it feel sporty. The sedan has the same wheelbase, but gets conventional rear doors, a longer roof, and a surprisingly large trunk under the extended rear. But it's a bit less integrated as a whole, and like many subcompacts, Chevy has found that it's selling more hatchbacks than it might have predicted.
The front fascia and large dual grille are the same on both models, featuring round headlights under the clear covers that give a sporty "projector" look. Chevy gets credit for fitting every single Sonic, even the base LS model, with alloy wheels--no grim plastic covers over steel wheels here.
The dash and door design forms a smaller version of Chevy's traditional twin-cockpit look, with a motorcycle-inspired small instrument cluster standing proud of the dashboard itself, behind the steering wheel. The center of the dash curves down through a V-shaped center stack into a console area that wraps around the front-seat riders. The materials are surprisingly upscale for a subcompact, and the three-spoke steering wheel reinforces the Chevrolet identify.
The designers have used chrome trim rings around circular elements, but sparingly, and contrasting materials with different grains for the upper and lower parts of the dash. This is still an inexpensive-car interior--no Cadillac hand-sewn leather here--but it's surprisingly well done, and looks like it costs more than it does.
2014 Chevrolet Sonic
The 2014 Chevy Sonic with the 1.4-liter turbo engine performs well and feels sophisticated for its segment
The 2014 Chevrolet Sonic continues with the two engines and two transmissions it's offered since launch, which are essentially the same ones used in the Sonic's big brother, the Cruze compact sedan.
The base engine is a 138-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder, which can be paired with either a five-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed automatic. If you're thinking of getting a Sonic with the 1.8, make sure you take it out on the highway. It gets coarse and boomy at higher revs, and can feel tapped out under heavy loads.
The more desirable option is the turbocharged 1.4-liter four, which is more refined and flexible, delivers more torque, and is more fuel-efficient to boot. It elevates the Sonic and makes it feel closer to a premium vehicle, against the rough, econocar character of the 1.8. The smaller engine is also rated at 138 hp, and our only quibble is that throttle response sometimes feels like it lags the input for a fraction of a second.
The 1.4 can be ordered with the same six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual gearbox. While automatics will likely make up the majority for both engines, the manual is actually fun to drive with the smaller engine--it offers precise, direct shift action with pleasingly short throws. And the clutch is smooth and almost impossible to get wrong. The automatic for the engine offers up- and down-shift buttons on the side of the lever, though leaving it in Drive is fine--as long as you know that it may end up shifting more often to stay in the most efficient power zone.
Otherwise, the Sonic holds the road well and has decent feel through its electric power steering, far better than some Asian competitors. About the worst thing we can say about its driving dynamics is that all the Sonics we've driven have braked fine, but have had mushy pedal feel.
Note that the Sonic RS model, while it uses the same 1.4-liter engine and pair of transmissions as any other Sonic (except the base LS) has a lowered and retuned suspension, as well as lower gear ratios. These should give it slightly more acceleration, and its retuned exhaust system certainly makes for a sporty soundtrack--even if the difference in performance is slight at best.
2014 Chevrolet Sonic
Comfort & Quality
The 2014 Chevy Sonic's cabin is comfortable, quiet, and well put-together, making it a pleasant place
The 2014 Chevy Sonic offers seating for four, but in most uses, it'll likely hold one or two people. And they'll be surprised at how much space it offers for their various goods, especially if they fold down the rear seat (on either body style).
The sedan has a remarkably large 19-cubic-foot trunk under the elongated roofline, making it possible to accommodate long packages and still close the lid. And the hatchback opens to a 14-cubic-foot cargo bay that can be accessed through either rear door and the hatch as well. The Honda Fit still outguns the Sonic hatchback as the flexibility and cargo king, but the Sonic puts up a respectable defense. Its load floor is high, although it contains a hidden storage area underneath large enough to hold a laptop bag.
The seats are consistent front and rear--not always the case in subcompacts--and two adults will fit comfortably up front. Adults can fit themselves into the rear, too, but they'll have to negotiate with the folks up front to get sufficient legroom, and they'll still find they may be short on headroom.
All passengers will find their ride pleasantly quiet, with one of the best-insulated cabins in the class. Engine noise and road noise are muted, and the ride is smooth as well. Refinement suffers a bit if you order the largest 17-inch wheels (fitted to the LTZ and RS models), so stick with a mid-level trim for the quietest ride and best isolation from coarse pavement surfaces.
Behind the wheel, the column-mounted gauge cluster may look gimmicky--its styling is "motorcycle inspired," says Chevy--but it moves with the steering wheel and so is always perfectly placed. There are also plenty of trays, bins, and cubbies up front to hold glasses, toll tickets, change, phones, sodas, and all the rest of the stuff you carry in your car these days. The rear seat isn't so generous, though.
2014 Chevrolet Sonic
Though the 2014 Chevy Sonic's small-overlap crash score hurts it, Chevy added more safety features this year
The 2014 Chevrolet Sonic is one of the safer subcompact picks on the market, but a Marginal rating on one tough new IIHS crash test has lost the car its previous Top Safety Pick rating. Still, it comes standard with 10 airbags, and the recent all-new global platform under the Sonic should provides good occupant protection. You can feel the solidity and vault-like structure inside the car, unlike some competitors that simply feel less substantial, regardless of their ratings.
As well as the Top Safety Pick honor from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (let down somewhat by a 'marginal' rating in the small overlap frontal test), t
The 2014 Sonic is rated at five stars (the highest possible score) across the board by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives it the top rating of Good for moderate-overlap front crash, side crash, and roof-crush tests, as well as its seats and headrests.
Despite its rear drum brakes, a cost-saving move, all Sonics are fitted with anti-lock brakes (as are all new cars) along with Brake Assist. Last year saw the addition of blind-spot mirrors on all trim levels, and for 2014, Chevy has added a new optional safety package that bundles Lane Departure Warning and Forward Collision Alert. It's available on all Sonics except the most basic LS model. A rear-vision camera is also available on models fitted with the MyLink infotainment system.
2014 Chevrolet Sonic
The 2014 Chevy Sonic offers lots of big-car features, and the MyLink infotainment system is now available across the range
The 2014 Chevrolet Sonic isn't the least-expensive Chevy any longer; that position is now occupied by the much smaller Spark minicar. That makes a good justification for Chevy's smart decision not to offer a truly grim, stripped-down, bare-bones model of the Sonic subcompact.
Every Sonic, even the base LS that's offered only with the less desirable 1.8-liter engine, comes with alloy wheels, air conditioning, steering-wheel audio controls, remote keyless entry, and Bluetooth connectivity. Really the only thing we see missing from that list is a USB port.
Last year, the Sonic added the optional Chevrolet MyLink system. It includes not only a color 7-inch touchscreen but also voice recognition, streaming audio capability and the apps that permit that (Stitcher and Pandora), along with hands-free connectivity. MyLink can be ordered on the LS and LT models, and is standard on the top-of-the-line LTZ model and the sporty RS.
This year, Chevy has upped the ante by offering both a smartphone navigation system, called Bringgo, TuneIn global radio, and Siri voice recognition (for customers with compatible iPhones).
Of these, Bringgo is most interesting: for a one-time fee of $50, the Bringgo app lives on a smartphone and offers the entire North American mapping and routing database, updated every time the phone syncs to the app store. Driving instructions and maps are displayed on the large color MyLink display, a system Chevy has called "smartphone, dumb screen." It's a clever way to add an inexpensive navigation option for entry-level younger owners who use their cell phones for directions anyway--while removing the distraction of actually using the handheld device itself.
As for trim levels, the LT is the next step up from the base LS. It adds a six-speaker audio system, including SiriusXM satellite radio, plus an auto-up/auto-down power window for the driver and power heated mirrors. Models with automatic transmissions also come with remote starting capability. A Connectivity & Cruise package adds cruise control and a USB port. New for 2014, Chevy has added an "LT Promotional Package" that bundles a power sunroof and front fog lamps with Chevrolet MyLink radio--although it says availability will be limited.
The top-of-the-line LTZ gets cruise control and fog lamps as standard, larger 17-inch alloy wheels, and heated front seats upholstered in leatherette. The sporty RS model gets slightly lower gear ratios and a retuned exhaust, along unique alloy wheels, a more aggressive front fascia, and a variety of interior upgrades. Of those, the sport seats are most important, along with a flat-bottomed steering wheel and pedals made of aluminum.
2014 Chevrolet Sonic
While it's never going to be a Prius hybrid, the 2014 Chevy Sonic delivers real-world mileage in the 30s with the 1.4-liter engine
It's not the single most fuel-efficient subcompact on the market--that'd be the Toyota Prius C hybrid--but the 2014 Chevrolet Sonic will deliver real-world gas mileage of 30 to 35 mpg when fitted with the optional 1.4-liter turbocharged engine. It's optional (on LT and LTZ models) and rated at 31 mpg combined with the automatic transmission, rising to 33 mpg with the six-speed manual.
If you drive sensibly, you can most likely do better than that--we got 34.2 mpg over several hundred miles in a 1.4 sedan with the six-speed manual gearbox. And the turbo--unlike many earlier such engines--doesn't require premium fuel, but is quite happy on regular unleaded gasoline.
The base 1.8-liter engine costs less, but it drinks more fuel. Its ratings are a less respectable 30 mpg combined with the manual, falling to 28 mpg with the automatic. It's also less fun to drive, so we think the payback is pretty clear.