- 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.