- Comfortable, well-sized seats
- Power and efficiency from turbo four
- Refined, smooth ride
- Nicely weighted steering
- Aggressive, non-econobox design
- Brakes could be firmer
- Coarse, gutless base engine
- Why isn't USB standard?
The 2015 Chevrolet Sonic is comfortable, stylish, safe, and drives well, and almost completely blots out our memory of a much worse Chevy Aveo from the past.
After four years on the market, the 2015 Chevrolet Sonic subcompact faces a new and tougher competitor in the form of the all-new Honda FIt. There's also the Ford Fiesta, which received a comprehensive update last year, and continuing pressure from various other Japanese and Korean competitors. But the Sonic, offered in five-door hatchback and four-door sedan models, has emerged with its own persona and reputation to attract buyers who would never before having considered a Chevy.
The 2015 Sonic is enjoyable to drive, its hatchback version especially is stylish and youthful, and it offers a lot of interior room for the segment. The result is an eminently usable and desirable car that remains pleasant inside and out, and fully competitive with the growing range of updated small-car offerings
In particular, the Sonic can accommodate two adults comfortably in the front seats. While four adults will have to negotiate a bit to give rear-seat riders enough leg room, rear headroom and shoulder room are ample. The rear seatbacks flip forward, turning the sedan, with its big trunk, into a sort of mini-pickup truck--and making the hatchback practically a moving van. Neither Sonic is as versatile in its interior configurations as the superb Honda Fit,, with its "Magic Seat," but neither does any Sonic offer serious packaging flaws.
Both Sonic body styles share the same front styling, front doors, and wheelbase--but they 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.
The base engine is a conventional 1.8-liter four, but we greatly prefer the optional turbocharged 1.4-liter four--it's also the better of 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 keeps it from Top Safety Pick status). All models have 10 standard airbags, and blind-spot mirrors, and Chevy's added an optional crash-avoidance system last year 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.
As of last year, 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.
For 2015, OnStar now comes with 4G LTE connectivity and the ability to create an in-car WiFi hotspot. LTZ models now come standard with the 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder.
2015 Chevrolet Sonic
There's no economy-car blandness in the Chevy Sonic's sharp profile and cockpit.
The 2015 Chevrolet Sonic flirts with the line between conservative and bold, and you definitely wouldn't consider its styling 'bland.' Even in its fourth model year, it looks edgier than many cars in the segment, and it absolutely blows the doors off its predecessor, the Chevy Aveo.
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 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.
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 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.
2015 Chevrolet Sonic
If you can, opt for the Chevy Sonic's turbocharged 1.4-liter four--it makes the most of a good handling setup.
The 2015 Chevrolet Sonic uses the same pair of engines and transmissions you'll find in its bigger brother, the Chevy Cruze. It drives well for the segment, thanks to good steering feel, and an available sports-tuned suspension in the RS model.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
2015 Chevrolet Sonic
Comfort & Quality
Adults can fit in the back seat--huzzah!--and the Chevy Sonic is skillfully built to a price.
You'll find room for four passengers in the Sonic, though we expect that most owners will only drive it with one or two passengers at any given time. Even so, there's enough legroom for four adults when necessary, and plenty of cargo space, too.
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.
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.
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.
2015 Chevrolet Sonic
Chevy's added more safety features to the Sonic, but its latest crash tests are worryingly low.
The 2015 Chevrolet 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.
The Sonic comes standard with 10 airbags. You can feel the solidity and vault-like structure inside the car, unlike some competitors that simply feel less substantial, regardless of their ratings.
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 a lane-departure warning and a forward-collision alert system. It's available on all Sonics except the most basic LS model. A rearview camera is also available on models fitted with the MyLink infotainment system.
2015 Chevrolet Sonic
Big-car features like smartphone connectivity are no big whoop for the Sonic.
The 2015 Chevrolet Sonic is no longer offered as a totally stripped base model, since the Chevy Spark fills the void where an ultra-affordable Sonic might exist.
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.
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.
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.
Two years ago, 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. Last year, navigation found its way to the Sonic, too.
This year, OnStar now includes a 4G LTE data plan, with the ability to create an in-car WiFi network.
2015 Chevrolet Sonic
The Sonic delivers real-world gas mileage in the mid-30-mpg range.
The 2015 Chevrolet Sonic hasn't received updated EPA ratings yet, but they should mirror the 2014 model's numbers. That said, owners should expect to earn between 30 to 35 mpg with the 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which we strongly recommend.
If you drive sensibly, you can most likely do better than than the EPA-estimated 33-mpg rating. 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.