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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.