2016 Chevrolet Sonic Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection Expert Review

John Voelcker John Voelcker Senior Editor
June 15, 2016

Despite its five years largely unchanged, the 2016 Chevrolet Sonic remains stylish and comfortable, and it scores big not only on safety ratings, but also driving fun.

The 2016 Chevrolet Sonic hatchback and sedan remain strong contenders, and have given the brand new credibility in cars smaller than compact sedans. Sonic sales have flattened as gas mileage worries take a back seat to surging sales of smaller SUVs—including the Chevy Trax that's built on Sonic underpinnings with all-wheel drive added.

Entering its fifth year on the market largely unchanged, the 2016 Chevrolet Sonic faces twin threats. First are stronger competitors in the subcompact sector, including an all-new Honda Fit and an updated Ford Fiesta. Second are U.S. gas prices that remain relatively low, reducing interest in smaller and more fuel-efficient cars.

The 2016 Sonic remains stylish—if not so fresh—as it was back in 2012 and enjoyable to drive. It's a very usable small car with more interior space than many competitors, and it's a pleasant place to spend time. For 2016, the sole updates are three new colors and a couple of equipment changes: the top LTZ trim level now comes with automatic transmission as standard, and mid-level LT models now include the Chevrolet MyLink infotainment interface.

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The Sonic's looks aren't quite as fresh as they were in 2012, but the hatchback especially is nicely proportioned and accented to avoid the box-on-wheels look of some small cars. While the front styling, front doors, and wheelbase are shared by both sedan and hatchback, the two models differ considerably behind the center pillar. The sedan has conventional rear doors, but the handles for the hatchback's back pair are hidden in a black trim panel—supposedly to give it the look of a coupe.

The interior sports a typically Chevrolet twin-cockpit design but with an edgier design that includes a "motorcycle inspired" instrument cluster. The controls and passenger accommodations both offer high-quality materials and finishes, and adults in the comfortable and roomy front seats shouldn't be unhappy. Adding another pair of adults to the rear seats will require some negotiation to get enough leg room in the back, but shoulder and head room are fine.

While the Sonic hatchback isn't quite up to the level of the ultra-adaptable and cavernous Honda Fit, with its latest "Magic Seat," the Chevy subcompact can approximate a small moving van with its rear seat backs flipped forward—and the sedan benefits from the same function, making its trunk into a cavernous well for long objects that can extend from the taillights all the way to the backs of the front seats.

The base Chevrolet Sonic LS is fitted with a conventional 1.8-liter inline-4, but the optional 1.4-liter turbocharged inline-4 gives better acceleration, higher EPA ratings for gas mileage, and it's simply more fun to drive as well. The 1.4 turbo is offered on the LT and LTZ models; either engine can be ordered with a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic transmission in the LS and LT.

The Sonic feels strong and sturdy on the road, and is enjoyable to drive, with electric power steering that offers particularly nice feel and weighting (often a weak point on Asian competitors). GM has lately excelled in making its cars quiet, and the Sonic is still better than average in its segment—it was not quite as far ahead on that front as it was when it launched.

The 2016 Chevrolet Sonic received top safety scores from both the IIHS and federal safety officials. The Sonic is rated at five stars overall (the highest possible score), and gets five stars in every other rating except rollover, for which it gets four out of five stars. Chevy added an optional crash-avoidance system in 2014, and all models have 10 standard airbags and blind-spot warning mirrors.

Chevrolet worked diligently to avoid the grim "econocar" look for the Sonic, and that extends to its equipment too. You won't find a base models with painted steel wheels and plastic covers; every Sonic has Bluetooth connectivity, steering-wheel audio controls, air conditioning, and keyless entry.

The mid-level LT model adds the Chevrolet MyLink system, new last year, includes a 7.0-inch touchscreen display, hands-free connectivity, streaming audio (along with Pandora and Stitcher apps) and voice recognition, along with remote start as standard on automatic models. An optional Connectivity & Cruise package gives the LT a USB port and cruise control as well.

The Sonic LTZ top trim comes standard with the 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder and automatic transmission. Last year, Chevy added 4G LTE connectivity and the ability to create an in-car wi-fi hotspot into the Onstar package. Finally, the sporty-looking Sonic RS model comes only as a hatchback. Although it offers exactly the same powertrain as the standard car, its appearance is racier, with changes to the front fascia, unique wheels, a tuned exhaust, and a variety of interior trim items (sport seats, special steering wheel, aluminum pedals).

Across the board, the Sonic manages very good fuel numbers in nearly endless configurations (12, according to the EPA), which is important in its class. At the top end, the 1.4-liter inline-4 paired to a 6-speed manual manages 29 mpg city, 40 highway, 33 combined. The least fuel-efficient model? The Sonic RS hatchback manages 25/33/28 mpg, according to the EPA.

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