2013 Chevrolet Sonic Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
August 29, 2013

The 2013 Chevrolet Sonic swaps econobox blues for sporty driving feel as well as safety, refinement, and comfort.

The Chevy Sonic is the replacement for the unloved Aveo. As GM's newest subcompact sedan and hatchback, it has to be impressive to blot out the memory of the subpar Aveo--and it is. With the Sonic, Chevrolet has a world-class car that's blessed with great handling, exciting turbo power, and excellent safety scores and features.

The Sonic is one of the best small cars in the segment below the likes of the Chevy Cruze and Ford Focus--a better choice than many of its competitors, which include the Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, Hyundai Accent, Toyota Yaris and Ford Fiesta. Like many of those, the Sonic comes in two body styles: a sporty-looking five-door hatchback, or a somewhat longer four-door sedan. The front half of the vehicle is largely the same between both models, as is the wheelbase.

The key design differences start at the rear doors. On the kicky hatchback, the handles are tucked up high, discreetly, into the pillars, while the sedan's handles are of in a more conventional design and location. Inside, you'll find a more cockpit-like design than in other small cars, and outside of up-close materials and detailing, it's impressively upscale.

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From a passenger or cargo perspective, there's also mostly good news. Seating is adult-sized in front enough, while back seats have enough space for adults in a pinch; flip the rear seatbacks forward and you get wagon-like versatility in hatchback models, or space for longer items in sedans. The hatch isn't quite as space-efficient as the reigning cargo king, the Honda Fit, but there aren't any serious flaws with either package, and the cabin is better-insulated from road and engine noise than most other small models.

Powertrains for the Chevy Sonic are pretty much the same as in the larger Cruze sedan; there's a normally aspirated 1.8-liter four, or a turbocharged 1.4-liter four. Both can be had with either a manual gearbox or an all-new six-speed automatic. Between the two, the 1.4T is by far the better choice, as it's stronger and more flexible, as well as more refined and fuel-efficient--and it makes the Sonic feel like a premium-brand vehicle, almost. Unfortunately, you do need to step above the base LS to get that engine. Otherwise the Sonic is surprisingly enjoyable to drive for an affordable, economical car, with nicely weighted steering.

A new hatchback-only Sonic RS model joined the lineup late in the 2013 model year. While the RS doesn't have any more power, it does include long list of appearance enhancements inside and out--like a flat-bottom steering wheel, sport seats, and aluminum pedals, plus a different wheel design, different front fascia insert, and retuned exhaust.

Compared to the Aveo that the Sonic replaces--as well as to most other small cars--the Sonic is a safety standout, though new tests show more work is needed. Its structure feels vault-like next to some other small-car designs, and its safety ratings have been good, with IIHS Top Safety pick status this past year plus five-star federal ratings and ten standard airbags. The IIHS' new small-overlap tests puts it at "marginal," however. All models get blind-spot mirrors this year, too.

New for 2013 is the Chevrolet MyLink system, which includes a seven-inch color touch screen, voice recognition, and connectivity for hands-free calling, streaming audio, and apps for streaming audio (Pandora or Stitcher). MyLink is standard on LTZ and RS models, and available on the Sonic LS and LT. Otherwise, even at the base LS level you get alloy wheels, plus remote keyless entry and air conditioning. Chevy has also revised the Sonic's feature set for 2013 so that Bluetooth and steering-wheel controls are included even on the base LS, and LT models with the automatic transmission include remote start. Also a new Connectivity & Cruise package brings cruise control and a USB port to the LT, and an official navigation app will be offered later in the year.

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2013 Chevrolet Sonic

Styling

The 2013 Chevrolet Sonic looks sporty, and at first take there's nothing bare-bones about it.

The 2013 Chevrolet Sonic doesn't look particularly edgy, but it presents with a somewhat bolder, sportier twist to traditional small-car styling and design. 

For the hatchback, the wedgy profile and 'hidden' rear door handles (up above, at the back of the windowline) are the keys to giving the Sonic a little something different. Meanwhile, the sedans, which add a few more inches of overall length (the wheelbase is the same) get an elongated roofline (and traditional door handles) that gives the Sonic an entirely different sense of proportion, even if the front end is essentially the same. If you're at all torn between styles, you'll want to park them each side by side to see the differences.

Across either body style, a more upscale, somewhat sporty look and feel is highlighted by nicely contoured sheetmetal and fine detailing throughout. And in front, the Sonic gets an 'amped up' look, with a large dual grille, moved downward over the bumper, big round headlights set in a black background, and black background trim throughout. And shockingly, all Sonic models, even the base LS, come with alloy wheels.

Inside, you'll find a more cockpit-like design than in other small cars, and outside of up-close materials and detailing, it's impressively upscale. A cockpit-like instrument panel wraps around to the doors and curves downward into a center console area, enveloping the front-seat occupants. The three-spoke steering-wheel design shows continuity with other new Chevy models, as does the V-shaped center stack, which very efficiently and attractively consolidates audio and climate controls.

Overall, the look of the interior is right up there with more expensive GM vehicles, although the materials aren't quite the same, understandably. That said, they're better than many other models on the market, and we appreciate the sparing use of chrome trim rings, as well as the contrasting, grained instrument-panel in upper trims.

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8

2013 Chevrolet Sonic

Performance

Especially with the 1.4T engine, the 2013 Sonic feels more sophisticated and refined than other budget small cars.

Powertrains for the Chevy Sonic are pretty much the same as in the larger Cruze sedan; there's a normally aspirated 1.8-liter four, or a turbocharged 1.4-liter four. A five-speed manual is standard with the 1.8-liter, while 1.4T versions get a standard six-speed; but in either case, the optional six-speed automatic transmission will be a popular choice.

Between the two, the 1.4T is by far the better choice, as it's stronger and more flexible, as well as more refined and fuel-efficient--and it makes the Sonic feel like a premium-brand vehicle, almost.

On paper, the two engines aren't all that different. Both produce identical horsepower numbers—138 to be exact. But the 1.4T delivers more torque—23 pound-feet more—than the 1.8 and the horsepower and torque curves are completely different; the 1.4 is in its element in a larger section of the rev range, from 2,400 to 6,500 rpm. The result is a smooth, refined engine that doesn't require you to downshift as much to get the power you want and need. However, the 1.4T has a downside: throttle response is a tad on the slow side, but that's par for the course with small-displacement turbocharged engines.

If you're opting for the base 1.8-liter engine, take it out on the highway, up a grade or making some passes, to know what you're getting. It's not nearly as smooth, and tapping into the upper revs—necessary to extract the most power—brings a boomy, coarse character.

The Sonic's six-speed manual gearbox is actually enjoyable with the 1.4T thanks to smooth clutch action, relatively short throws, and precise gates. And don't discount the six-speed automatic. We found it responsive and quick to downshift even when left to its own devices in Drive. Like other GM products, you can manually trigger shifts through a toggle button mounted to the side of the automatic shift lever, which is awkward and not geared toward sporty driving but to holding gear in situations where you may want to control traction, like when stuck in snow. Regardless of which transmission you choose, you'll be shifting more with the 1.8-liter engine as it doesn't have the ability to torque through taller gears like the 1.4T.

Otherwise the Sonic is surprisingly enjoyable to drive for an affordable, economical car, with nicely weighted steering. A mushy brake feel (but good braking ability) in all the test Sonics we've experienced so far has been the worst offense.

RS models do get some key differences that make them even more enjoyable to drive. With a suspension that's retuned and lowered 10 mm, along with lower gear ratios, the RS should feel more sprightly; and a retuned exhaust provides the reinforcing soundtrack.

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2013 Chevrolet Sonic

Comfort & Quality

Comfortable seats and a tight, quiet cabin make the Sonic easy to live with.

From a passenger or cargo perspective, the Sonic does what you need a small car to do, a little bit better than you probably expect.

Seating is adult-sized in front enough, while back seats have enough space for adults in a pinch; flip the rear seatbacks forward and you get wagon-like versatility in hatchback models, or space for longer items in sedans. The hatch isn't quite as space-efficient as the reigning cargo king, the Honda Fit, but there aren't any serious flaws with either package, and the cabin is better-insulated from road and engine noise than most other small models.

For both sedan and hatchback bodystyles, front and rear seating is near identical. Considerable front-seat adjustment lets drivers with a wide range of body types eat up highway miles with ease. Meanwhile, even taller riders have decent enough headroom in the back, but leg and knee room suffer as one would expect from any subcompact. Oh, and don't even think about trying to sit adults three abreast in the back seat. This isn't the car for such shenanigans.

The 2013 Sonic does little to upset the Honda Fit's primacy in this class for cargo and packaging. While praise is due for Chevrolet's perfect placement of the instrument panel, other aspects hold back the Sonic. The load floor is surprisingly high, although under part of it a rather large underfloor tray opens up some more space—enough space for a laptop bag or two. And while cargo space is usually a strong point for hatchbacks, the Sonic sedan actually has a larger trunk can fit 19 cubic feet of your stuff, while hatchbacks will leave 5 cubes behind on the street curb. In either case, the Sonic's seatbacks fold down to open up the passenger cabin for extra cargo.

There are plenty of cubbies for the driver and front passenger to store smaller personal items—including several small bins in the middle of the dash—but those in the back aren't afforded such luxuries.

Throughout the Sonic lineup, cabin refinement and ride quality really are top notch compared to other affordable small cars. Except in (RS and LTZ) models with the largest 17-inch wheels, expect a cabin that's impressively muted from coarse road surfaces.

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8

2013 Chevrolet Sonic

Safety

The Sonic's new small-overlap crash scores cut its rating significantly.

Safety was clearly not a top priority for the Aveo models that the Sonic replaced last year, but what a difference a year made. The Sonic performs much more strongly, though a new IIHS test points out the need for further work.

GM designed and engineered the Sonic on an all-new global platform, intended from the start to provide class-leading occupant protection in multiple markets. Nearly 60 percent of the body structure is made of high-strength steel, and a new engine cradle system helps disperse crash forces in a way that especially helps in frontal impacts.

From inside, the structure of the Sonic feels vaultlike next to some other small-car designs, and its safety ratings have been top-notch so far, with IIHS Top Safety pick status this past year plus five-star federal ratings and ten standard airbags. And the Sonic held more than five times its own weight in the IIHS roof strength test, which is related to the likelihood of injury in a rollover, yielding the agency's top 'good' rating. However, in the new IIHS small-overlap test, the Sonic gets a "marginal" score, which drops its overall score here and keeps it from making the Top Safety Pick+ list.

Anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist are included across the model line—though it has rear drums rather than discs on all versions. All models get blind-spot mirrors this year, too.

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8

2013 Chevrolet Sonic

Features

With a MyLink touch-screen system now available on the entire lineup, the 2013 Sonic has an impressive feature set.

At the time of writing, the 2013 Sonic remains the lowest-priced model in the Chevrolet lineup; although later this model year it will be joined by an even smaller and more affordable Spark hatchback. So it's no surprise that Chevy isn't putting out any stripped-down, bare-bones version of the Sonic; all of the models, even at the base LS level, get alloy wheels, plus remote keyless entry and air conditioning.

New for 2013 is the Chevrolet MyLink system, which includes a seven-inch color touch screen, voice recognition, and connectivity for hands-free calling, streaming audio, and apps for streaming audio (Pandora or Stitcher). MyLink is standard on LTZ and RS models, and available on the Sonic LS and LT.

Mid-trim LT models gain a six-speaker audio system with satellite radio, power heated mirrors, and driver's window auto up/down. Top LTZ models further add leatherette seating (with heat up front), fog lights, cruise control, and upgraded 17-inch alloys.

Chevy has also revised the Sonic's feature set for 2013 so that Bluetooth and steering-wheel controls are included even on the base LS, and LT models with the automatic transmission include remote start. Also a new Connectivity & Cruise package brings cruise control and a USB port to the LT.

For now, a true navigation system remains unavailable in the Sonic; although a new smartphone-based app will arrive soon, later in the model year.

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2013 Chevrolet Sonic

Fuel Economy

Option up to the 1.4T engine in the 2013 Chevy Sonic, and you'll get up to 40 mpg.

If you're looking at the 2013 Chevrolet Sonic as a way to cut your fuel budget, the base model may not be the answer. With the 1.8-liter, the Sonic's gas mileage ratings are comparable to those of a base-model mid-size sedan, like a Sonata or Camry.

On the other hand, the 1.4T engine is a relatively inexpensive option on LT and LTZ models and bests the Sonic's lesser engine with ratings of 29 mpg city and 40 mpg highway or 25/35 with the automatic. It's also worth pointing out that ratings for manual RS models will be somewhat lower as well.

If you're thinking of paying extra for the 1.4T, it's a difference that may just pay for itself in the long run; unlike many turbocharged engines, the 1.4T has been tuned and engineered to run on regular unleaded fuel.

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May 9, 2016
2013 Chevrolet Sonic 4-Door Sedan Automatic LT

Great American made small car

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Except for one major issue, this could be a 5 star story. Exceptional ride and handling, and if driven with sense, better MPG's than rated. The dealer took care of the issue I had (non-starting) and everything... + More »
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October 27, 2015
2013 Chevrolet Sonic 5-Door HB Manual RS

Great car...rides and handles great, very comfortable.

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I love my Sonic RS hatchback. It has a bold look, unlike most subcompact cars. The MyLink system works great with my smartphone for telephone and music streaming. The ride and handling are great. I wanted a... + More »
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June 11, 2015
2013 Chevrolet Sonic 4-Door Sedan Automatic LS

Very Basic, no power

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I got the 2013 Chevy Sonic and it is very basic, no power windows. No space in seats, feel very cramped.
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April 13, 2015
For 2013 Chevrolet Sonic

The RS fun and fuel efficient

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My RS was bought new Sept 2013. The hatchback is fun to drive, very responsive and handles like a go kart! This car is SO much more enjoyable than the old econo boxes, no comparison. Great value for the small... + More »
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Styling 8
Performance 8
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