- Smooth and quiet ride
- Steering has good weight and feel
- Seats are comfortable, and sized right
- Turbo-four engine has refined, premium feel
- Styling reaches out of econo-box
- Base engine is boomy and coarse
- Mushy brake pedal
- USB missing from base model
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.
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 vaultlike 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.
2013 Chevrolet Sonic
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, sheetmetal is nicely contoured, and fine detailing throughout give it an entirely different, more upscale (and even somewhat sporty) look and feel. 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.
2013 Chevrolet Sonic
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.
Power ratings aren't that much different between the two engines, there's a substantial difference in real-world performance. While both engines are rated at 138 horsepower, the 1.4T makes 23 pound-feet more torque—and it makes 90 percent of its peak torque all the way from 2,400 to 6,500 rpm, so you often don't truly need to downshift. It's also a very smooth, refined engine and feels a class above—although we tend to think that the throttle response can be a bit too muted or delayed.
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 six-speed manual gearbox is actually enjoyable with the 1.4T, with relatively short throws and direct, precise shift action, plus very smooth clutch takeup. So is the new six-speed automatic, which we found responsive and quick to downshift while just leaving it in Drive. You can control downshifts with a small plus/minus toggle button at the side of the shift lever. With either choice, though, consider that you'll be shifting more with the 1.8-liter engine.
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.
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.
Front and rear seating is virtually the same, whether you choose the sedan or hatchback. Front perches are comfortable enough for a few hours on the highway, and the driving position felt just right for a wide range of drivers, and we've found the gauge cluster—which appears to sacrifice function for form at first glance—to be perfectly placed.
Almost miraculously, this 6'-6” editor can sit in the back seat of the Sonic without hunching; but legroom and kneeroom are extremely tight and unless there are shorter occupants in the front seat, they're only going to be usable by kids.
The 2013 Sonic does little to upset the Honda Fit's primacy in this class for cargo and packaging. 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—19 cubic feet, versus 14 for hatchbacks, and the seatbacks fold down flat in either case.
No matter which model you choose, there are plenty of cubbies to store smaller items—including several small bins in the middle of the dash. Although the back seat area is neglected in this respect.
2013 Chevrolet Sonic
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 in the IIHS roof strength test, which is related to the likelihood of injury in a rollover, the Sonic managed to withstand more than five times its weight—yielding a 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.
2013 Chevrolet Sonic
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.
The mid-level Sonic LT adds a six-speaker sound system plus XM satellite radio, as well as power heated mirrors and driver's side auto-up/down, while the top-of-the-line LTZ gets heated leatherette front seats, cruise control, fog lamps, and large 17-inch alloy wheels.
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.
2013 Chevrolet Sonic
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 might not be the way. With the 1.8-liter, the Sonic's gas mileage ratings aren't that much better than those of a base, mid-size sedan, like the Sonata or Camry.
On the other hand, the 1.4T engine is a relatively inexpensive option on LT and LTZ models and gets better ratings of 29 mpg city, 40 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 off in the long run; unlike many turbocharged engines, the 1.4T has been tuned and engineered to run on regular unleaded fuel.
The Car Connection Consumer Review
Great American made small car
Great car...rides and handles great, very comfortable.
Very Basic, no power
The RS fun and fuel efficient
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