2014 Chevrolet Sonic Review

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The Car Connection
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John Voelcker John Voelcker Senior Editor
May 8, 2014

The 2014 Chevrolet Sonic is light-years ahead of its Aveo predecessor, which Chevy hopes you'll forget. It's stylish, comfortable, drives nicely, and has excellent safety ratings and infotainment features.

Now three years old, the 2014 Chevrolet Sonic has established itself as Chevy's first viable and even desirable subcompact in many years. No longer the smallest Chevrolet, the Sonic is now bookended on the diminutive end by the Spark minicar. The Chevy Sonic is on the large end of the subcompact scale; ten years ago, it would likely have been deemed a compact car, based on both its footprint and its features and options list.

That size, however, gives it an edge over some of the smaller subcompacts it competes against--including the Ford Fiesta and the Hyundai Accent. Other competitors include the Nissan Versa four-door sedan and the new-for-2014 Versa Note hatchback, the Toyota Yaris, and the all-new 2015 Honda Fit now in dealerships. The Fit excepted, the Sonic is a better and more enjoyable car than some of those competitors, and its sales popularity for a small Chevy reflects that. It is offered as both a five-door hatchback and a four-door sedan, and for 2014, it received a few updates both to its safety features and the infotainment system.

Both body styles ride on the same wheelbase, front styling, and front doors, but differ greatly behind the middle post. Inside, the Sonic's twin-cockpit layout echoes other Chevrolets but sports an edgier design--including its "motorcycle inspired" instrument cluster. Still, controls and the cabin at large are finished with high-quality materials and touches.

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Two adults will fit comfortably up front and the rear seats are surprisingly spacious for a subcompact—though finagling is required to provide rear-seat adult passengers suitable leg room. The Sonic's rear folding seatbacks flip down to turn the hatchback into a quasi moving van of sorts; the sedan and its surprisingly long trunk almost become a mini-pickup truck with its considerable space. While neither body style is quite as flexible and versatile as the near-magical Honda Fit, the Sonic doesn't suffer from any pronounced packaging flaws.

The Sonic can be equipped with your choice of two engines, which also happen to be the same gasoline mills that do duty in compact Chevrolet Cruze. A 1.8-liter four-cylinder is the base motivator for the Sonic, but we highly recommend moving up to the optional 1.4-liter turbocharged inline-4 as it gifts its owners with stronger acceleration, improved fuel economy, and a fun-to-drive factor you won't find in the base 1.8 four. Unfortunately, trim-line misers will be stuck with the 1.8 on base models. To get the 1.4T, you'll need to move one rung up the trim ladder, but it's definitely worth the step. Both engines can be mated to either six-speed manual or automatic transmissions.

Considering its humbleness, the Sonic feels strong, sturdy, refined, and fun from behind the wheel. Its electric power steering system, a common cause for complaint in other cars, is well weighted. Chevrolet has kept road and engine noise to a minimum. And the Sonic is a safety champ with a host of safety equipment and top marks from the two crash-testing authorities. Beginning this year, the Sonic can be optioned with an available crash-avoidance system.

Chevrolet hasn't skimped on the details either. You won't find a Sonic shod with steel wheels and plastic wheel covers as even the base model is gifted true alloy wheels. Air conditioning, remote keyless entry, Bluetooth, and even steering-wheel mounted audio controls are equipped as standard across the board. Opting for the automatic transmission on LT models will bring with it the benefit of remote start. But the base model does miss one critical connectivity feature: if you want a USB port, you'll need to move up to an LT model and option it with the Connectivity & Cruise package, which also adds cruise control.

Those looking for a bit more visual hop in the Sonic's step can opt for the RS model—but only if you want a hatchback. Notice we say visual hop; the RS doesn't bring anymore power to the party, but it does get a unique front fascia, more aggressive-looking wheels, a slightly more rumbly exhaust, and some interior trim bits befitting its somewhat-warm hatchback nature.

Chevrolet's focus is squarely on young buyers with the Sonic and it shows inside with copious amounts of connectivity and infotainment options for the pricepoint. The Sonic gained Chevrolet's MyLink infotainment system last year, displayed on a 7-inch touchscreen. The system comes with hands-free connectivity, voice recognition, and Bluetooth streaming audio (with advanced functionality for Pandora and Stitcher audio apps). It isn't just a top-trim option either; MyLink can be added to any Sonic—even the base LS trim—and comes standard on RS and LTZ models.

One addition for 2014 is deep integration with the Bringgo mobile navigation app. Instead of making buyers choose between a $1,000 navigation system or none at all at the point of purchase, Sonic owners can purchase the Bringgo app for as little as $50 and have navigation for life. It allows Chevrolet to keep manufacturing costs low by foregoing the additional electronics and antennas required for in-dash nav. Better yet, the maps will always be up to date on your phone. (Chevrolet added the same integration to the Spark minicar last year.)

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2014 Chevrolet Sonic

Styling

The 2014 Chevrolet Sonic has an aggressive, crisp look that dispenses with the economy-car blahs

The 2014 Chevrolet Sonic isn't bland, and while you wouldn't call its lines edgy, they're aggressive enough to make it look fresh—even in this generation's third model year. It's bolder and much sportier than other cars in the class and its predecessor, the Chevy Aveo.

The five-door hatchback's design is the more cohesive execution of the Sonic's two body styles, with a slanted window line terminating into a shorter tail.

Rear-door handles are visually camouflaged by a piece of black plastic trim on hatchbacks—purportedly for a more a coupe-like look—while the sedan makes use of more conventional handles.

While the sedan rides on the basic architecture and wheelbase length as the hatchback, it gets a longer roof and larger trunk. But the sedan is less integrated as a whole, which might explain why Chevy—like other subcompact manufacturers—is selling more hatchbacks than it might have predicted.

Roofs and trunks aside, both the sedan and hatch wear the same face with round projector-style headlamps behind clear lenses. Chevrolet deserves praise for not cheaping out on the Sonic's footwear; every single trim—even base LS models—wear alloy wheels. Say goodbye to sad-looking plastic wheelcovers hiding conventional and generic steel wheels.

The dash and door design is a miniaturized iteration of Chevy's corporate twin-cockpit design and features a motorcycle-inspired instrument cluster afixed to the steering column behind the wheel. The dash drops down to create a V-shaped center stack that merges into a console area wrapped around the front-seat riders. Materials are surprisingly upscale considering its segment and its three-spoke steering wheel drives home its Chevrolet DNA.

The designers used chrome rings to trim the interior's circular elements, but they did so sparingly. Contrasting plastics with differing grains separate the dashboards lower and upper halves. Considering the segment and its price of entry—remember, this is no Cadillac—the Sonic's interior is a masterclass in how to build a pleasant cabin on a budget. It looks like it costs more than it does.

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2014 Chevrolet Sonic

Performance

The 2014 Chevy Sonic with the 1.4-liter turbo engine performs well and feels sophisticated for its segment

The 2014 Chevrolet Sonic continues with the two engines and two transmissions it's offered since launch, which are essentially the same ones used in the Sonic's big brother, the compact Cruze sedan.

Unfortunately for consumers, it's difficult to delineate the substantive differences between the Sonic's two available powerplants using just a spec sheet. Both produce identical horsepower: 138. Both have the same configuration: inline-4. And both displace under 2.0 liters. But there's a clear victor between the two in the real world.

Paired with the choice of a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic, the 1.8-liter four is a groan-worthy mill on the highway. It's coarse. It's boomy. And with a car loaded down with passengers, the little engine feels like it can run out of breath in a hurry.

The antidote to all that ails the Sonic under the hood is a 1.4-liter turbocharged four with 23 more pound-feet of torque at peak and much more area under the torque curve throughout its rev range. It's more fuel efficient, too, and its refinement is the smooth yin to the 1.8's rough, agricultural yang. The 1.4T isn't without fault, however; throttle response is a tad on the delayed side, but that's par for the course for small-displacement turbo engines.

The 1.4 is available with a six-speed manual or the same six-speed automatic as used with the 1.8. While automatics will make up the majority of sales for both engine options, the manual is a mighty fun option when paired with the more torque-happy turbo mill; its direct shifts are pleasingly precise with short throws and the clutch is so smooth that it's nearly impossible to bungle. Automatic drivers are given an up/down toggle button on the lever to effect manual shifts, though leaving it in Drive is fine.

Otherwise, the Sonic exudes well-mannered road holding and its electric power steering system simulates a decent feel that's far better than some Asian competitors. The only drawback of the Sonic's driving dynamics is its bake pedal feel—or lack thereof—that simulates what it would feel like if you were to squish a mound of overcooked peas with your foot.

The Sonic RS, while wearing some sporty duds, doesn't offer up anymore power to the alter of automotive enthusiasm compared with its 1.4T-powered counterparts. Instead, the RS gets a lowered, retuned suspension, sport-tuned exhaust and shorter gear ratios. The latter should give it slightly quicker legs off the line.

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2014 Chevrolet Sonic

Comfort & Quality

The 2014 Chevy Sonic's cabin is comfortable, quiet, and well put-together, making it a pleasant place

The 2014 Chevy Sonic offers seating for four, but in most uses, it'll likely hold one or two people. And they'll be surprised at how much space it offers for their various goods, especially if they fold down the rear seat (on either body style).

Sonic sedans get a more cavernous trunk versus hatchbacks—19 cubic feet versus 14—allowing it to swallow more of your stuff and keep a lid on the contents. A high load floor hides a cubby below, big enough for a laptop bag and rear seats in both body styles can be flipped down to extend the Sonic's trunk. But the little Chevy is still outgunned by the Magic Seat in the Honda Fit, the segment's current king of capacious cargo carrying.

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.

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. The interior also plays host to plenty of places for passengers to put their personal possessions. The rear seat isn't so generous, though.

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2014 Chevrolet Sonic

Safety

Though the 2014 Chevy Sonic's small-overlap crash score hurts it, Chevy added more safety features this year

The 2014 Chevrolet Sonic is one of the safer subcompact picks on the market, but a Marginal rating on one tough new IIHS crash test has lost the car its previous Top Safety Pick rating. Still, it comes standard with 10 airbags, and the recent all-new global platform under the Sonic should provides good occupant protection. You can feel the solidity and vault-like structure inside the car, unlike some competitors that simply feel less substantial, regardless of their ratings.

As well as the Top Safety Pick honor from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (let down somewhat by a 'marginal' rating in the small overlap frontal test), t

The 2014 Sonic receives five stars across the board—the best rating a car can score—from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) similarly awards the Sonic its top score of Good for moderate-overlap front, side, and roof-crush crash tests, as well as in seat and headrest tests.

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 of the Sonic's trims, and for 2014, Chevy has added an optional safety package that includes Lane Departure Warning and Forward Collision Alert. It's available on all Sonics except the most basic LS model. A rear-vision camera can be optioned on cars equipped with Chevrolet's MyLink infotainment system.

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2014 Chevrolet Sonic

Features

The 2014 Chevy Sonic offers lots of big-car features, and the MyLink infotainment system is now available across the range

The 2014 Chevrolet Sonic isn't the least-expensive Chevy any longer; that position is now occupied by the much smaller Spark minicar. That makes a good justification for Chevy's smart decision not to offer a truly grim, stripped-down, bare-bones model of the Sonic subcompact.

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.

Last year, Chevy added the optional MyLink system to its subcompact Sonic. It's displayed on a color 7-inch touchscreen with voice recognition, Bluetooth streaming audio, and advanced integration with some audio apps (Stitcher and Pandora). MyLink can be ordered on LS and LT models and it's standard on the top-of-the-line LTZ model and the sporty RS.

This year, Chevy has upped the ante by offering both a smartphone navigation system, called Bringgo, TuneIn global radio, and Siri voice recognition (for customers with compatible iPhones).

Of these, Bringgo is most interesting: for a one-time fee of $50, the Bringgo app lives on a smartphone and offers the entire North American mapping and routing database, updated every time the phone syncs to the app store. Driving instructions and maps are displayed on the large color MyLink display, a system Chevy has called "smartphone, dumb screen." It's a clever way to add an inexpensive navigation option for entry-level younger owners who use their cell phones for directions anyway--while removing the distraction of actually using the handheld device itself.

As for trim levels, the LT is the next step up from the base LS. It receives an upgraded six-speaker audio system with satellite radio, power heated mirrors, and an auto up/down driver's power window. Additionally, remote starting capability is available on cars equipped with the automatic transmission. A Connectivity & Cruise package adds a USB port and cruise control. New for 2014, Chevy has added an "LT Promotional Package" that bundles a power sunroof and front fog lamps with Chevrolet MyLink radio--although it says availability will be limited. 

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.

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2014 Chevrolet Sonic

Fuel Economy

While it's never going to be a Prius hybrid, the 2014 Chevy Sonic delivers real-world mileage in the 30s with the 1.4-liter engine

It's not the single most fuel-efficient subcompact on the market--that'd be the Toyota Prius C hybrid--but the 2014 Chevrolet Sonic will deliver real-world gas mileage of 30 to 35 mpg when fitted with the optional 1.4-liter turbocharged engine. It's optional (on LT and LTZ models) and rated at 31 mpg combined with the automatic transmission, rising to 33 mpg with the six-speed manual.

If you drive sensibly, you can most likely do better than that--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.

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March 19, 2016
2014 Chevrolet Sonic 4-Door Sedan Automatic LT

Getting it right !+

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I have had 3 sonics ! a 12, then I bought a 13 and traded for this 14 at the end of June, 2015, so I bought all of mine as "past" models. I have LOVED each of them, all sedans with the 1.8 litre, as I don't... + More »
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June 10, 2015
2014 Chevrolet Sonic 4-Door Sedan Manual LS

I purchased new End of Dec 2014 and 6 months and 11,000 miles later i still enjoy driving this car.

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I purchased my 2014 Chevy Sonic Dec 27,2014 in 6 months of owning this car I have put 11,000 miles on it and did many long distance trip's from east coast to west coast and back and had no issues as well as my... + More »
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