2018 Chevrolet Sonic Review

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2018
The Car Connection
2018
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

John Voelcker John Voelcker Senior Editor
January 10, 2018

The 2018 Chevrolet Sonic remains a good choice among subcompacts, though it’s now aging and losing some luster.

The 2018 Chevrolet Sonic earned high scores among subcompact cars when it launched seven years ago. Now, as gas remains cheap and utility vehicles have surged, it’s an aging entry in a waning segment. It’s available in base LS, mid-level LT, and high-end Premier trim levels, and changes for 2018 are minimal.

With few new subcompacts in recent years, the Sonic sedan and hatchback remain competitive—though buyers looking for small vehicles may be lured by the Trax small crossover on showroom floors next to those Sonics. Chevy updated their front styling and dashboard last year, adding active-safety features as well. Overall, we give the 2018 Sonic a rating of 6.0 points out of 10, rating it above average for design, safety, and fuel economy. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

On the road, Sonics fitted with the optional 1.4-liter turbo-4 engine are far and away the better choice than those with the slower, louder, harsher base 1.8-liter non-turbo engine. The 6-speed manual gearbox is fun to drive, though the vast majority of U.S. buyers will opt for the 6-speed automatic transmission instead. The Sonic remains quiet on the road, and the new interior that arrived last year is considerably more stylish, less economy-car, than the earlier version.

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Competitors among subcompacts offer different strengths for different tastes. The Ford Fiesta is small but fun to drive, the Honda Fit’s flexible interior is unparalleled, the Nissan Versa is huge inside, and the Toyota Yaris iA (a rebadged Mazda) is a hidden gem. The Sonic remains a good all-rounder against those cars, losing points only for a cramped rear seat. Even in its seventh model year, it holds up well—and buyers will likely find it more affordable these days, as incentives rise on less popular small passenger cars.

6

2018 Chevrolet Sonic

Styling

The 2018 Chevy Sonic’s design has aged well, and last year’s interior redesign keeps it ahead of many competitors.

The design of the 2018 Chevrolet Sonic has aged well for a car now in its seventh year, assisted by a refresh last year that updated the front end to match more recent Chevys. We rate the Sonic at 7 points out of 10, giving it an extra point for the updated interior. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The updated front styling included a redesigned hood as well as projector-beam headlights, LED daytime running lights, and a two-part grille, with an enlarged lower intake and optional fog lights in scoop-like openings to its side. The update also included several bright new paint colors and new wheel designs, at 15-, 16-, or 17-inch sizes depending on trim level and options.

Overall, the revisions keep the Sonic current, though the hatchback has always looked more resolved than the sedan, whose trunk is just a little too large and blocky to be elegant. Last year’s revised taillights on the sedan somewhat lessened that effect, and the Sonic’s basic shape is neither outdated nor overly busy.

Inside, the new instrument panel provided last year puts the Sonic a little ahead of some competitors whose dashboards simply try too hard. It’s straightforward, with an instrument pod behind the wheel offering a large central speedometer, a slightly smaller tachometer to the left, and ancillary information to the right.

Chevy’s well-reviewed infotainment system is front and center in the touchscreen above large, intuitive rotary knobs for the climate control. Seat fabrics, trim plastics, and other interior elements suit the segment, with a preponderance of black plastic in a small version of the brand’s “twin cockpit” setup. Overall, it comes together better and conveys a higher-quality feel than some of the Sonic’s aging Asian competitors.

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6

2018 Chevrolet Sonic

Performance

The 2018 Chevrolet Sonic performs and handles well with the optional turbo-4 engine; it feels as solid as a larger car.

The Chevy Sonic’s powertrains have remained essentially unchanged since its 2012 launch. The base engine in this small front-wheel-drive car is a 1.8-liter inline-4, rated at 138 horsepower, but the optional turbocharged 1.4-liter 4-cylinder makes the car not only faster but also more fuel-efficient. It too is rated at 138 hp, but its 148 pound-feet of torque is more substantial than the anemic 125 lb-ft from the base 1.8-liter.

While most buyers will likely opt for the 6-speed automatic transmission with either engine, the base 1.8-liter comes standard with a 5-speed manual gearbox. That’s upgraded to a 6-speed manual if you opt for the turbo-4. We rate the 2018 Sonic at 6 out of 10 points for performance, giving it an extra point for the turbo’s perky acceleration. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Behind the wheel, the 2018 Sonic remains enjoyable to drive. It’s sturdy and solid, and the ride is well-controlled rather than busy and coarse as in some competitors. Chevy gets particular credit for responsive electric power steering with good weighting and feel, an area that some Asian competitors still haven’t quite mastered. In many types of driving, the Sonic feels as composed and strong as a larger compact car.

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5

2018 Chevrolet Sonic

Comfort & Quality

The 2018 Chevy Sonic is comfortable in front, tight in the rear, but offers generous cargo capacity in either body style.

As all cars have gotten larger within their segments, the seven-year-old 2018 Chevy Sonic hasn’t kept pace with the latest and largest entries in the subcompact category. Its front seats are comfortable, and that’s may be what matters most in a car likely destined to be used for commuter duty, but its rear seat is tight. Overall, we rate the Sonic at 5 points out of 10, giving it an extra point for the cargo volume and versatility of the hatchback version, but knocking off a point for the tight rear seat. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The Sonic sedan sits on the same wheelbase as the hatchback, but while the 14.9 cubic feet of trunk space is generous and the liftover height is low, the rear seat is just tight. It’s possible to fit four adults in the rear, and they won’t be miserable, but it demands some negotiations for legroom with front-seat occupants and taller adults will find limited headroom. The Sonic’s cabin is just a few inches shorter than competitors on the same footprint—let alone the Nissan Versa sedan, whose rear compartment is comparatively huge.

The rear seat in both Sonic models flips forward to allow storage of longer items, but for versatility, the hatch wins out. Its load floor isn’t quite as low as some competitors, nor does it have the Honda Fit’s uber-versatile Magic Seat, but the relatively upright profile of the five-door offers accommodation for tall as well as long items with the seat down. Its rated volume of 19 cubic feet even with the seat up includes a hidden bin under the cargo deck that’s large enough to hold a laptop or tablet bag.

Otherwise, the front seats offer sufficient bins, cubbies, and cupholders for storing all the items you accumulate during trips.

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2018 Chevrolet Sonic

Safety

The 2018 Chevrolet Sonic gets good crash-safety ratings and its optional active-safety features are affordable.

With active-safety features now appearing on even basic compact cars, the subcompact segment risks falling behind in an area buyers deem important. The 2018 Chevy Sonic is competitive in its class, though hardly at the forefront among small cars overall. We rate it at 7 out of 10 for safety, giving it extra points for its five-star overall rating and affordable active-safety options. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The NHTSA not only gave the 2018 Sonic five stars for safety overall, but five stars in every category except rollover, where it got four stars. The IIHS awarded it the top rating of “Good” in every category, though it no longer earns the Top Safety Pick designation. (Surprisingly, though, the Sonic’s Latch child-safety seat anchors were rated only Marginal for ease of use.)

All Sonics come with 10 airbags and a rearview camera as standard equipment. Optional safety features come bundled in a $495 Driver Confidence Package that includes parking assist, forward-collision alert, and lane-departure warning, available on mid-level LT and top-end Premier trim levels. That’s a good value until more advanced feature—including adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and active lane control—make their way into subcompacts.

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4

2018 Chevrolet Sonic

Features

The 2018 Chevy Sonic has carefully packaged trim levels and features, but nothing stands out as distinctive in the segment.

In the latter part of its model life, the 2018 Chevrolet Sonic has a straightforward lineup of three trim levels: the base LS, the mid-range LT, and the top-end Premier for the sedan, with only the upper two offered on the hatchback. The LS offers only the base 1.8-liter engine, both engine options and gearboxes are offered on the LT, and the Premier only comes with the turbo-4. We give the Sonic average ratings for its standard and optional features, then knocked off a point for the econobox wind-up windows and steel wheels of its base version. That brought the score down to 4 out of 10 points. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

With newer versions of the Spark minicar below and the Cruze compact above it, the Sonic is now Chevy’s oldest small car. But it’s not a grim econobox: even base LS models come with standard audio controls on the steering wheel, Bluetooth pairing, keyless entry, air conditioning, and OnStar connectivity. LS models do have wind-up windows and manually adjustable mirrors, however, along with 15-inch steel wheels hidden by silver plastic wheel covers.

The mid-level LT, likely the most popular model, adds deluxe cloth seat trim, the missing power windows and mirrors, cruise control, 15-inch alloy wheels, a six-speaker audio system, chrome beltline moldings, and a host of optional features from the Premier trim level.

The top Premier adds heated and power-adjustable front seats, larger 17-inch alloy wheels, cruise control and fog lamps, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and enhanced digital instruments. Options on the two upper trim levels include a sunroof and a variety of convenience and safety packages, as well as a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a WiFi hotspot, and 4G LTE connectivity.

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2018 Chevrolet Sonic

Fuel Economy

The 2018 Chevrolet Sonic earns combined EPA ratings of 28 to 32 mpg depending on powertrain.

Like most small cars, the 2018 Chevrolet Sonic’s fuel-economy ratings are slightly lower than they were when the model was launched several years ago. That’s due to changes in calculations made last year, part of the EPA’s continual pattern of tweaking the “adjustment factors” that bring raw test results more closely in line with observed real-world driving results. This year’s Sonic earns 8 out of 10 points for its fuel efficiency. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

The version with the best gas-mileage ratings for 2018 is the optional 1.4-liter turbo-4 with the 6-speed manual gearbox rated at 28 mpg city, 37 highway, 32 combined. It’s followed by the Sonic fitted with that same engine and the 6-speed automatic, at 27/35/30 mpg. The two versions with the base 1.8-liter engine do worse, with the 5-speed manual coming in at 26/35/29 mpg, and the 6-speed automatic version bringing up the rear at 25/34/28 mpg. Results are identical for the five-door hatchback and four-door sedan versions.

That’s not the most efficient subcompact you can buy, but it’s not terrible, and in these days of continued cheap gasoline, we suspect it’ll be enough for subcompact buyers. It’s worth noting, however, that the larger and newer Chevrolet Cruze compact sedan and hatchback offer higher ratings—31 to 34 mpg combined—even before the addition of the Cruze Diesel, which comes in at 37 mpg combined.

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6.0
Overall
Expert Rating
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Styling 6
Performance 6
Comfort & Quality 5
Safety 7
Features 4
Fuel Economy 8
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2018 Chevrolet Sonic Pricing Insights

  • 2018 Sonic arriving; 2017s getting hard to find
  • Up to $2,517 rebate on 2017s; $1,000 on 2018s
  • Lease a 2018 LT hatchback from $229 for 39 months
  • APR as low as 1.9% for 60 months
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