Chevrolet Sonic is a subcompact offering refinement and sporty handling. Sonic comes in four-door sedan and five-door hatchback body styles, with a choice of four-cylinder engines. Sonic was launched as a 2012 model. The 2014 Sonic comes in LS, LT, LTZ, and RS models.
A new Dusk package is available for the 2014 Chevrolet Sonic LTZ sedan, with unique exterior features, a Jet Back/Mojave leather-appointed interior, 1.4-liter turbocharged engine and four-wheel disc brakes. A rearview camera now is standard on LTZ and RS models, and available for the LT. An available safety package includes Forward Collision Alert and Lane Departure Warning.
Sonic RS delivers sportier handling and performance than the other models. Sonic RS comes with a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine, along with a sports suspension, four-wheel disc brakes, 17-inch alloy wheels, leather seating surfaces, and special exterior and interior trim. Unique gear ratios for the 6-speed manual gearbox and a unique final drive ratio for the automatic transmission give the Sonic RS more responsive acceleration, but at the price of meager fuel economy.
Chevrolet Sonic models come standard with manual shift and a 1.8-liter engine, rated at 26/35 miles per gallon City/Highway. The 1.8-liter delivers 138 horsepower at 6300 rpm and 125 pound-feet of torque at 3800 rpm. Those numbers are worth noting in comparisons with the optional turbocharged engine. We found the 1.8-liter engine offers sprightly performance and a wide powerband.
The optional 1.4-liter turbocharged engine is both more powerful and more fuel-efficient. The 1.4-liter turbo delivers 138 horsepower at 4900 rpm and puts out 148 pound-feet of torque, starting way down at 1850 rpm (2500 rpm with manual shift). Fuel economy is 29/40 mpg City/Highway with the standard 6-speed manual gearbox. Note that the turbocharged engine develops its identical horsepower at lower revs than does the 1.8-liter engine. Drivers are likely to consider the Sonic zippier and more fun with the 1.4-liter turbo, while getting better gas mileage. So we think the turbo is worth the extra money.
The 1.8-liter engine is available with a 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic; the 1.4-liter turbo mates with a 6-speed manual or the 6-speed automatic. A standard hill-hold feature is especially welcome for the manual gearbox on hilly terrain. When the driver is stopped and releases the brake pedal, the brakes electronically hold the car in place for two seconds, thanks to a sensor that detects body tilt.
Looking fresh and new, the Sonic has an urban vibe, particularly in five-door hatchback form. Sharp creases, exposed headlamps and motorcycle-inspired design cues set it apart from other compacts, while good fit and finish and available forged alloy wheels keep it from looking cheap.
Sonics contain 10 airbags, including seat-mounted thorax side-impact, head curtain and knee airbags. Other nice touches not often found standard on a sub-$15,000 car include a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and 60/40 split folding rear seats.
We found the Sonic’s handling to be good in general, not just for a low-priced subcompact. The body structure is quite stiff, which aids both handling and ride comfort. Corvette engineers helped tune the MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension for the U.S. market to strike a balance between fun and comfort. All but the RS model use front disc brakes and rear drums.
While most interior materials are hard plastic, that’s expected at these prices. Fit and finish is better than most; but some materials, such as the headliner, appear low grade.
We think the Chevrolet Sonic has an edge over the Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa, and Honda Fit when it comes to sportiness and refinement, though the Ford Fiesta and Mazda2 offer similar strengths at comparable prices.
Although it’s made in America, the 2014 Chevrolet Sonic was sketched and modeled in South Korea by designers who are avid motorcycle enthusiasts. As such, the Sonic contains many design cues borrowed from two-wheelers.
The five-door hatchback model has a younger, more aggressive, boxy shape with hidden rear door handles and exposed rear taillights. The four-door sedan’s profile, meanwhile, is sleeker and more refined.
On both body styles, the Sonic uses round, exposed headlamps, chrome trim around Chevy’s trademark dual-port grille, and honeycomb-shaped grille inserts. Steel wheels with wheel covers on the base LS model result in a cheaper look. Alloy wheels are available in 15-, 16- or 17-inch diameters, and they look far more sophisticated.
Large gaps between body panels were one tell-tale sign of cheap cars of the past. But the Chevrolet Sonic manages to pare down body gaps to 3.5 millimeters or less. Also, a special welding technique was used to make for a cleaner, more flush fit.
Sonic RS models hold several telltale exterior cues. Satin-finish aluminum wheels and ride height that’s been lowered 10 millimeters give it a sportier stance. The lower front fascia is also more aggressive-looking and the lower portion of the grille appears to be more open. In addition, the lower rocker moldings and rear fascia are more aggressive, the exhaust outlets are bright, and the rear spoiler features a center dip that suggests a dual-cockpit design.
The cabin of the Chevrolet Sonic carries over the motorcycle-inspired design with a large, round tachometer front and center. A large LCD speedometer to the right of the tach glows a pleasant blue color and is easy to read, though the red dial glows too brightly at night.
Audio and climate controls are simple, logical, and easy to read and reach. The tall, narrow slots on either side of the center stack add extra storage, but they look out of place.
Cloth seats are comfortable and easily adjustable. We especially like the tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, which can be tough to find as standard equipment even on more luxurious cars. Dash and trim materials are mostly plastics, but that’s expected in this class. At least, the plastics are substantial, fit together well, and feature well-executed colors and textures.
The Sonic RS has some sporty touches. You expect to find a flat-bottom steering wheel in an Audi TT, not an entry-level Chevy. The aluminum pedals are cool, as is the red contrast stitching in the seats and on the shift lever. The synthetic seat inserts also add a bit more grip to keep you in place during aggressive maneuvers.
In the rear, there’s enough headroom and legroom, even for adults to fit behind adults. Most subcompact cars have tighter rear seats.
Cargo space comes in at an average 14.9 cubic feet for the sedan and a decent 19 cubic feet for the hatchback. A shelf in the rear of the hatch stows away to make room for tall items and is completely removable for more space. Fold down the 60/40 rear seats, and cargo space expands to 47.7 cubic feet.
Chevrolet includes a MyLink infotainment system with the 2014 Sonic LTZ and RS. MyLink features a 7-inch touchscreen that links with your smartphone to provide access to apps, pictures and movies (when stopped). Available apps include Pandora and Stitcher internet radio. A navigation app called BringGo promises navigation for less than 60 bucks, offering such functionality as point-of-interest search, Google local search, and real-time traffic information.
We tried BringGo in Chicago and found that it worked quite well. It requires a cell phone signal to work, but offers a strong value proposition compared with a built-in navigation system.
The Chevrolet Sonic delivers sprightly acceleration performance with the standard 1.8-liter engine. Power from the 1.8-liter engine is sufficient off the line, but we found throttle tip-in to be overly sensitive and that made for jumpy standing starts until we got used to it.
We sometimes had trouble choosing the right gear over hills and through windy roads. With the automatic, we needed to manually shift to get optimum power. With the manual, second gear seemed too short yet third was much too tall. This suggests torque from the 1.8-liter engine might not be sufficiently broad and robust for the gear ratios. In short, more power would be useful for motoring around town.
We found the 1.4-liter turbo models in the LT and LTZ to be a tad zippier, smoother, and quieter. There isn’t much low-rpm response, so downshifting is required for good acceleration. Merge from the on-ramp onto the freeway in third gear, and you may be wishing for more power to get up to speed.
The shorter gear ratios in the Sonic RS make it feel noticeably stronger at low speeds. The 0-60 mph acceleration time is about the same at about 8.4 seconds, but that’s because you’ll need to grab an extra gear to get to 60. It may not be much, but we like the extra zip of the RS, though it’s going to consume substantially more gasoline than a turbo in other models.
When it comes to handling, the Sonic is accomplished for the price. Steering is surprisingly responsive and offers decent road feel. The car’s strong body structure and well-tuned suspension make it agile and composed. Throw the car into a cloverleaf on-ramp and it will maintain its line and rotate the way you want it to. We like to think of the Sonic hatchback as the poor man’s VW GTI.
The Sonic RS is even sportier. The lower ride height and stiffer suspension make the handling a bit more crisp, without becoming harsh or high strung.
Ride quality is comfortable: a nice balance with handling. The suspension is sufficiently compliant to handle bumps and railroad tracks, yet still firm enough to attack corners with minimal body roll.
Braking is responsive. The brake pedal is not as progressive as we would like, however. There’s pedal travel, then the brakes bite. Though perfectly safe, they’re more difficult to modulate for smooth driving, which takes some of the joy out of the driving experience. The Sonic RS, which has four-wheel discs instead of rear drums, feels a bit more progressive.
Fuel economy for the Chevrolet Sonic, regardless of body style, is an EPA-estimated 26/35 mpg City/Highway with the 1.8-liter engine and 5-speed manual transmission, or 25/35 mpg with automatic. The 1.4 turbo is rated at 29/40 mpg with the manual and 27/37 mpg with the automatic. The RS’s shorter gearing costs it significant mileage: Sonic RS is EPA-rated at 27/34 mpg with the 6-speed manual, 25/33 mpg with 6-speed automatic. Regular gasoline is recommended for all models, so there’s no need to pay more for Premium.
standard features and surprisingly good performance at a reasonable price. It offers levels of sportiness and refinement that are uncommon in this class. It’s quickly become our favorite subcompact.
Laura Burstein filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after her test drive of the Chevrolet Sonic in San Francisco. Kirk Bell contributed from Chicago.