2014 Chevrolet Sonic Expert Review:Autoblog
After spending a week with the Chevrolet Sonic LTZ five-door, and realizing how much better it was than its Aveo predecessor, we were excited to get behind the wheel of the all-new 2013 Sonic RS – the gussied-up hatchback seemed to smartly address all of the standard model's minor shortcomings of appearance and driving dynamics.
To test our assumptions in the flesh, we braved a crowded airport and jetted to San Francisco to spend the better part of an afternoon with the impressive Chevrolet B-segment five-door.
The hour-long flight gave us plenty of time to do our homework, pore over its specifications and set realistic expectations based on its price and performance. When it arrives later this year, it will have a base price of $20,995, meaning it will compete with loaded versions of the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit and Hyundai Accent. More importantly, Chevrolet's RS (Rally Sport) badge means it gains an appearance package with minor mechanical upgrades – thus it should not to be lumped into the hot hatch category with more focused adversaries (we'd have to see an "SS" badge and hardware for that to happen).
Armed with the insight, we eagerly jumped behind the wheel of a bright-red RS and zipped around real estate north of the Bay Area for a few hours.
We arrived. We drove. We enjoyed.
The standard Chevrolet Sonic is offered in four-door sedan and five-door hatchback bodystyles in three different trim levels (LS, LT and LTZ). Under the hood is a naturally aspirated (NA) 1.8-liter four-cylinder developing 138 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque. It provides sufficient power, but optional on the higher-grade LT and LTZ is a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder making 138 horsepower (identical to the NA engine) but a more significant 148 pound-feet of torque. Both engines are offered with your choice of either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. Base prices start at $14,995 (including destination) for a Sonic Sedan LS manual transmission and top out at $19,975 (including destination) for a Sonic Hatchback LTZ automatic.
The gearing in the manual has been modified and the final drive ratio in the automatic is shorter – both will deliver sportier acceleration.
New for 2013 is this Sonic RS, a range-topping sportier derivative differentiated by a slew of upgrades all meant to increase its fun-to-drive potential.
While the standard Sonic is available in sedan or hatchback, the Sonic RS is only sold as a five-door. Under its hood, as standard equipment, is the optional turbocharged 1.4-liter engine with 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. Transmission choices remain the same (six-speed manual or six- speed automatic), but the gearing in the manual has been modified and the final drive ratio in the automatic is shorter – both will deliver sportier acceleration despite the lack of engine upgrades.
Rounding out the mechanical tweaks, Chevrolet has lowered the vehicle a bit (10 mm) and stiffened its suspension with firmer dampers. In addition, four-wheel disc brakes have been fitted, making it the only Sonic with rotors at all four corners. The electromechanically assisted steering has been left untouched. Also standard are 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in grand-touring all-season Hankook Optimo H428 tires (sized 205/50-17 on all four corners).
The exterior of the Sonic RS wears a new front fascia with a more aggressive front grille. There are new rocker moldings on each side and the mirrors have been gussied-up with special caps. The rear fascia is also enhanced with a roof-mounted spoiler, and it boasts a bright trapezoidal exhaust outlet.
Four-wheel disc brakes have been fitted, thus making it the only Sonic with rotors at all four corners.
Inside the cabin are unique sport bucket seats (synthetic suede and leather with an "RS" emblazoned on the back rest), a leather-wrapped sport steering wheel with red stitching, a new shift knob (6MT only), aluminum sport pedals and unique instruments in the motorcycle-inspired gauge cluster. In addition to the standard MyLink audio system, there are also a few obligatory decals and badges, but we didn't find them to be excessive or in poor taste. Overall, the RS package looks pretty darn good in any of its offered colors (Victory Red, Summit White, Cyber Gray Metallic and Black Granite Metallic).
We spent time in a blazing Victory Red Sonic RS 6MT. As there were no options, its price was a reasonable $20,995 (the Sonic RS 6AT starts at $22,280). As a recap, standard equipment on the RS includes all of the power accessories and convenience features found on the LTZ (air conditioning, power windows, power locks, power mirrors, cruise control, etc.). The RS package is also bundled with MyLink, adding a touchscreen infotainment interface and Bluetooth along with Stitcher and Pandora radio capability. However, with the arrival of MyLink, the CD player disappears (no worries, as fewer people seem to be listening to polycarbonate discs these days anyway).
The cabin of the Sonic RS is more pleasing than its sticker would suggest. We found the upgraded sport seats comfortable and the rest of the cabin was nicely configured with decent switchgear and intuitive ergonomics. The motorcycle-style primary gauge cluster is odd at first, but we acclimated quickly and found the large digital speedometer quite handy. Outward visibility wasn't a problem either, thanks to the tall greenhouse and well-positioned exterior mirrors (with integrated blind spot discs on each).
Don't expect an exhaust note, as it doesn't exist.
With a twist of the key in its column-mounted slot, the petite four spun to life and settled to a comfortable idle buzzing contently on the other side of the front firewall – don't expect an exhaust note, as it doesn't exist. The clutch is light but not numb, and we didn't have any issues making a clean launch on our first attempt (the 6MT is equipped with electronic hill hold feature that will keep the RS stationary for about three seconds on inclines).
Horsepower is something of a moot point, but 148 pound-feet of motivating torque is more than adequate to move the 2,800-pound Sonic RS off the line. Run it through the gears quickly and most will inadvertently hit the electronic limiter the first few times (redline is about 6,250 rpm), reeling in the fun. Keep in mind that gearing on the manual box is short. First gear is only good to about 25 mph and second is extinguished before 50 mph. It takes a shift to third gear to hit the benchmark of 60 mph, and by that time about eight full seconds will have passed. That's enough to make it is quick for its segment as long you resist lumping it in with larger and more focused hot hatches.
It takes a shift to third gear to hit the benchmark of 60 mph, and by that time about eight full seconds will have passed.
Playing around with the engine's throttle response at a standstill, primarily interested to hear how it sounded running around the tachometer without road noise, we noticed that the engineers have artificially limited the engine speed to less than 4,000 rpm unless the vehicle is moving. Finding it a bit odd, we asked several people at Chevrolet why. Nobody knew the specific reason, but protecting the engine (and clutch) from the occasional overzealous owner seemed to be the common thread.
While quite a bit of energy is expended rowing the gears (not necessarily a bad thing), the turbocharged torque ensures the engine is flexible and able when a naturally aspirated powerplant would fall flat on its face. While it needs to get spinning to become most effective, we lugged, short-shifted and tortured it, and it just kept pulling.
It was the all-season tires that threw in the towel first as the open tread block lost grip and moaned in protest.
The lowered chassis and upgraded sport dampers did prove their worth. We flung the little red hatchback into a few corners just to see what would happen. Even though the Sonic's center of gravity is about a foot too tall for ideal canyon carving, the suspension tuning and minor chassis lowering helped keep body roll in check, and so it never felt unstable. Interestingly enough, it was the all-season tires that threw in the towel first as the open tread block lost grip and moaned in protest – that's an easy fix in the aftermarket.
Most of the time, upgraded brakes significantly improve stopping capability. Yet exchanging the Sonic's standard rear drums for single-piston sliding-caliper rear discs (the same design of brake is on the front, but slightly larger) only brings it on par with nearly every other vehicle on the road. The four-wheel discs on the RS feel just fine, and stop well even in spirited driving, but they aren't going to take more than above average abuse.
Chevrolet and the EPA have yet to release fuel economy figures for the 2013 Sonic RS, but they should match or fall just slightly lower than those of the standard LTZ with the optional 1.4-liter engine. We'd estimate high-20s in the city, and maybe high-30s on the highway. With a 12.2-gallon fuel tank, cruising range should be close to 400 miles (keep in mind that those numbers will drop rather quickly with a heavy right foot goosing the turbocharged engine).
Chevrolet's hot little econo-hatch was not only frugal, but it kept us very entertained.
Overall, we had a lot of fun with the 2013 Sonic RS. It's the perfect example of what happens when an automaker fits a solid subcompact with a more powerful turbocharged engine and then properly tweaks the whole package. While this hatchback is far from a track or autocross star and it won't be winning many stoplight sprints against more expensive adversaries, Chevrolet's hot little econo-hatch kept us very entertained – and that's exactly the point.
New Car Test Drive
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.
The 2014 Chevrolet Sonic is available as either a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback. A 1.8-liter engine comes standard on all models except Sonic RS. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard, a 6-speed automatic is optional with the 1.8-liter engine. The 1.4-liter turbocharged engine is available for LT and LTZ models and standard on the RS. The 1.4-liter turbo comes with a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic.
Sonic LS sedan ($14,170) and Sonic LS hatchback ($14,770) have cloth upholstery, air conditioning, interior air filter, manually-adjustable seats, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, 60/40 split folding rear seat, OnStar telematics service, AM/FM stereo with auxiliary jack and four speakers, Bluetooth cell phone connectivity, front floor mats, remote keyless entry, power door locks, automatic headlights, and P195/65R15 tires on steel wheels with wheel covers. All hatchback models come with a rear washer/wiper and a rear spoiler. Chevrolet's MyLink infotainment system is optional ($595), as is a 6-speed automatic transmission ($1,250).
Sonic LT sedan ($15,780) and Sonic LT hatchback ($16,380) get upgraded cloth upholstery, cruise control, USB port, heated outside power mirrors, power windows, rear floor mats, a six-speaker premium sound system with CD player and satellite radio capability, Bluetooth audio streaming, and alloy wheels. LTs with the automatic transmission also get remote starting and the hatchback adds a rear cargo cover. LT buyers can get the MyLink infotainment system ($200), the 1.4-liter turbocharged engine ($700), and 6-speed automatic transmission ($1,285). A Wheels and Fog Lamps package for sedan ($495) or hatchback ($445) includes fog lamps, P205/55R16 tires and, for the sedan, a rear spoiler.
Sonic LTZ sedan ($17,390) and LTZ hatchback ($17,990) upgrade with leatherette upholstery, heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, wheel-mounted audio controls, Chevy's MyLink infotainment system, rear-vision camera, fog lights, and P205/50R17 tires. A 6-speed automatic transmission is available ($1,335). The new Dusk package for LTZ includes the turbo engine, all-disc brakes, unique exterior features, and Jet Black/Mojave leather-appointed interior.
Sonic RS sedan and RS hatchback ($20,325) come standard with the 1.4-liter turbocharged engine, more aggressive gearing, leatherette/synthetic-suede upholstery, a flat-bottom steering wheel, aluminum pedals, sports suspension, and unique 17-inch wheels. A 6-speed automatic transmission ($1,285) can replaced the standard manual gearbox. A sunroof ($850) is offered for all models except the LS.
Safety features on all models include antilock brakes (ABS), electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and panic brake assist; electronic stability control with rollover sensor; traction control; tire-pressure monitor; hill-hold feature; and 10 airbags: front driver and passenger, seat-mounted thorax side-impact, head curtain, rear side-impact and front knee airbags. An available safety package ($395) includes Forward Collision Alert and Lane Departure Warning.
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.
Chevrolet Sonic LS sedan ($14,170), LS sedan with automatic ($15,420); LS hatchback ($14,770), LS hatchback with automatic ($16,020); LT sedan ($15,780), LT sedan with automatic ($17,065); LT hatchback ($16,380), LT hatchback with automatic ($17,665); LTZ sedan ($17,390), LTZ sedan with automatic ($18,725); LTZ hatchback ($17,990), LTZ hatchback with automatic ($19,325); RS sedan, RS sedan with automatic; RS hatchback ($20,325), RS hatchback with automatic ($21,610).
Options As Tested
Chevrolet Sonic LTZ Turbo hatchback.
*The data and content on this web site is subject to change without notice. Neither AOL nor any of its data or content providers shall be liable for errors in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.