2016 Sonic New Car Test Drive
Subcompacts can be ordinary, or they can be fun. Introduced for 2010, the Chevrolet Sonic hatchback and sedan might swing either way, depending on the engine chosen. With a turbocharged four-cylinder beneath the hood, the Sonic is fun to drive and it's economical to own. Choose the larger base engine, and the pleasure tends to fade away.
After five years on the market with little change, not much is new for 2016. Beyond three new colors, the 2016 Sonic LTZ now comes standard with an automatic transmission, while the midlevel Sonic LT adds Chevrolet MyLink infotainment.
Both the base 1.8-liter four and the 1.4-liter turbo make 138 horsepower, but that's where the similarity ends. Optional for upper trim levels, the smaller, more efficient turbo delivers significantly quicker acceleration as well as greater fuel economy, plus a more agreeable, spirited driving experience. Manual gearboxes are available: five speeds with the base engine, six for the turbo. A 6-speed automatic is offered with either engine, and is standard on the LTZ.
Appealing to the eye and comfortable for the body, Sonic has earned good safety ratings. Last year, it was named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives it five stars, overall and on all tests except rollover (where it got four stars). Ten airbags are standard. So are blind-spot warning mirrors.
Even the least-costly Sonic LS has air, keyless entry, and OnStar 4G LTE connectivity. Noise suppression is effective, and the turbo-engine models, at least, are quiet all-around.
Hatchback and sedan body styles share wheelbase, front-end styling, and front doors; but aft of the center pillar, they're far different. Particularly well-proportioned, the hatchback has a sportier demeanor with its snipped-short rear and longer front overhangs. Each body style avoids the boxy econocar look that has characterized many small cars.
Competition is stronger today than it was when the first Sonics appeared, now led by such mini-dimensioned cars as Honda's recently redesigned Fit and the upgraded Ford Fiesta. Even though fuel-efficiency isn't as much of an issue as it was a couple of years back, Sonic hatchbacks and sedans are still strong contenders.
Sonic four-door sedans and five-door hatchbacks have front-wheel drive. Both the 1.8-liter base engine and the 1.4-liter turbo can mate with a manual transmission or a 6-speed automatic. Prices are not yet available.
Sonic LS trim includes the 1.8-liter engine, 5-speed manual gearbox, air conditioning, cloth upholstery, remote keyless entry, tilt/telescopic steering column, steering-wheel audio controls, Bluetooth, four-speaker audio, and 15-inch steel wheels. OnStar 4G LTE connectivity is included.
Stepping up to the volume-selling Sonic LT trim brings Chevrolet MyLink infotainment with a seven-inch touchscreen, hands-free connectivity, streaming audio, and voice recognition. Also standard are six-speaker audio, satellite radio, cruise control, a USB port, power heated mirrors, and 15-inch alloy wheels. The turbo engine is optional.
Equipped with the turbo engine and automatic, the Sonic LTZ adds a rearview camera, fog lamps, heated front seats with perforated leatherette upholstery, and 17-inch alloy wheels.
The sporty Sonic RS hatchback features a lowered suspension, retuned exhaust, slightly lower gear ratios, distinctive wheels, bolder front fascia, aluminum pedals, flat-bottomed steering wheel, sport seats, and manual or automatic transmission.
A Dusk Package for the Sonic LTZ sedan includes gray metallic paint, ground-effects styling, and 18-inch aluminum wheels. A sunroof is available. An option group includes Lane Departure Warning and Forward Collision Alert.