The Chevrolet Sonic, which debuted for the 2012 model year, earned strong ratings in the subcompact-car category. Today, Sonic is behind the times. Only a handful of minor changes mark the model year for the 2018 Chevrolet Sonic.
Sonic comes in sedan and hatchback versions. Both ride the same wheelbase.
For 2018, the RS package adds black bowtie emblems. The Fun and Sun package for 2018 includes 17-inch alloy wheels, as well as the 1.4-liter turbo engine and a sunroof.
Sedans come in base LS, midlevel LT, and top Premier trim levels.
Hatchbacks are offered in LT and Premier guise.
Powertrains haven’t changed much over the Sonic’s lifetime. The base engine is a 1.8-liter four-cylinder, making 138 horsepower. The more powerful turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder is rated at 138 horsepower, also, but its torque output of 148 pound-feet is 23 more than the base engine delivers. Not only do turbocharged cars accelerate with greater spirit, they’re more fuel-efficient at lower engine speeds.
Only the 1.8-liter engine is available with base LS trim, which comes with wind-up windows and steel wheels. LT versions can have either engine.
Most Sonic buyers will choose the optional 6-speed automatic transmission, but a 5-speed manual gearbox is standard. Turbos get a 6-speed manual as standard.
Striving to keep pace with the competition, Chevrolet updated front-end styling and reworked the interior for the 2017 model year, while adding some active-safety features.
Crash-test ratings have been impressive. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration not only gave the 2018 Sonic five stars for overall safety, it earned five stars in every category except rollover prevention (a calculated figure), where it got four stars. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the 2017 Sonic its top Good rating for each test performance. No rating was given for the small-overlap test on the passenger side. Latch child-safety seat anchors scored only Marginal for ease of use.
All Sonics come with 10 airbags and a rearview camera. Several active-safety features are optional rather than standard, but relatively affordable. A $495 Driver Confidence Package, available for LT and Premier versions, includes forward-collision alert, lane-departure warning, and rear parking assist. That option group makes the Sonic competitive in the subcompact class, but behind several rival small cars.
Sonic LS 4-Door Sedan ($15,295) comes with the 1.8-liter engine, 5-speed manual transmission, rearview camera, steering-wheel controls, keyless entry, air conditioning, Bluetooth, a USB port, LED daytime running lights, 15-inch steel wheels, and OnStar connectivity. A 6-speed automatic transmission ($1,200) is optional. (Prices are MSRP and do not include $875 destination charge.)
Sonic LT 4-Door Sedan ($17,695) offer a choice of 1.4-liter turbo or 1.8-liter engine and matching manual shift, plus deluxe cloth seat trim, power windows and mirrors, cruise control, 15-inch alloy wheels, six-speaker audio, two USB ports, and chrome beltline moldings. Sonic LT 5-Door Hatchback ($17,795) is equipped similarly but with hatchback body. Automatic transmission ($700) is optional.
Sonic Premier Sedan ($19,795) and Hatchback ($19,795) come with the turbocharged 1.4-liter engine, adding heated power front seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, foglamps, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and enhanced digital instruments. Automatic ($700) is optional.
The RS Package includes a sport body kit.
Overall, the Sonic design has aged reasonably well, helped by a modernized front end for the 2017 model year, echoing appearance of recent Chevrolets. The two-element grille includes a large lower intake, with scoop-like openings for available foglamps. Projector-beam headlights are complemented by LED daytime running lights.
The five-door hatchback looks more settled than the sedan, though the blocky trunk is a bit large, lacking in elegance. Considering its seven-year history, the comparatively simple, basic shape of the hatchback isn’t obsolete.
Front seats are comfortable, but even two passengers in the rear can expect a tight experience. Taller adults are likely to be short on headroom, as well as leg space.
Early Sonics conveyed an econocar aura, but the current cabin is significantly more stylish. During recent years, quite a few subcompact cars have grown bigger, but Chevrolet hasn’t enlarged the Sonic.
Mounted at the center of the straightforward instrument panel is a large speedometer, matched by a slightly smaller tachometer. The infotainment touchscreen sits above big, intuitive rotary knobs that make climate adjustments.
Seat fabrics and abundant black plastic trim, among other interior elements, are appropriate for the subcompact segment. All told, the Sonic comes across as higher in quality than some Asian rivals. Each Sonic also is quiet on the road.
Cargo space is generous with either body style. Sedan trunks hold 14.9 cubic feet, with low liftover height. Hatchbacks promise 19 cubic-foot capacity with the rear seat up, growing to 42.7 cubic feet with the seat folded. A hidden bin is located below the cargo deck.
The hatchback’s load floor is a bit higher than in some competitors, but the Sonic’s relatively upright profile improves its ability to hold tall or long items. Rear seats in each body style flip forward.
Engine behavior varies considerably. The base engine feels weak, loud and harsh, in stark contrast to the smooth, sporty nature of the turbo four. Clearly, the turbo is a better choice, even offering more satisfying gas mileage.
Turbo-power Sonics are fun to drive, especially with the 6-speed manual gearbox. They handle nicely and feel admirably composed â€“ as solid and sturdy as a bigger car. Chevrolet’s responsive electric power steering provides good feel and helpful weighting. Unlike some rivals, too, the ride is well-controlled rather than coarse and overly active.
Top fuel-economy ratings stem from the 1.4-liter turbo with the 6-speed manual gearbox, EPA-rated at 28/37 mpg City/Highway, or 32 mpg Combined. An automatic transmission drops that rating to 27/35 mpg City/Highway, or 30 mpg Combined.
With a 5-speed manual gearbox, the 1.8-liter engine is EPA-rated at 26/35 mpg City/Highway, or 29 mpg Combined. The 6-speed automatic reduces that estimate to 25/34/28 mpg. Fuel-economy estimates are identical for the hatchback and sedan.
Despite its age, the Sonic remains a good choice in the subcompact category, ranking above the pack in design and fuel economy, as well as in safety. Even the modestly equipped Sonic LS isn’t grimly austere. Not many new subcompacts have been emerging lately, but the Sonic is likely to carry on for a while yet. It’s even more affordable than in the past, because of incentives available on such less-popular small cars.
Driving impressions by The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.