First and foremost, let’s do some house cleaning. The Sonic is a replacement for the Chevrolet Aveo. Don’t look on this site for an Aveo review, because there isn’t one. I have driven a few versions of the Aveo. Back when running a small local dealership in Dallas we would stumble across an Aveo or two. This was always a tough sell as there was nothing particularly good about these cars, except maybe it’s price. I could never recommend it to anyone; not as a teenager’s first car or a cheap family car. There were just too many other products you could get that were much better.
Now we have the Sonic and GM says that it’s not really replacing the Aveo because it’s a whole new car. You see the Aveo was a car built by Daewoo and badged in the U.S. as a Chevrolet. The Sonic on the other hand is all Chevy and assembled in Michigan. So did Chevy do it right this time? Can I finally recommend a Chevrolet, compact hatchback, to friends and readers?
Let’s start with the looks. The Sonic’s design was given high priority. With manufactures like Ford and Hyundai making not just good products but great designed compact cars, GM couldn’t afford getting it wrong. They haven’t disappointed either. The design is supposed to inspire sportiness and it’s said to be taken direction from motorcycles. I’ll have to say I really like the headlight and front fascia design. Looking from the side you can tell the car leans aggressively forward. This is no mistake as it’s given two character lines running from wheel to wheel showing off it’s aggressive stance.
Step inside and you’ll notice that this is a budget car. Unlike the Hyundai Veloster that offers a big touchscreen with navigation on even it’s base model, the Sonic doesn’t even offer one on it’s top-of-the-line LTZ trim. No matter though, what you really want to be looking at is the gauge cluster. This is more styling taking from “sport-bikes” with a large tachometer showing your 6500 rpm redline. Beside the large tachometer is every other output displayed onto a LCD display.
The rest of the interior is designed well and you don’t automatically notice its cheapness. There are a lot of plastics used but GM did a good job of breaking up the interior and keeping the driver focused on driving. In our tester we had cloth seats that were comfortable and supportive. There were a few times that I longed for leather/heated seats but after seeing the leather seats in the LTZ trim, I’ll stick with the cloth on this car.
The Sonic comes with two different engine options. You can get a 1.8 liter 4 cylinder that pushes 138 horsepower matched up with either a 6-speed automatic or a 5-speed manual transmission. You can also get a 1.4 liter 4 cylinder turbocharged engine with the same 138 horsepower but torque is bumped from 125 lb-ft to 148. This engine can be matched to a 6-speed auto or a 6-speed manual. Our tester was equipped with the 1.4 turbo and a 6-speed manual, so we’re expecting some fun driving!
Driving a car with a turbocharged, small displacement engine is a lot different than what I’m used to. Living in Texas our sports cars are equipped with big V8’s or V6’s with lots of low down power. The Sonic’s 1.4 turbo doesn’t have that kind of lowdown power on tap. Cruising down the highway in 6th gear at 70 mph is smooth and fine, but what if someone pulls out in front of you and you need to slow down a little. Slow from 70 to 55 mph and then put the peddle to the floor and you get nothing. No power. Drop a gear to 5th and you get the same result, now people behind you are getting frustrated. Drop it another gear and finally that turbo is spoiling and you can use that 138 hp. It’s the same story around town. Corners I’d normally take in 3rd gear in my car require 2nd in the Sonic.
You might be thinking that this is a slow and un-fun car to drive then. Well you’d be wrong. You just need to adjust your driving style to get the most power of the small engine. Keep the rpm’s above 2500 or 3000 and you’re good. Keep them at the top of 5000 rpm and you’re having a blast! I know 138 horsepower isn’t that much but the suspension and the chassis are tuned for cornering. You can toss this car into corners at speed and you don’t get wobbling body roll. You get decent grip and balanced, level cornering. The steering has good feel as well so it’s easy to predict the amount of lock needed to attack a corner. This would be a great weekend time-attack car.
This is a small hatchback and many will buy it not just for the price or utility but also for its economy. Our tester with the 1.4 turbo engine and 6-speed manual transmission is ratted at 40 mpg highway and 29 mpg in the city. Overall, with our fun spirited driving style, we averaged 32.8 mpg.
The Sonic is light and small but feels more spacious inside. I can easily get out of the driver seat and sit in the back without having to adjust the seat and I’m 6’ 1”. The hatch has decent space too and it helps that the seats fold down. The biggest thing that bothered me was the size of the fuel tank. Although you get great fuel economy the tank is so small you’ll be filling up ever few days if you drive a decent amount a day.
So the Sonic is giant leap above the outgoing Aveo and that’s great for GM, but how does it stack up to all the great compact hatches in the American market today? We really like the new Ford Fiesta and the hot new Hyundai Veloster. Not just that but the Mazda 2, Suzuki SX4, Honda Fit, Kia Rio, and Hyundai Accent are all decent cars.
I think the Sonic can be thrown right up there with in the top 3. It’s got good looks, a good engine, and it’s great to drive. This could easily be a weekend time-attack car and still produce good economy on day-to-day runs. My only slight reservation is on the price. When you’re comparing it to the likes of the Fiesta and the Veloster it’s priced similarly, but offers a little less as far as standard equipment. When you start looking at some of the others though, like the Mazda 2, you can find an economical and fun car for a lot cheaper.
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