Whether you are looking at the sedan or the hatchback body, the Sonic has decent space all around. The front seats are comfortable and supportive, and there’s a fair amount of room in the back seat. At 41 cubic feet, the rear accommodations are among the roomiest in the segment, and the hatch boasts a slim 0.3 inch more rear headroom than the sedan. It’s not all sunshine, though: While the 19 cubes of storage that the hatchback offers lag behind the class leaders only a bit, the opening to access that space is narrow, hemmed in on both sides by the Sonic’s rather large rear-light fixtures.
Front and center sits an analog tach—needle hanging straight down at rest—flanked by a digital cluster that reports the rest of the info you need to know. When you grab the steering wheel and you notice nice, chunky ears at 10 and 2. The rest of the rim is a bit thin, but those flanges are perfectly shaped, with a natural contour and a comfortable plane to rest the pad of your hand. The quick the steering is among the most satisfying drivers in the segment. The steering is sports-car quick—almost too tight for relaxed cruising, with even the slightest inputs prompting directional changes.
The base Sonic LS five-door, which comes with a poverty-class AM/FM radio and just four speakers—but an auxiliary input—is fitted with 10 airbags: driver and passenger front, side, and knee; full-length side curtains; and side bags for rear passengers. A tilting and telescoping steering column, power locks, and automatic headlights also are standard on all cars. The midlevel LT trim upgrades the stereo with two more speakers, satellite radio, and a CD player, plus adds heated power mirrors, power windows, chrome exterior trim, and nicer seat cloth.
From a purely aesthetic standpoint, the Sonic is a home run. The Sonic looks more bully, with sharp creases, an angry slant to the headlights, an aggressive rearward cinch of the beltline, and beefy fender flares.
Technical data overview
The Sonic rides on an all-new platform that is 77 percent stiffer than the Aveo’s. It has an extra 1.8 inches of wheelbase, expanded tracks front and rear, and is several inches longer in both hatchback and sedan body styles. For its part, the stiffer body structure transmits barely a shudder over the roughest roads, and the suspension minimizes body roll without battering occupants. The sense of solidity comes at a cost, though: The Sonic is much heavier than most cars in its class. At 1274 Kg, it carries 226 or so more than the average Mazda 2. When you’re talking about cars that weigh under 1360 Kg, that can be a disastrous difference. Fortunately, it hides its weight well, with an agile and responsive feel, and posts a best-in-class 0.81-g skidpad performance despite an addiction to understeer at the ragged edge.
The 138-hp, 1.4-liter turbo four engine is a gem. It is much easier to appreciate here than in the heavier Cruze. There is very little lag, power delivery is smooth, and it never groans in complaint like so many other econocar engines. (A naturally aspirated 1.8-liter four is the Sonic’s base engine.) The Sonic’s 1.4 runs out of breath way before redline, though; the fuel cutoff is at 6500 rpm, but shift by 6000 if you want to keep things moving.
Chevy also offers the turbocharged 1.4 only with a six-speed manual. The shifter has a precise bite, although the throws are a bit long. The clutch is pretty bad, with almost no feel; it’s good that take-up is so slow, as it covers a lot of the clumsiness that results from the radio silence between disc and pedal. There are a lot of bad clutches at the low end of the market, and this is far from the worst, but it is just as far from rewarding. When you decide to turn your Sonic into a fire-breathing track beast, this is one of the first pieces you should upgrade. (A five-speed DIY’er is standard with the naturally aspirated 1.8-liter. It also can be had with a six-speed automatic, a gearbox which is likely to be offered with the turbo sometime in the near future.)
The six-speed’s tall gearing couples with a tall final-drive ratio to keep engine rpm remarkably low at highway speeds.
Chevy’s newest small car has clambered not only out of the pit dug by its predecessors, but right up toward the top of the small-car heap—especially with the turbo.