2017 Chevy Sonic Review: More boom than bust
– Cleveland, Ohio
American automakers are not incentivised to make good small cars. Subcompacts like this Chevrolet Sonic sell in small numbers and earn equally small profits. But build them automakers must, because gas won’t stay cheap forever. Chevy has just updated the Sonic with a fresher design and some new features, which go a long a way in keeping it competitive with the segment’s best – cars like the Honda Fit, Kia Rio, and Mini Cooper.
- The Sonic’s turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine is smooth, efficient, and (relatively) powerful. With 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque, it’s gutsier than the Sonic’s base, non-turbo 1.8-liter engine, and it also vibrates less and sounds quieter than most engines in small economy cars these days. Plus, at 32 miles per gallon combined, it makes the Sonic nearly as fuel efficient as Chevy’s smaller, less powerful Spark, with an extra 100 miles of range (390 total) on a full tank to boot.
- You don’t feel like you’re driving an economy car with the Sonic, at least when it’s optioned like this. Even though it only costs just $20,250, this Sonic RS hatchback comes with premium features like pushbutton start and smart keys that let you unlock the doors with the key fob still in your purse or pocket (both part of a $650 Convenience Package). Also included are a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and seven-inch touchscreen standard, and the pièce de résistance, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The latter two features still aren’t available on some cars costing twice as much, and combined with the Sonic’s big touchscreen, give you built-in navigation for free.
- Chevy substantially updated the Sonic’s design for 2017, and it’s an improvement over the last version. The cartoonishly large grille is gone, replaced by a more normal face with a thin upper grille and larger lower air intake. The new design also looks more like a part of the larger Chevy family than before, rather than a redheaded stepchild.
- There’s no way to say this politely: the Sonic’s six-speed manual transmission is awful. Its throws are long and the takeup point of the clutch is vague, all of which makes you shift like it’s still that first week after you learned. The gears themselves aren’t matched well to the engine, either. Fifth and sixth gear are so tall there’s zero acceleration available at highway speeds; you need to shift down to at least fourth gear, if not third, to find the power needed to make a pass. It’s a shame, as this engine deserves a better dance partner.
- The Sonic’s handling isn’t what I expected, either. Like me, you might see a small hatchback and think, “Oh, that looks fun to drive.” Call it the Mini Cooper Effect. While the Sonic offers a comfortable ride, its soft suspension lets its body roll too much in corners, dive forward too far under braking, and pitch backwards too much when accelerating. Really, for something labeled “RS” with a turbo badge on the back and a flat-bottomed steering wheel, the Sonic feels like an example of false advertising.
- Ford Fiesta
- Honda Fit
- Hyundai Accent
- Kia Rio
- Mini Cooper Hardtop 4-Door
- Mitsubishi Mirage
- Nissan Versa Note
- Toyota Prius C
- Toyota Yaris
Photos: John Neff / Motor1.com