A very competent little car that definitely has its place in the crowded compact hatch segment.
The Chevrolet Sonic has sort of been under the radar for a while. With buzz around other products, this is a vehicle that rarely comes to mind considering Chevrolet’s current line-up. I attribute that to the Sonic’s relatively slow sales and the fact that the smaller Spark, and larger Chevrolet Cruze (reviewed here) serve together to cast a shadow over the Sonic. The folks at GM are looking to change that, and for 2017 have given the Sonic a thorough and welcome refresh. We borrowed a fully loaded 2017 Chevrolet Sonic RS Premier Hatchback for a week to familiarize with the new car and decide where exactly the Sonic fits into the market.
Chevrolet has done a good job recently in the subcompact segment with the new Spark (reviewed here), which offers a class-leading list of standard features for a very competitive price. The Sonic takes a similar approach, although the base price is now up to $17,945, a $3,000 increase over the outgoing model. You now get a lot of standard goodies such as GM’s 4G-LTE mobile hotspot, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a rear-view camera, alloy wheels, and the RS appearance package now standard on all hatchback models.
2017 also brings a much more dramatic and aggressive look for the Sonic. New sheetmetal from the doors forward give the Sonic a wider stance, and a handsome fascia that represents a big improvement over the outgoing model to my eyes. The new headlights feature LED daytime running lights and projector beam halogens, a welcome update that lends a bit of a premium look to the front of the new car.
The RS package completes the aggressive new look with tasteful side skirts, badging, rear spoiler, fog lamps and a flat-bottomed steering wheel. The RS also gets 16” alloy wheels, and stepping up to the top of the line Premier model like my tester gets you black painted 17s. I am not usually a fan of black wheels, but the design of these are quite nice and suit the car well. In my opinion the new Sonic is one of the better looking compact cars out there today, especially in hatchback configuration like my Kinetic Blue test vehicle.
Visually, updates to the Sonic’s interior are somewhat limited over the previous year. The 2017 has new seats, and the faux-suede/leatherette examples in my tester look great, especially with the red RS trim. They are not the most comfortable seats though, and after an hour or so my back had a tendency to get a little sore. The other big visual update is gauge cluster, which has gone from an awkward digital screen and analog tachometer to two neatly-integrated and visually appealing analogue dials, with a nice digital screen for supplementary info. The rest of the controls and layout are largely unchanged, and everything is fairly clean and simple to operate.
I would have appreciated automatic climate control, especially on the fully loaded Premier trim. The manual control dials feel like a bit of a throwback now. Space is extremely well utilized; the rear seat is capable of accommodating adults, and the cargo area is surprisingly large given the car’s small dimensions. The split rear seats do fold flat, making for a very handy cargo area, capable of handling the vast majority of household or adventure-driven demands. Up front, storage isn’t bad either, with nice big door pockets and dual glove compartments. I just wish there was a little more centre console storage for daily use items.
The Sonic comes standard with a 7” touchscreen with Chevrolet MyLink for all infotainment, including a six-speaker sound system. It also includes Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and the very handy 4G LTE WiFi hotspot. My Premier trim test car, loaded with the optional Driver Convenience Package ($695) for electronic driving aids (rear park assist, lane departure warning and forward collision alert), as well as the $765 lowered suspension, came to an MSRP of $23,255. Noteworthy inclusions at that price include a power moonroof, power driver’s seat, smart key, remote start, heated front seats and more. Pricing for the Sonic is quite reasonable and I think you’d be fairly hard-pressed to find a car as well equipped, and as confident to drive under $25,000.
Getting behind the wheel, the new thick leather-wrapped wheel feels great. The Sonic feels well-built and solid on the road, with adequate feedback through the sharp and responsive steering. The lowered suspension on my test car is definitely a little harsh on city streets, but it’s not enough to distract from the overall tight and fun package. Even sporting winter tires, I enjoyed myself tossing the Sonic through quick corners with negligible body roll or chassis flex.
Both available engines in the Sonic boast 138 horsepower, but the 1.4L turbocharged-four standard with the Premier trim hits that 138 peak power at 4800RPM, while the 1.8L naturally-aspirated unit needs to wind up to 6300RPM. The 1.4L also offers more torque, at 148 lb-ft at a mere 1850 rpm. The turbo gives you more usable power and will feel a lot peppier as you boot around the city. There is a five-speed manual available, but only in the base LT trim levels, making the six-speed automatic the only option for the high trim levels. The auto is very good – with smooth and predictable behavior, it has no problem making good use of the power. That said, I know many compact cars buyers love the opportunity to row their own gears, even at the higher trim levels, so not offering the manual here is a miss on GM’s part.
The Sonic’s tight steering, solid on-road feel and turbocharged engine kept me entertained all week and served to make my commute a little more enjoyable than it usually is. It’s not a fast car, or even a performance car, but it has a certain confidence and control that makes the hatch loads of fun to drive. Better yet, the car is practical and had no trouble with winter weather or handling the weekly grocery run. I averaged a thrifty 8.2L/100kms despite heavy traffic, bad weather and my making frequent use of the remote starting system. The Sonic accepts regular 87-octane fuel with no issues whatsoever
The 2017 Chevrolet Sonic RS Premier is a very competent little car that definitely has its place in the crowded compact hatch segment. Hopefully Chevrolet elects to keep it around for the long haul, even as the new Cruze hatchback starts to roll out. The Sonic left a lasting impression on me, and if I were in the market for a fun commuter, fuel saver or city run-about I wouldn’t hesitate to visit a Chevy dealer and give it serious consideration.