The Chevrolet Sonic is undeniably a cheap car built down to a price, but I'm impressed with how much equipment is on board. This Sonic LTZ is priced at just $18,070, yet has Bluetooth, satellite radio, heated faux-leather seats, keyless entry, and so on. A few years ago those sorts of options were unavailable on many economy cars, but now can be had for less than $19K on Chevrolet's bottom-rung car. That's progress.
The driving experience is mostly good, but the Sonic doesn't feel as mature and planted as the larger (and somewhat more costly) Cruze sedan. The turbo engine is plenty powerful for such a small car, though you need to keep the revs up to make swift progress. If you obey the over-eager "SHIFT" light, you'll end up driving along at 1200 rpm with no power to climb hills or build speed.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
Another 40-mpg subcompact. We could debate the usefulness of a B-segment car that gets the same fuel economy as a C-segment car but offers less interior and cargo space for not much of a cost savings, but that would apply to this entire class, not just the Chevy Sonic. It makes much more sense to give the Sonic its due as Chevy's first credible B-segment car.
The Sonic is an incredibly solid feeling car. It's as if Chevy scaled down the Cruze, whereas the Aveo always felt like a scaled-up tin can. There's very good stability at highway speeds, a pleasant interior, and a fully loaded version rings in under $19,000. A $19,000 B-segment Chevy is no longer a joke -- at least to the type of person who thinks spending $19,000 on any B-segment car is a reasonable choice.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
For me, the strength of the Sonic lies in the number of standard features you get in a sub-$20,000 car. And the interior is quite nice, with decent materials and well laid-out controls.
I'm not as enamored of the driving experience. The steering is too light and overassisted at low speeds, although it tightens up pretty well as the speed rises. You also need to do a lot of shifting to keep the revs up, otherwise you find yourself searching in vain for low-end torque. The plus side is that fuel economy is very good, which in this segment is a must.
All in all, I'd say that the Sonic is a very credible contender in its category. The standard and available features stack up very well against its competitors and will likely appeal to sub-$20,000 buyers.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
The Sonic feels much more substantial than you'd expect for a subcompact; it's solid and planted until about 70 mph. However, one reason for that is the Sonic is heavier than the competition by at least 200 pounds. That extra weight also shows itself under hard braking, quickly overwhelming the front discs and rear drums and causing the ABS to engage more frequently than expected. One odd note: despite the cool, funky gauge cluster with a plethora of lights, there is no light to tell you the engine is cold nor is there a temperature gauge.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
This Sonic sedan isn't much more exciting than the drab Toyota Yaris sedan I drove the other day, but it does have a great little turbo engine and some nifty practical measures such as the binnacles that flank the center stack and offer a good place to stash your cell phone or sunglasses. After I adjusted the driver's seat for my 5' 10.5" frame, I sat in the left rear seat and found that there is quite decent foot, leg, and knee room. My head was perched under the rear window, but at least it was under the section of glass at the very top that has a layer of black film to block the heat of the sun, and my head wasn't touching the glass itself. Sitting back there, I had good visibility out the side window. Despite the Sonic sedan's roominess, however, I'd much prefer the sportier Sonic hatchback.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
This may be the most surprising GM car I've driven in the last year. Surprising given GM's decades-long record of building subpar subcompact offerings. It seems the automaker becomes interested in the B-segment once every decade, decides it needs such a vehicle immediately, and rushes a product to market before it's fully sorted.
The Sonic is a refreshing break from that tradition. Although its aggressive front fascia and motorcycle-inspired gauge cluster are supposed to appeal to hip kids, the car itself is one of the most grown-up offerings in its class. The Sonic feels solid from head to toe, and exudes something - build quality - that was sorely lacking from its Aveo predecessor. I was particularly impressed with the suspension tuning, and think it's one of the most compliant in its class. Some of my colleagues would prefer less body roll and a stiffer suspension, and the forthcoming Sonic RS model could be the answer for them.
Will buyers compare a loaded $18,000 Sonic LTZ to a less-extravagant yet larger Cruze, as Phil Floraday suggests? Perhaps, but the effective size difference isn't really that great. The Sonic's wheelbase may be 6.3 inches shorter and overall length may be down by 7.9 inches, but interior space doesn't suffer all that much. Most interior dimensions are within 1.5 inches of the Cruze. Legroom, for instance, is down only a half-inch up front and eight-tenths of an inch in back. Trunk volume rings in at 14 cubic feet, as opposed to the Cruze's 15.4 cubic feet. Those don't seem like huge sacrifices to me.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor