New Sonic shows promise
Chevrolet has a long history of success in the compact segment, beginning with the Chevy II in the early 1960s. But the automaker's record in the subcompact game has been less than stellar. The bow-tie brand's latest subcompact, the Sonic, is showing more promise in its fifth model year than the forgettable Cavalier and the trouble-prone Cobalt ever did.
Mildly refreshed for 2016, the four-door Sonic is offered as a hatchback or sedan. We tried out a black hatchback LT, with a sticker price of $19,020.
We quickly learned the Sonic has quite a few convenient features. The luggage compartment contains a deep well; it's perfect for stowing groceries and other relatively lightweight items that otherwise would roll around behind the back seat. The well also adds some cubic footage, and the Sonic hatchback has room to spare -- 19 cubic feet. That's comparable with the Honda Fit, a model long noted for squeezing big storage space into a small package. Lowering the rear seatbacks increases cargo space to 47.7 cubic feet, again competitive with the Fit.
The Sonic also has ample room for small items in front. In addition to the map pockets and small trays at the base and top of the center console, the Sonic sports two small cubbyholes, one on each side of the console, and an extra glove box that contains a port for charging small electronic devices.
The Sonic is comfortable to drive around town and on the highway, with road manners befitting a larger, more expensive car. Acceleration with the standard 1.8-liter inline Four and 6-speed automatic transmission is unexciting. Two years ago, we test-drove a Sonic with the optional 1.4-liter turbocharged Four and 6-speed automatic; it provided a more stimulating driving experience.
Knee room in the back seat tends to be tight, but there's plenty of headroom, and the seats are comfortable. For all but the tallest drivers, legroom in front is sufficient.
Safety is another of the Sonic's strong suits. It received five-star ratings in government crash tests and has been rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
The Sonic's biggest drawback is its fuel economy. Our test car had trouble staying above 30 mpg and never came close to its highway rating of 37 mpg, even though we took a few trips of more than two hours of highway driving -- on relatively flat highways, too. Some versions of the Toyota Corolla, for example, boast of fuel-economy numbers in the low 40s.
The base Sonic LS has a starting price of $14,345. In LT trim, it comes with such standard features as cruise control, satellite radio, power windows and locks, driver's information center, remote keyless entry and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls.
Sonics aren't major factors in Chevrolet’s bottom line; all but the Spark, Volt and Corvette are bigger sellers. But the Sonic is showing some strength, with an increase of 11.6 percent in year-to-date sales through March compared with the corresponding period in 2015.
Steven Macoy (email@example.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.
2016 Chevrolet Sonic LT
Engine: 1.8-liter inline Four, 138 horsepower, 125 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear
Curb weight: 2,726 lb.
Wheels: 15-in. painted alloy
Tires: P195/65R15 all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 19
Maximum cargo capacity: 47.7 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 12.2 gal.
Fuel economy: 27 mpg city, 37 highway
Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline