2014 Chevrolet SonicPosted on January 22nd, 2014
Subcompact hatchback with big ideas
By Nina Russin
Small cars are the future of the automotive industry. There will always be a place on American highways for large trucks and sport-utility vehicles, but rising fuel costs and increasingly stringent C.A.F.E. standards dictate that small cars will dominate.
This doesn’t necessarily resonate well with American drivers, who have traditionally seen small cars as a compromise in comfort and performance. The peppy turbocharged Chevrolet Sonic should convince these buyers otherwise. With the ability to carry four adult passengers and average 40 miles-per-gallon on the highway, the Sonic packs a powerful punch.
This week, I had the opportunity to put the Sonic to the ultimate test, ferrying friends in town for the Rock ‘n ‘Roll marathon from the airport to their respective hotels and around Tempe, Arizona, where the influx of out-of-towners and road closures made traffic a nightmare. At the end of the experience, my respect for the Sonic had increased exponentially.
The test car was the five-door LT, priced from $16,380 excluding delivery. Options on the car included sixteen-inch alloy wheels, the turbocharged 1.4-liter engine, an exterior appearance package, lane departure warning with forward collision alert, Chevrolet MyLink and a rear vision camera. Final MSRP was $20,405.
The 1.4-liter engine is the perfect fit for the subcompact Sonic, boosting its low-end power and reducing parasitic loss at altitude. Paired with a six-speed manual gearbox, the turbocharged engine makes the Sonic a hoot to drive.
The clutch pedal is light enough to be a non-issue in traffic. The engine’s sweet spot is in the 3000-4000 rpm range: slightly above optimum fuel efficiency but by no means unreasonable.
The engine reaches peak torque as low as 2500 rpm, giving it excellent power in the 20-50 mile-per-hour range drivers use merging into highway traffic. There is plenty on the high end as well. I had no problems passing smaller vehicles on the highway.
Its 99.4-inch wheelbase makes the Sonic exceptionally maneuverable: a handy feature in the dense traffic around Mill Avenue in Tempe. The turning circle is less than 35 feel. I was able to perform a U-turn on a narrow two-lane street and parallel park in an undersized parking spot that drivers in larger vehicles had given up on.
Although I’m not a huge fan of electric power steering, this system is well tuned to the car, with a pleasantly heavy feel on the highway and plenty of assist at lower speeds. The suspension consists of MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam rear end. The solid rear axle is fine on the subcompact car. Passengers in the back seats were comfortable on some of the rougher road surfaces.
The optional sixteen-inch rims enhance the car’s high-speed stability. The option is a worthwhile addition for anyone living in this part of the country, where highway speeds often reach 80 miles-per-hour.
Four-wheel disc brakes stop with Sonic in firm linear fashion and have better wet weather performance than drums.
The Sonic’s rather thick C pillars do impact over-the-shoulder visibility, but convex inserts in the side mirrors do a good job of compensating for blind spots. I would highly recommend the optional rearview camera. Not only does it eliminate blind spots in the back corners but makes it much easier to monitor cross traffic in crowded parking lots.
To describe a subcompact car’s interior as spacious might seem like an oxymoron, but in the case of the Sonic, it’s not. Two of the adults riding in the car were six feet tall, and both were able to fit into the second-row seats. With the rear seats in place cargo room is limited. I was able to fit two rollerboard suitcases in back by stacking one on top of the other, but it was a tight squeeze.
Manual seat adjustments were easy to use, although I would have liked the ability to raise the driver’s seat up a little higher to improve my forward visibility. Redundant steering wheel audio controls enable the driver to change channels with minimal distraction.
I found both the gauge cluster and center stack screen easy to read in both bright sunlight and after dark.
The optional lane departure warning system sounds an audible alarm when the driver veers out of his lane without signaling. It also illuminates a graphic display in the center stack. Although this feature looks good on paper, I find it to be more of an annoyance than an asset, since it chimes when I inadvertently cross over edge lines on highway exits.
The audio system includes standard satellite radio with a complimentary three-month subscription. Chevrolet MyLink adds voice recognition with Bluetooth streaming audio, Pandora and Stitcher.
The Chevrolet Sonic comes with ten standard airbags, antilock brakes, traction control, stability control and tire pressure monitoring. Standard OnStar automatically notifies police and emergency medical personnel in the event of a serious collision.
The Sonic received a five-star overall crash test rating by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Chevrolet builds the Sonic at its Lake Orion, Michigan assembly plant.
Like: A peppy, fuel-efficient subcompact car with excellent fuel economy and a high level of standard safety features. The Sonic’s interior is surprisingly spacious, with room for four adult passengers.
Dislike: Uninteresting exterior styling.
Model: Sonic 5Dr. LT
Base price: $16,380
As tested: $20,405
Horsepower: 138 Hp @ 4900 rpm
Torque: 148 lbs.-ft. @ 2500 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 29/40 mpg city/highway2014, Super Value 2014, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, Chevrolet, performance, pricing, standard safety
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