Amid huge recent growth in the subcompact car market, Chevrolet is introducing the Sonic. This new entrant's development was led by General Motors’ engineering center in South Korea. Yet the car has characteristics designated for the North American market, such as its engines, 10 air bags, brisker steering and unique chassis tuning.
The Beat got a look and some driving time with the Sonic in beautiful San Francisco recently.
Chevy says the Sonic's design was inspired by motorcycles. Sonic design manager Kathy Sirvio even said that she rides a Moto Guzzi bike. You can see some of the design inspiration on the inside and out.
Sonic is priced range from $14,495 to $19,200, which makes it competitive with many other subcompacts and is around $3000 below Chevy's popular Cruze small sedan. The Sonic, available as a sedan or hatchback, is priced about $700–$800 higher as a hatch. Three trim levels are available.
The hatch is more than a foot shorter than the sedan, but it swallows more cargo, and that's with the rear seat up. Chevy says there are 19 cubic feet in the cargo area, plus underfloor storage. With the rear seats down, there are 30.7 cubic feet. The sedan offers 14 cubic feet.
Both models have adequate room for four adults. Seat comfort is good. The LS and LT models are upholstered in cloth, while the LTZ has perforated faux-leather (real leather is not offered). There are three interior color patterns, each with two tones.
The hard plastic interior surfaces are neat, but it would have been nice for Chevy to have softened things up a bit by adding some padding. That would have added to a general perception of a comfortable interior.
On the dash, there's an analog tachometer adjacent to a digital speedometer, which is one of the motorcycle touches Chevy alluded to.
Sonic has two four-cylinder engines, both taken from the Cruze: a 1.8-liter is the standard and a 1.4-liter turbo is optional. Both make 138 horsepower, but with the turbo you get added torque -- 148 pounds-feet, compared with 125. The turbo currently has only a six-speed manual transmission, with the base engine having five-speed. But Chevy says an automatic tranny is coming to the turbo in the spring.
The turbo is a $700 option.
The base 1.8-liter gets an EPA rating of city ratings of 25 mpg with the automatic and 26 with the manual. For a car this small, that's fairly modest.
That engine gets 35 mpg on the highway, which is OK.
But if you bump up to the turbo, numbers rise to a much better 29 city and 40 highway.
Another point about the turbo is that it gets 60 mph in 8.2 seconds, compared with 8.6 seconds for the 1.8-liter manual and 9.4 seconds for the automatic, according to Chevy.
To its credit, Chevy has done a great job of minimizing engine and wind noise. It uses some of the same dampening technology that its sister Buick brand uses.
The manual shifting is fairly effortless, and the clutch work is also pretty light. Plus, Chevy has included a standard hill-holder feature, in both the manual and six-speed automatic. The automatic has a manual shift mode which is activated with a switch on the side of the shift knob.
Chassis stiffness is admirable, contributing to a fairly spirited ride quality on twisty roads.
With the Sonic, Chevy is aiming to maintain its new momentum in cars, as it seeks to become less reliant on trucks and SUVs. This car might help it move in that direction.