2018 Chevrolet Sonic: Practicality, Efficiency and Liveliness in a Small Package [Review]

Chevy's Sonic is practical, lively and efficient, if not terribly fast.

2018 Chevrolet Sonic
[Photo: Chevrolet]

Overview

The Chevrolet Sonic subcompact is essentially unchanged for 2018 because last year it refresh major refresh. The update included a new aggressive-looking front fascia, updated dash design and a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Safety features include optional forward collision and lane departure warning – features once offered only for larger, costlier cars.

The 2018 front-drive Sonic is available as a four-door sedan or four-door hatchback, with list prices ranging from $16,170 to over $25,000, depending on options.

Models are the LS, LT and Premier. I tested the base LS with the 1.8-liter engine, which was lively in town but lazy above 65 m.p.h. There isn’t much high-end torque, so be careful when passing on an open two-lane roads. The car is still no fireball with the 1.4-liter turbo engine, but moves out faster.

2018 Chevrolet Sonic
[Photo: Chevrolet]

Comfort and Convenience

Despite a tight wheelbase, the Sonic is comfortably roomy for four adults. If they’re thin, a fifth can squeeze in back because the center of the rear seat is fairly soft. However, rear door openings are rather narrow and back doors lack the storage pockets of the front doors. There aren’t many decent-sized cabin storage areas; even the glovebox is especially small.

My test sedan had a moderately large trunk with a wide but rather high opening. Also, the trunk floor is low, so some bending is needed to move certain objects in and out. Rear seat backs easily flip forward and sit flat to greatly enlarge the cargo area, and the pass-through area from the trunk to the backset area is large. But opt for the hatchback version for maximum versatility.

The red gauge pointers in my test car’s speedometer and tachometer were a small touch that nevertheless provided a bit of sporty flair. Front seats were supportive, and controls were within easy reach, although the low set cupholders were a little hard to reach at the front of the console. I especially appreciated the manual dashboard HVAC controls, and the touchscreen was easy to use. There is a good amount of plastic in the quiet (for a subcompact car) interior, but it doesn’t look cheap.

2018 Chevrolet Sonic
[Photo: Chevrolet]

Performance

There’s either a standard 1.8-liter 138-horsepower four-cylinder engine or a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder with the same horsepower but more torque. Transmissions include a 5- or 6-speed manual and a decent-shifting 6-speed automatic, which was in my test car.

The quick steering is handy for sudden moves in heavy traffic but makes the car somewhat darty when moving fast on freeways or highways. My test car’s ride was firm on anything but smooth roads. A few unexpected speed bumps nearly put occupants through the roof at 25 m.p.h. I suspected that the tires were overinflated, making for an unusually stiff ride, but the car was loaned for a relatively brief period so there was no opportunity to check tire pressures. Potential Sonic buyers should take a test drive on even moderately rough roads when considering the car. The brakes worked well, with good pedal travel.

Fuel economy for a 99.4-inch wheelbase subcompact is nothing to text home about, although only regular grade fuel is needed. Estimated economy depends on the engine and transmission combination. It ranges from 25 to 28 mpg in the city and 34 to 37 mpg on highways. My test car averaged 30 miles per gallon, although I expected less, testing mostly in stop-and-go traffic.

TFLcar’s Take

As Ford says it will cease production of most of its traditional cars to make pickups, crossovers and SUVs, a car like the Sonic might suddenly become popular when gas prices soar again. Even until that happens, it’s a good choice for those with limited financial means or for use as a second family car.

Come back to TFLcar.com for more news, views and real-world reviews! Subscribe to TFLcar and TFLnow for videos published throughout the week.

SPECIFICATIONS: 2018 Chevrolet Sonic Sedan

On Sale: Now
Base MSRP: $16,170 (incl. destination charges)
Price as Tested: $17,395
Engine: 1.8-liter naturally-aspirated I-4
Drivetrain (Layout): Transversely mounted front engine, front-wheel drive
Horsepower: 138 hp @ 6,300 RPM
Torque: 125 lb-ft @ 3,800 RPM
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Suspension: Front: MacPherson struts w/ offset coil springs

Rear: Semi-independent torsion beam axle w/ coil springs

Brakes: Front: 10.8-inch ventilated discs

Rear: 9.0-inch drums; ABS

Tires: Hankook Optimo H428 P195/65 R15 all-season
Fuel capacity: 12.2 gallons
Fuel economy (EPA): 25 City/34 Highway/28 Combined MPG

Dimensions:

Wheelbase: 99.4 inches
Length:  173.9 inches
Width: 68.3 inches
Height:  59.7 inches
Turning Circle: 34.5 feet (w/ 15-inch wheels)
Curb Weight: 2,773 – 2,915 pounds (depending on equipment)
Dan Jedlicka
Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times–far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.’s MSN Autos Internet site from January 1996 to June 2008.For more of Dan’s thoughtful and insightful reviews please visit his website, www.danjedlicka.com.