2020 Chevrolet Sonic

By May 1, 2020

The 2020 Chevrolet Sonic is a solid, if unexceptional, small car, adrift in a sea of crossovers and SUVs. A successor to the old Aveo, the Sonic debuted as a 2012 model and was freshened for the 2017 model year. It’s available as either a sedan or hatchback and boasts excellent safety ratings and an impressive value proposition. The Sonic can also provide an engaging experience and, depending on model, some joyful motoring.

A bit bigger than the Spark, Chevy’s tiniest car, the Sonic competes against subcompacts such as the Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, and Honda Fit. Weighed against some of them, the Sonic looks rather dated, especially inside. Its outside is sharp and maintains a down-to-business attitude.

Not much has changed for the 2020 model year. The previously standard 6-speed manual transmission is no longer available, while two new body colors have been added: Oasis Blue, and Cayenne Orange Metallic for the hatchback.

All Sonics employ the same powertrain. A 1.4-liter turbo-4 engine makes 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque, mated with a relatively smooth 6-speed automatic transmission. Like most economy cars, Sonics come only with front-wheel drive.

Though the gas-mileage numbers are fairly high, the Sonic ranks only about average for its segment. Both body styles are EPA-rated at 26 mpg city, 34 highway, and 29 combined. Some larger compact cars do better.

The Sonic lacks standard active safety features. In fact, only forward-collision warnings, lane-departure warnings, and rear parking sensors are available, and they cost extra on the top two trims. This means all Sonic models lack automatic emergency braking. This isn’t uncommon in the segment, but it’s still disappointing.

Crash-test results are above average for the class at least. The Sonic carries a five-star overall safety rating from the NHTSA, and got the top score on all five of the IIHS’ crash tests. Many competitive models get subpar crash-test results.

Model Lineup

Four-door sedans come in LS, LT, and Premier trim levels, while five-door hatchbacks are offered in LT and Premier form for $800 more than their sedan counterparts.

The base LS starts at $17,595 and comes with manual windows and mirrors, 15-steel wheels with plastic covers, LED daytime running lights, two USB ports, a four-speaker audio system, and keyless entry. Cruise control isn’t included. The 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.

Stepping up a notch, the $19,495 LT includes power features, cruise control, 15-inch alloy wheels, heated side mirrors, a six-speaker audio system, and satellite radio. The LT hatchback starts at $20,295 and gets 16-inch wheels, remote start, fog lights, a sportier body kit, a rear spoiler, black “bowtie” badges, and black interior trim.

Topping the lineup, the Premier starts at $21,595. It adds leatherette upholstery, six-way power front seats, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, keyless start, remote start, and 17-inch alloy wheels. The Premier hatchback costs $22,395 and further adds a sport suspension, 17-inch black wheels, and the same sportier elements as the LT hatchback.

Exterior

Though handsome, the serious-looking Sonic is starting to show its age, especially compared to some recently-reworked competitors. Compared to early Sonic models, the current version’s face is rather staid, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to lack of attractiveness.

Despite its stubby rear end, the hatchback exudes more appeal than the somewhat ungainly sedan. Chevrolet offers the Sonic in several bright hues, which render a welcome burst of color that can make the Sonic more appealing.

Interior

Even more than its body, the Sonic’s cabin has been showing signs of age. Even so, the interior is refreshingly simple, shunning nonessential flourishes as it focuses on greater functionality. As is typical of small cars, the hatchback promises more versatility than the sedan.

Cheap-looking plastics abound, unfortunately. Interior finishes convey a low-budget attitude, making each Sonic appear slightly lacking in material quality. In addition, the steering wheel and center stack look and feel a decade old, if not more.

Reasonably spacious and comfortable for its diminutive size, the Sonic ranks among the most practical subcompact cars on the road. No subcompact can be called particularly roomy, but the Sonic fits four adults without undue squeezing. Two adults get decent space up front, though the back seat is unsurprisingly tighter, most appropriate for a duo on short treks.

Trunk space for the sedan is impressive at 14.9 cubic feet. That’s just slightly smaller than the midsize Chevy Malibu’s trunk. The hatchback provides 19 cubic feet behind the back seat, expanding to 47.7 cubic feet with the rear seat folded. Beneath the cargo floor is a concealed storage bin, and cupholders are bountiful.

Driving Impressions

For a small car, the Sonic is admirably versatile, as well as capable of jubilant maneuverability. Short-wheelbase vehicles are often more agile than might be expected, and the Sonic definitely qualifies on that score.

Despite relatively modest horsepower and torque ratings, the turbocharged engine provides smooth and decent power, also helping to generate a bit of fun behind the wheel.

Suspension functionality reaches past the average for an economy car. In both easygoing ride quality and adept handling, the Sonic manages to be both joyful and comfortable. Responsive steering adds to the Sonic’s sharp, yet playful handling talents. Naturally, larger vehicles provide more comfortable highway cruising, but the competent Sonic is undeniably capable of delivering a satisfying experience.

Final Word

The 2020 Chevy Sonic is well equipped, except for the base model, which seems to aim more at rental fleets. Though it can’t approach Mini models in terms of feature content, the Sonic offers a solid amount of equipment for the class. It also looks and feels more up to date compared to the newer Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent. For peak value, the LT trim is the sensible choice. Because subcompacts aren’t selling swiftly, discounts are likely.

—by James M. Flammang, with driving impressions from The Car Connection

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