Chevrolet gets in the subcompact game with Sonic
As far as large automobiles are concerned, the writing seems to be on the wall. Smaller cars are coming. In fact, they’re here already, with more on the way. And they’re getting better and better.
Case in point, the new Chevrolet Sonic. This is arguably the best sub-compact ever put forward by General Motors, and although it’s not perfect, it shows what the brain trust at GM is thinking about and promises to be in the thick of the fight when it comes to attracting first-time buyers.
Available as either a four-door hatchback or four-door sedan, the Sonic is not a Daewoo-built Aveo, a fact General Motors would like to impress upon anyone who will listen. The Sonic’s predecessor was not the most, er, worthy of cars, and Chevrolet would prefer not to have any connection made between the Sonic and the Aveo. Company line: the Sonic is a totally new car, from the ground up. It’s also assembled in Michigan, with minimal input from Korea. Interestingly, the Aveo will continue to be sold under that name in Mexico.
The Sonic does borrow some components from other GM products, however, including the Cruze, with which it shares engines. The ubiquitous Ecotec four-cylinder is found in the new Sonic—in 1.4-litre, turbocharged form—and develops 138 horsepower in this configuration. Coincidentally, the Sonic’s other engine choice, a 1.8-litre four-cylinder, is also taken from the Cruze, and develops almost the same horsepower—135—although it does rev higher. Transmission choices include a five- or six-speed manual and six-speed automatic. The automatic gearbox, however, is only available with the larger engine.
Three trim levels—for both body styles—will be offered: LS, LT, and LTZ. Standard equipment includes power door locks, Bluetooth compatibility, a traction-control system, tilt/telescoping steering, ABS, and, curiously, a hill holder. This latter, nice feature prevents the car from rolling backwards, and holds it stationary for about three seconds.
As you climb up the trim levels, things like air conditioning, cruise control, power windows, heated seats, and even leather interior become available. The top-of-the-line LTZ has the turbocharged engine and it’s paired to a six-speed manual only.
Behind the wheel, the driver is faced with a “motorcycle inspired” instrument cluster with a digital speedometer and analogue tachometer. Connectivity, ever important in this market, includes an available USB port, Bluetooth wireless, and GM’s OnStar technology. The Sonic does not have the same barrage of electronic gizmos as some other models in this category, but is directed at the same group of buyers. GM concedes that it is not aimed at the family guy. With the back seat folded, the hatchback version offers up some 869 litres of cargo capacity, which is somewhere in the middle of the pack. By way of comparison, the Honda Fit claims to have over 1,600 litres, while the Ford Fiesta has about 735 litres. These two are both direct competitors.
Although both engines deliver similar performance, the manual gearbox is the better transmission choice. GM has done a nice job with the shift linkage and gear ratios, and at about 80 kilometres an hour in fourth gear, the six-speed/turbo model, in particular, is barely revving at 2,000 rpm. On the highway, the Sonic is as quiet and stable as anything else in this class. Reserve power is there if you need it, and you can carry on a conversation without having to raise your voice. It’s definitely a step up from the Aveo in this department.
Now about those imperfections. In a nutshell, Chevrolet needs to adjust the Sonic’s pricing structure. The LS starts at just under $14,500, which is more than the Accent, the Fiesta, and even the base Honda Fit (although by just a smidgen in that case). The sedan version is less expensive than the hatchback, and all things considered, it’s the pick of the litter. I also think that the hatchback looks kind of clunky and awkward, but that’s just me. If GM could manage to drop the price by $1,000 or so, the Sonic would be in with a chance against well-entrenched rivals like the Fit, Fiesta, Accent, and even the surprisingly popular Fiat 500.
The other question is: has GM come to the party too late? Honda, Ford, Hyundai, Mazda, and others are already well dug-in in this segment of the market, and the Sonic is going to have to kind of elbow its way to the front of the line if it wants to get buyers’ attention. With one or two exceptions, it’s as good as anything else out there, but does it offer enough bang for the buck?
Only time will tell.