Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2017 Chevrolet Sonic Hatchback

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This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car
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It’s technically called the Chevrolet Sonic Premier, but thanks to the big red “TURBO” badge on the back, you can tell your buds you’re driving a Chevrolet Sonic Turbo instead.

The Chevy Sonic Turbo, er, Premier, is a cheap little car, and one example of the market’s growing number of cheap little car offerings that don’t feel like cheap little cars.

The Chevy Sonic Turbo. That’s a great name for a car, with a great ring to it, and maybe, it’s one of the best car names on the market today. Sounds like some sort of futuristic concept race car with warp-drive.

It’s a fitting name: not for the warp drive (this isn’t a fast car). But the tester’s standard RS package saw it kitted up with a subtle but effective body kit, black-out wheels, fog lamps, a big rectangular exhaust, and even a paint-job in the same blue hue as my childhood console-game hero, Sonic the Hedgehog, who was equally as compact, sporty and feisty a creature.

The Chevy Sonic Turbo, er, Premier, is a cheap little car, and one example of the market’s growing number of cheap little car offerings that don’t feel like cheap little cars.

Just open and close the door, or pull and release the door handle, letting it slam against its catch, a few times. There’s no empty, metallic echo. No sense that the door is hollow. Even worked vigorously, this feels like the door from a solid family sedan, not a thirty-dollar toaster oven. Ditto the rear cargo hatch. Ditto the hood.

On board, the tester’s leather seats look rich, nicely stitched, and offer puffy leather segments, like something you’d find in an Audi or Lexus not long ago. They’re also fairly comfortable, and partially power-adjusted, in the case of the tester’s driver seat. Hell, they’re even embroidered with the “RS” logo in bright red, and are heated, and leather- and suede-trimmed. If there’s a more charming list of attributes for seats in a car at this price, I’ve yet to see it.

The cabin employs many parts and switches and controls from pricier GM models, including the engine start button, the wiper and light control stalks, the steering wheel and controls mounted to it, and the window switches. Various textures and colors of plastic, dispatched with varying degrees of lustre and depth, work towards a touch of added richness, too. And the touchscreen display, which takes centre stage, sets the cabin off with a little high-tech flair.

That central touchscreen display, and the command system it manipulates, boots up, connects to your phone, and is ready for action in seconds. It’s logical to navigate, responds with consistent immediacy, and offers up must-have Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capability.

Sure – some of the cabin is dated. The climate controls look like they’re from 2008, and the execution of some recently added systems, like optional lane-departure warning, seem like afterthoughts with controls and icons placed where they fit, not where they’re logical. There’s even a door lock switch on the centre stack, and another on the driver door, but not the passenger door. Weird little quibbles.

Functionally, the trunk is fairly shallow, but rear seatbacks fold fully flat in a jiff, and there’s an additional storage bin beneath the trunk floor. Rear seats are slightly snug but adult-capable, but note that the high-mounted exterior door handle and shape of the door itself make entry and exit to the rear a touch awkward. Up front, drivers of average or slightly greater size can expect a comfy-snug fit that’s not constrictive, and plenty of at-hand storage nearby.

It’s on the move where Sonic Turbo best defies its price tag, however.

Suspension first. The Sonic Turbo is on the slightly sporty-stiff side: not uncomfortable, not stiff enough to crash into bumps, and not soft and bouncy and gelatinous. The feel on rougher roads is a fine-tuned one, as though resources were dispatched to calibrate how Sonic Turbo would respond to lousy surfaces, with dampers that use an appropriate softness around a progressively stiffer core. Drivers after a slightly elevated feel of direct responsiveness will like what’s going on. As an added bonus, the steering is just a touch quicker than it needs to be, too. So, she’s sporty, but not vertebrae-fracturing sporty.

Notably, this setup helps translate into confident highway browsing at speed. On the highway, even at a good clip, Sonic is easy to keep centered in its lane, feels confident weaving around slower traffic, and is all but impervious to side winds. Even when encountered by an 18-wheeler, it stays on course, and never feels like a four-wheeled kite.

Next up? Ride quality. Beyond the suspension tuning, the Sonic doesn’t feel, or sound, flimsy and delicate as bumps and potholes pass underfoot. Used to be that a rough road would coax plenty of wince-inducing popping, clunking and slamming from beneath cheap little cars, as the suspension got kicked around like that final bad-guy in a Steven Seagal movie. Not so much here: the Sonic Turbo feels solidly put together, and even on the roughest roads I could find, browsed at a good clip, it was the sound of the tires, not the pummeling of suspension components, that took centre stage.

Parking? The turning circle is bigger than your writer expected but still on the small side, and the wide-angle back-up camera adds confidence while maneuvering in tight quarters. With its small size and easy-breezy maneuverability, it’s like a parking-lot sneak-attack ninja, able to pounce into any space with minimal second thought.

The 1.4L turbocharged four-cylinder generates 138 horsepower and even more torque. It’s appreciably responsive under light throttle, where the low-end torque moves it along easily, and with minimal revs and noise, through city traffic. The engine also stays smooth and creamy even when pushed. The bad news? When opened up, the engine sounds dull, proves a little noisy, and has most of its fun factor sucked up by the largely lazy six-speed automatic.

Opt for the manual transmission to improve the Sonic Turbo’s performance fun factor, and to save some money, too.

Other notables include the factory stereo, which offers above-average punch and power for the price-point, and the headlights, which deliver adequate low-beam performance on winding roads after dark, but showcase high-beam output that sees bright, saturating light cast far and wide.

Finally, a few exclusive feature content touches proved welcome – including in-car Wi-Fi for high-speed data streaming, and OnStar, which is a real confidence enhancer for you, or anyone driving your ride, should there be a setback on the go.

A few gripes are notable. My largest dealt with the seats: the suede inserts grabbing at my pants and shirt during entry and exit resulted in the frequent need for clothing readjustment and the deactivation of numerous wedgies, some considerable. Further, there’s no covered center console, though there’s a small covered compartment on the passenger-side dash which helps compensate. And finally, some of the interior plastics are easily scuffed and marked upon contact. I’m nearly certain that the door panels scratch if you even look at them a certain way.

Ultimately, here’s a sporty-looking little hatch with many strengths and few weaknesses. For the money, the looks, highly relevant feature content touches and nicely tuned suspension should help the latest Sonic connect readily with shoppers after a great ride, all modern feature touches, and a distinctively energetic look.

Engine Displacement 1.4L
Engine Cylinders 4
Peak Horsepower 138 hp @ 4,900 rpm
Peak Torque 148 lb-ft @ 1,850 rpm
Fuel Economy 7.8 L/100 km
Cargo Space 538 L (seats up)
Model Tested 2017 Chevrolet Sonic 5-door Premier Auto
Base Price $21,795
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,600
Price as Tested $24,685
Optional Equipment
$1,190 – Kinetic Blue Metallic Paint $495; Driver Confidence Package $695