With compact sedans being somewhat of an endangered species these days due to the ever-increasing consumer preference for sportier hatchbacks, there remains a strong fleet market for such vehicles. More importantly in the case of the subject of this test, there are also a significant number of more conservative consumers out there that prefer the convenience of an automatic transmission. For them, the all-new Chevrolet Sonic sedan automatic is an important new arrival. But with its look-at-me styling and six-speed automatic gearbox, is the Sonic trying to be too “cool” in a market where such things don’t matter?
Quirky designWhile the somewhat over-the-top sportiness of the Sonic hatchback can perhaps be forgiven because it targets a more youthful customer, the questionable design is perhaps not that suitable to an automatic sedan aimed at conservatives. It gets the same bold dual-port grille as the hatch, flanked by those exposed “love them or hate them” headlamps. At the rear, the boot section has been reasonably well integrated, but again the massive tail lamps with their circular design elements appear out of place. It is certainly a bold design, but it will probably date quite quickly, too. The 15-inch alloy wheels also look a trifle small for the bulky body.
The Sonic is much more convincing in the cabin. The finicky instrument cluster (mix of digital and analogue) is perhaps again a bit OTT, but in general the design and particularly the fit and finish are good. Attention to detail is evident, for example, in the audio system’s display that lights up in a cool blue hue – similar to the main instrumentation. And the door trim panels flow neatly into the facia, too. We also like the neat storage areas that flank the centre section of the facia, as well as the attractive circular ventilation outlets at the outer edges of the dashboard. With a rake- and reach-adjustable steering wheel, there are no issues with finding a comfortable driving position, either.
Disappointingly, however, those passengers seated in the rear will find that the Sonic is not quite as spacious as they might have expected. Although the car is quite long at 4 399 mm, the wheelbase is a relatively short 2 525 mm. Chevrolet has also clearly prioritised boot space (which is very impressive), but perhaps at the cost of some rear legroom. Kids and smaller adults will be fine, though, but the lack of emphasis on rear passenger comfort is also evident in the absence of door pockets in the rear. Of course, the rear seats can fold down to allow for the transportation of bulkier objects.
The standard features package is somewhat of a mixed bag – you get air-conditioning, electric mirrors, a radio/CD system, four airbags and ABS/EBD, but electric windows are only fitted at the front, and you pay extra for a multi-function steering wheel and USB port. Bluetooth is also part of the optional Comfort package.
Too many gears?Surprisingly, given the Sonic’s conservative target audience and likely usage, it is equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission. Most cars in this segment still offer five gears while some (Accent included) make do with only four. In theory more gears benefit economy and driveability, because the best ratio for the specific driving conditions can be selected, but when such a gearbox is matched with a relatively low-output 1,6-litre engine (85 kW and 155 Nm) the result can be plenty of “hunting”. Indeed, such is the case with this Sonic. Leave the gearbox to do its own thing, and it jumps around the ratios quite often. This means progress is not exactly smooth and relaxed, as the target customer is likely to prefer.
Another surprising characteristic of the gearbox is that it offers a manual shift option. Not only that, when the gearbox is used in this manner, it will not change up automatically when the rev limit is approached, but will hold the gear. Such a trait is highly admirable in a performance car… but a compact sedan with no sporting pretensions? We’re not sure the gearbox is a good fit for this particular car…
Still, the performance and economy balance is not poor, with the 0-100 km/h dash taking 11,7 seconds and the likely average consumption sitting around the 7,5 L/100 km mark.
The “hunting” gearbox apart, this Sonic is actually a nice car to drive, with good steering weighting and a supple, controlled ride quality. In terms of its NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) refinement, it feels like a sophisticated, expensive product.
Chevrolet Sonic Sedan - VerdictThe Sonic sedan is reasonably priced for the power, space and features that it offers. It also boasts a long warranty and a standard service plan to sweeten the deal. But it is also a somewhat frustrating car, because it could easily have been excellent. Underneath the wilfully quirky design hides a very well-built and refined product. In this specific model, however, the looks and sports-oriented gearbox are unlikely to be appreciated by the target customer who craves simplicity and spaciousness. Unfortunately in those areas the Sonic sedan falls somewhat short of expectations.
- Big boot
- Ride comfort
- Build quality
- Warranty and service plan
We don’t like:
- Overly complicated gearbox
- Limited rear legroom
- Pay extra for USB support
Fast factsEngine: 1,6-litre, four-cylinder, petrol Power: 85 kW @ 6 000 rpm Torque: 155 Nm @ 4 000 rpm Transmission: Six-speed automatic Wheels: 15-inch alloy Top speed: 178 km/h 0-100 km/h: 11,7 seconds Fuel economy: 6,9 L/100 km
- Volkswagen Polo Sedan 1,6i Comfortline Tiptronic: Offers a similar technical and features package, but isn’t as powerful as the Chevrolet. On the other hand, the cabin feels more upmarket and is also more spacious. Superbly refined overall.
- Honda Ballade 1,5i-VTEC Comfort Automatic: The Honda feels like a slightly older vehicle, but is nevertheless attractive, mostly because it offers the promise of Honda reliability. Similarly powerful but has a simpler five-speed gearbox and also electronic stability control.
- Hyundai Accent 1,6 Fluid Automatic: A pricier option and it’s hard to justify the expense. The Accent has fewer airbags, no ESP and only rake adjustment for the steering wheel. On the other hand, it has an unbeatable warranty and service plan.