Chevrolet Sonic 5-door LTZ Turbo
Patrick Rall's picture

A review of the Chevrolet Sonic 5-door LTZ Turbo: way too good to push out of a plane

General Motors has featured the new Chevrolet Sonic in a variety of commercials where the sporty little compact is doing things like flipping off of a ramp or skydiving but after spending some time driving the Sonic 5-door Turbo – I can confidently say that GM has finally developed a compact model that is efficient, affordable and a whole lot of fun to drive.

General Motors has built a great many subcompact models that were efficient and affordable but with models like the Pontiac T1000, the Chevrolet Chevette and essentially the entire Geo lineup of the 1990s – these vehicles might have offered good fuel economy and a low purchase price but few people will argue that these models were no fun to drive. However, with the introduction of the new Chevrolet Sonic Turbo, GM finally has a subcompact that does what foreign subcompacts have done for years with great fuel economy, a low purchase price, a long standard feature list and – most importantly – an aggressive, fun to drive attitude that has been missing from so many tiny GM models over the years.

The Chevrolet Sonic as we know it was first introduced in 2010 at the Detroit Auto Show but at that point, the styling of today’s Sonic was applied to a vehicle named the Chevrolet Aveo RS Concept. While some aspects of that Aveo RS Concept like the central exhaust system and the blue-rimming high tech lighting didn’t make it through to production, the Chevrolet Sonic 5-door that is available in showrooms today looks nearly identical to that 2010 show car concept. While there was certainly nothing wrong with the Aveo, it was hardly an inspiring vehicle to drive and with bubbly, vanilla styling the Aveo had a hard time standing out in the rapidly progressing subcompact crowd. Having driven both the older Aveo hatchback and the new Chevy Sonic 5-door Turbo; I am here to say that the new Sonic is the complete package inside, outside and under the hood.

The Exterior
The Chevrolet Sonic 5-door LTZ Turbo wears a far more aggressive look than the Aveo that it replaced and while it may seem like I am bringing it up over and over to bag on it – I am really doing so just to point out how much better the new Sonic is. There was a point in time where subcompact cars were seemingly required to be as bland as possible. The 80s and 90s brought us a great many tiny, low cost cars that did their best to blend in with the rest of the group and stand out as little as possible but as younger drivers have begun showing more interest in these highly efficient and inexpensive models, there has been a shift in the design direction needed to thrive. Because of this, a great many of the GM subcompacts have drawn less attention than their foreign counterparts but with the 2013 Chevy Sonic – there is no shortage do edgy design and aggressive styling.

The long front end of the Chevrolet Sonic LTZ 5-door has a hood that angles downward as it nears the nose of the car where it meets the headlights and the front fascia. This intersection creates an angry, scowling look for the Sonic while the uniquely open-style headlights wrapped in a black housing also add to the sport nature. There is more matte black in the prominent upper and lower grille while the large, bright fog lights are mounted and equally large black fixtures. Overall, it is this new front end with an aggressive design and the unusual-yet-cool headlights that really make the Sonic a great deal better looking than the Aveo that it replaces. There is also just enough chrome around the grille and in the light housings to add a touch of class to the Sonic’s front end. The difference between the amount of attitude in the front end of the Sonic compared to not just the Aveo – but also the majority of the competition – is a major part of why this subcompact hatchback has become so popular.

Out back, the Chevrolet Sonic 5-door LTZ Turbo features a roof mounted spoiler that extends straight off of the roofline and this extension helps to give the Sonic a sportier silhouette. The short rear glass provides plenty of visibility for the driver while also preventing the Sonic from looking like a “station wagon”. The tail lights are arranged in an open design similar to the headlights with chrome rims sitting in black bezels while the top line of the tail light area angles in for an angry look that matches the front end’s attitude.

Along the side, the Chevrolet Sonic 5-door LTZ Turbo has a long, flat roofline with a black B pillar that gives this hatch a very fluid look between the front and rear door glass. While the front doors get bright chrome door handles, the rear door handles are mounted in the upper rear section of the door in another blacked out section with this unique placement giving the sides of the car a very clean – almost “shaved” look. This hidden door handle also helps to give the 5-door hatch the look of a 3-door hatch. The front and rear wheel openings are flared to give the Sonic a very wide looking stance with a hard body line that flows out of the front wheel opening and rises as it heads to the back of the vehicle. This, along with the body line along the bottom of the Sonic that also has an upwards angle works with the wide rear end and short roofline to provide for a very sporty look. As part of the LTZ package, my Sonic test car featured silver painted aluminum wheels measuring 17 inches that do a great job of bolstering the sporty stance of the Chevy hatch. Finally, the back end is finished off with a central chrome appliqué that houses the button for the rear hatch along with more chrome in the form of the Sonic badging and the red trimmed turbo logo.

The Chevrolet Sonic 5-door LTZ Turbo has a distinct look that makes it one of the most visually appealing models in the subcompact class along with being one of the best looking small cars that GM has ever offered. The aggressive design allows the Sonic to stand out in the class and it is this design that is one of the biggest reasons behind the difference in sales between the old Aveo and this new Sonic. This is a subcompact hatchback that has a design that you can be proud to be seen driving which was something that you certainly couldn’t say about models like tiny GMs of the old days.

The Interior
Inside, the Chevrolet Sonic 5-door LTZ Turbo is the fully loaded model but GM takes a fairly minimalistic approach to the interior design. Mind you, there is a difference between minimalistic and being bare bones or cheap as the Sonic features a great many items that are more commonly associated with higher end vehicles. The LTZ package brings about heated (front) black leather seats with contrasting stitching and steering wheel mounted controls for the cruise control, the sound system and the hands-free phone system. The stereo system is fairly basic as you wont find any big, expensive touch screen but the radio of the Sonic is simple to use, has all of the basic features that you would expect including satellite radio and USB connectivity and in the long run – the stereo has a good sound to it. The HVAC system is controlled by three simple knobs mounted low on the center stack with the heated front seat buttons being integrated into the temperature control for the driver and the fan direction for the passenger. Again, the interior isn’t fancy but it also doesn’t make you go without much.

The curved underside of the Chevy Sonic dash gives the interior a cockpit feel while also allowing for lots of leg and knee room for both the driver and front passenger. There is no center console but there is an arm rest attached to the driver’s seat with two large cup holders below. The passenger doesn’t get an inside armrest of his or her own but when there is a shorter driver, the passenger will be able to lean on the rear portion of the driver’s armrest without causing any interference. Making up for the lack of storage space due to there being no middle console, the Sonic has an upper and lower glove box that provide a surprising amount of space to stuff things. There are also large pockets in both front doors with an additional cup holder and small “cubbies” mounted on each side of the stereo and below the HVAC controls. One of the more unnoticed yet innovative features of the Sonic is the outer HVAC vents that use a sort of “turbine” design that spins shut to block the air with the turn of a knob.

Finally, an area where the minimalistic design is most recognizable inside of the Chevrolet Sonic 5-door LTZ Turbo is the compact gauge cluster. Unlike the old school subcompact that had two massive gauges mounted in a large, wasteful cluster area – the Sonic sports a small gauge area that contains a huge analog tachometer next to a digital readout that offers speed, fuel level and trip mileage information. There are also two rows of information lights that run above and below the digital screen with all of your emergency and nag lights like the seatbelt and check engine lights. I think that the unique driver’s information center is one of the coolest features of the Sonic interior, giving it an edgy advantage over the traditional gauge layout.

In terms of space, the long roofline of the Chevrolet Sonic 5-door LTZ Turbo provides for plenty of headroom for front and rear riders. Overall, all four seating positions can provide comfort for someone up to 6’ tall or so although the back seating area is a bit tight for taller individuals. The back seat will technically seat three but unless those are three small children or three adults who I didn’t like – I wouldn’t try to put three people in the back. Finally, the rear cargo space offers a stunning amount of space and the square shape of this rear area allows for easy loading and unloading of pretty good sized boxes. I bet that this area would also cater nicely to a subwoofer enclosure. Big speakers aside, the cargo area has plenty of space for a weekly shopping trip and it will even fit a smaller hockey bag.

The Chevrolet Sonic 5-door LTZ Turbo interior isn’t going to wow you with expensive, high tech gadgets but it really offers everything that someone can want in a $20,000 subcompact – and even a little more. No more burlap seat covers and AM/FM stereos with one speaker.

The Drive
The Chevrolet Sonic 5-door LTZ Turbo is powered by the same 1.4L turbocharged 4-cylinder mill that is offered in other models including the Chevy Cruze and the Chevrolet Volt EV. While a 6-speed manual transmission is standard, my test vehicle was fitted with the optional 6-speed automatic transmission. Having driven a manual transmission model in the past, I would recommend that gearbox for those who have the means to drive one but for those who prefer a self-shifting transmission, the unit offered in the Sonic Turbo doesn’t kill all of the fun of driving this sporty compact hatchback. There is a manual control button mounted on the side of the shifter for those who want to do their own shifting and this button allows as much control as your basic “manumatic” electronic controls. It would be better with some paddle shifters but those add cost to the bottom line.

The 1.4L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine of the Chevrolet Sonic 5-door LTZ Turbo packs 148 horsepower and 138lb-ft of torque which makes this sporty little Chevy lots of fun to drive. The turbo spool time is quick and what little “turbo lag” there is will be unnoticeable to the average driver even though it is hard not to notice when the turbo is at full spool. Mind you, I wouldn’t go so far as to call the Sonic Turbo “fast” but there is no question that this engine allows enough ‘oomph’ to help this little car get out of its own way – and eclipse the 100mph mark in the proper conditions.

My grandmas Pontiac T1000 sure wouldn’t do that.

The turbocharged 4-cylinder engine in the Chevy Sonic is a quick revving engine that likes the higher rpm range and even when the transmission is left in normal automatic mode – the transmission recognizes the driver’s want to go fast and provides crisp shifts way up into the rpm band. More importantly (to some) is the fact that this engine offers 37mpg on the highway and 27 around town with a combined figure of 31mpg. During my time driving the Sonic Turbo, I was far from friendly on the throttle and I managed to average 30.8mpg. I bet that someone who drove the Sonic Turbo less like a rally car will get far better fuel economy than did I.

The ride quality of the Chevrolet Sonic LTZ is impressive with less wind and road noise than you will find in some competitive subcompact hatchbacks. The suspension system does a fine job of providing a smooth ride on the highway while also offering surprisingly nimble handling properties in tight quarters. The Sonic Turbo isn’t going to win very many drag races but having had the pleasure of driving the turbocharged 5-door on an autocross course, I can attest that the Sonic can hand out as much driving excitement as many owners could want. The wide, low stance allows you to throw this sporty 5-door into turns with a great deal of confidence along with being able to practically stop on a dime.

The Final Word
The one word that I would have rarely used in relation to the majority of older GM subcompact models is “fun” but with the introduction of the Chevrolet Sonic 5-door LTZ Turbo, GM has put together an affordable, efficient hatchback that can provide real competition to the best subcompacts available in the US. This tiny turbocharged engine provides plenty of power for strong acceleration around town and when out on the open road but more importantly – it also gets great fuel economy. Add those positive drivetrain attributes to the edgy, aggressive exterior and a roomy, comfortable interior and you have what amounts to one of the most exciting subcompacts on the market today. The Chevy Sonic looks great, feels great inside and offers more performance than I ever expected before driving the new turbocharged subcompact hatchback.

With the Chevrolet Sonic LTZ 5-door Turbo, no longer do you need to worry about driving a bland, boring car that is less fun than a crowded escalator. Past GM subcompacts would be high on my list of vehicles that I would like to push out of a plane from a very high altitude but the Sonic has proven itself to be one of the most engaging cars in the booming subcompact class. This car is good enough to make those who have previously suffered from the embarrassment of driving a boring subcompact to reconsider their stance on the class and it is certainly worth a test drive for anyone looking to buy a fun, affordable and efficient small car.

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