by Gabe Beita Kiser
While there has been no official confirmation of the Sonic's demise as yet, the mechanical vultures are certainly beginning to circle. With the familiar six-speed manual gearbox completely removed from the lineup for the 2020 model year, it's clear that Chevy has begun cutting down on costs, a possible sign that the Sonic won't see the 2021 model year. The front wheels of the Sonic Hatch are once again powered by a 1.4-liter turbo Ecotec four-pot engine with outputs of 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque, now serviced purely by a six-speed automatic gearbox. The Sonic has never really managed to measure up to its core rivals, with the Kia Rio offering better fuel efficiency, and the Honda Fit boasting superior practicality overall. Even with the Sonic's many updates over the past few years, it's clear, when compared to its rivals, that it has all been too little, too late.
The Sonic Hatchback carries over predominantly unchanged for the new model year, only having the six-speed automatic gearbox made standard with the removal of the manual gearbox from the Sonic Hatch lineup altogether. Two new exterior color options join the palette for the 2020 model year as well, labeled Oasis Blue and Cayenne Orange Metallic, the latter replacing the prior year's Orange Burst Metallic.
The Sonic Hatch carries a sportier aesthetic than the rather dull sedan variant, with its gung-ho front fascia featuring sleek chrome inlays, fog lights, and an RS badge flanking the left side of Chevy's signature bowtie badge. Along the sides are sharp lower skirtings, two-toned exterior mirrors, and a chrome beltline. While 16-inch aluminum wheels fill the dainty wheel arches of the LT; the 17-inch black-painted aluminum wheels look better, as fitted to the Premier. A high-mounted rear spoiler and another RS badge, replacing the usually-present trim-level emblem, set off the rear end along with a trapezoidal exhaust bordered by a black diffuser.
The Sonic Hatch is a nimble city-slicker by virtue of its compact dimensions, its body set on a taut 99.4-inch wheelbase. Both Sonic models span a length of 159.8 inches in length and measure 68.3 inches in width. While the LT stands at 59.7 inches in height, the Premier is 0.4 inches lower to the ground as it is equipped with a sport suspension. The LT model has a curb weight of 2,896 lbs, but the Premier, with its added sporting underpinnings, weighs in a little heavier at 2,921 lbs. That makes the Sonic slightly heavier than the average hatchback when compared to several subcompact rivals.
There are nine exterior colors to select from for the 2020 Chevy Sonic Hatch. Red Hot and the new-for-2020 Oasis Blue bring vibrancy to the range, along with the extra-cost colors, Kinetic Blue Metallic, Cajun Red Tintcoat, and also new, Cayenne Orange Metallic - all carrying premium price tags of $395. Other no-cost options include Summit White, Nightfall Gray, Silver Ice, and Mosaic Black, the latter three making up the metallics. While any of the Sonic's colors suit its cheeky character, we'd go for either the Cajun Red Tintcoat or new Cayenne Orange Metallic simply for their uniqueness and the added spice they bring to the Sonic.
The front-wheel-drivetrain of both the Sonic Hatch models is powered by the familiar turbocharged 1.4-liter four-pot engine, making 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft torque, serviced by a six-speed automatic transmission. The powertrain is geared more toward fuel efficiency rather than outright performance, which is fine for the easy-going city-slicker hatch. In its standard form, it gets from 0-60 mph in an impressive 8.9 seconds, making it one of the more spirited hatches in its class. The Honda Fit and Kia Rio, both equipped with less powerful and naturally aspirated engines, slot in at around the ten-second mark. Unfortunately, the six-speed manual gearbox, which was standard in previous years, is no longer available for any Sonic model. With that gearbox, the Sonic performed slightly better, completing the sprint in around 8.7 seconds. As with all other vehicles in the class, the Sonic Hatch is only configured as a front-wheel-drive hatch.
Powering the Sonic is the same 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that's done duty for the last few years, dishing out 138 hp and 148 lb-ft to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic gearbox. With the Sonic's tight dimensions and lightweight body, the engine is able to pull the hatch around without exerting much effort. Though there's not much lag from the motor, initial take-off can be rather gradual, as most of the engine's impulsion is found in the middle of the rev-range. That means initiating incline-starts will feel strenuous and lethargic, but overtaking at higher speeds - though measured - will be relatively easy. The now-standard automatic delivers early shifts for optimized efficiency, which doesn't help the weak off-the-line power delivery, but it does at least negate heavy clutch wear. It also feels disinclined to downshift when needed. The old manual gearbox was certainly the better of the two options; not only did it provide a better sense of control, but surprisingly added efficiency as well.
Equipped with a standard suspension and with its fairly taut chassis, the base Sonic LT strikes an impressive balance between handling poise and ride quality. The steering feedback and road feel are clearly communicated through to the driver, and the Sonic exhibits no significant levels of body roll when flung around corners. At the same time, the setup absorbs most road imperfections and typical undulations reasonably well, altogether making for a vehicle that offers impressive agility and suitable levels of comfort for pleasurable daily driving.
The Premier model, however, is equipped with a tighter-sprung sport suspension. Although it delivers a lot more stability and control as opposed to the standard suspension, it drastically diminishes ride comfort. Lesser road imperfections and bumps are felt more prominently through the cabin, making for a notably harsher ride then warranted from the everyday commuter.
Overall, the Sonic is a rather fun-to-drive and easy-going hatch; it's a pleasure to trundle around town with its nippy attitude and nimble maneuverability. Getting around traffic couldn't get any easier than in the Sonic Hatch, and every parking spot is made a trouble-free option.
The Sonic's EPA-rated gas mileage estimates of 26/34/29 mpg city/highway/combined are decent, albeit substandard for the class and rather unimpressive considering the hatchback's dinky Ecotec four-cylinder engine and lightweight body. With that combined figure, the Sonic can drive on for around 353 miles with its 12.2-gallon gas tank full, utilizing only regular unleaded gas as the minimum requirement. The Kia Rio, with its naturally aspirated 1.6-liter engine, returns 33/41/36 mpg and boasts a range of just over 428 miles with its 11.9-gallon gas tank full.
Though not by any means luxurious, the interior of the Sonic Hatch is still modern and packed with attitude. It's quite simple and not very well-appointed, with most materials being low-grade; the Kia Rio and Honda Fit both offer far more opulent impressions. The dash splays outward in a V-like fashion from the center, with the dash design extending onto the door panels. While the infotainment cluster and climate knobs bulge from the center of the dash, the rounded AC vents project outward like turbo-fans. Build-quality for the budget-friendly hatch is reasonably hunky-dory, inside and out. Ergonomics are decent, too, and the driver is well-positioned behind the controls with suitable all-round visibility.
The Sonic Hatch has seating for five passengers in a surprisingly spacious cabin for the class. Shoulder room in the rear is somewhat tight, however, limiting the rear to two adult passengers rather than three, unless those three are small children. The cloth seats in the LT and leather ones in Premier are all reasonably comfy, being well-cushioned and suitably supportive, too. Passengers of any physique will find ample head and legroom up front, and headroom is decent at the back too - it's legroom that will be on the tight side, though. With the driver's seat adjustability -four-way on the LT and six-way power-adjustable on the Premier - and the tilt-only steering wheel, locating an optimal driving position is no trouble. Ingress and egress are easy as well, as the doors open wide and the seats are positioned at a comfortable height.
Despite the Sonic's modern interior aesthetic, the materials used throughout elicit more of a low-budget impression. Both models are bedecked with a leather-wrapped three-spoke sports steering wheel with contrast stitching and a piano black instrument cluster, but most of the dashboard, pillars, and inner door cards are made up of dull-toned hard-touch plastics. Red and Black Deluxe cloth upholster the seats of the LT model with red accented stitching completing the look. The Premier model improves favorably on quality with leatherette seating appointments, featuring red microfibre inserts and RS detailing on the upper backrests.
It's in practicality where the Sonic really shines, offering a massive 19 cubic feet of cargo capacity with the rear seats left in place. That's more than enough room for two mid-sized suitcases and a couple of duffel bags. The rear seats fold down flat in a 60/40 split, expanding capacity to 47.7 cubes, increasing cargo versatility, and turning the Sonic Hatch into an impressively capable one.
As for in-cabin storage, there's a dual-split passenger-side glove box, with either compartment offering very little usable space. The door side pockets are otherwise wide and include slots for larger bottles. There are also two cupholders featured between the front and rear seats, and two small-item storage pockets on either side of the infotainment cluster, with another located beneath the climate controls. A small center armrest compartment is located between the front seats as well.
While the base Sonic LT model comes packed with an impressive list of features as standard, the Sonic Premier brings with it a load of added luxuries. At the base level, there's remote keyless entry, remote ignition, a leather-wrapped tilt-only steering wheel, a four-way manually adjustable driver's seat, two-way manually-adjustable front passenger seat, 60/40 split-folding rear bench seat, and manual air conditioning. The Premier gets six-way power-adjustable and heated front seats, a compass display, and an enhanced driver information display. Covering the safety bases in both models as standard are automatic projector-beam halogen headlights, Chevy's OnStar and Connected Services, and a rearview camera. Unfortunately, the only included driver assist is cruise control; otherwise, all that's available is rear park assist, lane departure warning, and forward-collision warning to add on via the options list.
Both Sonic models are outfitted with Chevrolet's Infotainment 3 system, which is one of the best systems on the market; offering crisp, high-quality visuals, immediate responses, and comprehensive functionality including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard. There's also Bluetooth connectivity and audio streaming, 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot capability, and SiriusXM radio, all controlled via the Sonic's seven-inch touchscreen display, which is tethered to a six-speaker audio system in both models. In the dash are two USB ports for device charging and connectivity, an auxiliary input for audio streaming, and a 12-volt power outlet. Though a standard navigation system is omitted from the lineup, the contemporary infotainment system's full smartphone integration makes up for this.
Not only has the 2020 year model of the Chevrolet Sonic Hatchback not been the subject of any major recalls, but neither was the 2019 year model. With the last recorded recall applying to the long-gone 2018 year model, J.D. Power awarded the 2020 Chevy Sonic Hatch with an above-average predicted reliability rating of three-and-a-half out of five. Chevrolet covers the Sonic with a three-year/36,000-mile basic warranty, five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty, and six-years/100,000-miles rust-through corrosion coverage.
From the NHTSA, the 2020 year model Sonic Hatchback received an overall safety rating of five out of a possible five stars for its crashworthiness. And although the IIHS has not evaluated the 2020 year model, the 2019 year model scored Top results of Good in five of the authorities' evaluations, much in line with the ratings from the NHTSA.
The Sonic Hatch comes with an impressive consignment of ten standard airbags, including driver and front passenger frontal and knee airbags, seat-mounted side-impact airbags on all seats, and roof rail-mounted head curtain airbags. Also standard in the Sonic is panic brake assist, hill-start assist, electronic traction control, tire pressure monitoring, and a rear vision camera. All Sonics also feature OnStar and Chevrolet Connected Services, which automatically contacts emergency services in the event of an accident. Optional for the Sonic is rear park assist, lane departure warning, and forward collision alert; it is unfortunate that these are optional, as such driver assists are commonly becoming standard in most modern vehicles.
While the Sonic Hatchback is a very modern, capable, and comfortable vehicle, it's beaten in all of those areas by almost all of its rivals. Many offer more contemporary interiors, way better performance and fuel-efficiency, and greater practicality overall. The one area we could argue that the Sonic has the upper hand in is in terms of infotainment, offering one of the only systems fully inclusive of smartphone integration as standard. It's stylish, too, but that's something that only runs skin deep. With no more manual gearbox on offer, there isn't all that much enjoyment offered anymore, with driver engagement limited to enjoying the Sonic's nimbleness and communicative steering. The Sonic Hatchback is otherwise an easy-going, easy-to-drive daily commuter offering what any routine everyday family car should. There are many better alternatives available, though, such as the Honda Fit and Kia Rio, offering all of the above and a little more.
The Sonic LT carries an MSRP of $19,420, while the more luxurious Sonic Premier comes in at $21,520, which prices the 2020 year model Sonic Hatches identically to the automatic-equipped models of last year. Chevrolet does charge a destination fee of $895 and does not include tax, registration, or any licensing fees in the recommended prices. That makes the Sonic Hatch one of the more expensive vehicles in the class, though dealerships often offer cash allowances and incentives.
There are two models that make up the Sonic Hatchback lineup, the base LT, and the top-of-the-line Premier. Both models are equipped with the same 1.4-liter turbo four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox, sending the outputs to the Sonic's front-wheel-drivetrain.
The LT rides on 16-inch aluminum wheels and is fitted with an RS exterior appearance package, projector-beam halogen headlights, and heated, power-adjustable outside mirrors. It gets keyless entry and ignition, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a tilt-only steering column, a four-way manually-adjustable driver's seat, manual climate control, and Deluxe cloth seating. At the base level, the Sonic Hatch gets a seven-inch infotainment touchscreen tethered to a six-speaker audio system and featuring Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth, and SiriusXM radio. A rearview camera, cruise control, hill start assist, and OnStar & Chevrolet Connected Services.
The Premier rides on 17-inch black-painted alloy wheels. On the inside, there's leatherette with microfiber inlays and red RS badging, and a standard leather-wrapped gear-stick. It also gets a push-button starter, six-way power-adjustable and heated front seats, and an enhanced driver information display.
Packages are rather limited for the budget-friendly Sonic, as is the case with most vehicles in the class. Both Sonic models have access to a $1,580 Performance Package, which equips the hatch with a performance exhaust and lowered sport-tuned suspension.
There is also a Driver Confidence package available for both models, which - for $495 - adds rear park assist, forward collision warning, and lane departure warning.
Optional for the base LT Sonic only is a $650 Convenience Package which equips some of the features already standard on the Premier, namely heated six-way power-adjustable front seats, an enhanced driver information display, compass display, keyless open and start, and two spare keys.
We suggest opting for the range-topping Premier as, at only $2,000 more than the LT, it comes comprehensively outfitted with additional features and upgraded materials, such as the leatherette seating, which improves the Sonic's otherwise bland cabin impression substantially. It also gets push-button start and heated front seats, which are nice touches to the interior, too, along with the enhanced driver information display. With this model, we recommend including the optional Driver Confidence Package to equip park assist, forward collision warning, as well as lane departure assist.
The Nissan Versa is a lot cheaper than the Sonic Hatch, with a lineup starting MSRP of $14,730. It comes with a slightly less powerful naturally aspirated engine with outputs of 122 hp and 114 lb-ft. It's slower with that engine, but significantly more fuel-efficient, returning 27/35/30 mpg with its five-speed manual gearbox and 32/40/35 mpg with its Xtronic CVT. That's right, the Versa offers a manual, already a winning element for some, as the Versa becomes the more enjoyable vehicle to drive. It does offer far less cargo capacity, however, at 14.7 cubes in the trunk. The Versa is also a sedan-only offer as of the 2020 redesign, so if its a hatchback you want, the Sonic is the only bet. But with it being an all-new model, the Versa is the more refined option in modern comfort. The Sonic takes the cake in terms of its standard safety consignment and infotainment, though, but at the Versa's pricing point, it's a tough one to beat in terms of value. Overall, the Versa would be our pick from the two, as the model that offers a more enjoyable drive with its manual gearbox, a more efficient powertrain overall, and the refinements of a brand new design for 2020 at a lower price.
Not only does the Rio5 come in at $2,730 less than the Sonic Hatchback, but it also comes with a class-leading ten-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, which dwarfs the Sonics five-year/60,000-mile coverage. Arguably, the Rio carries a sportier, more appealing aesthetic than the Sonic as well, and on the inside, the Rio also offers a far more premium impression than most vehicles found at its price point in the segment. The Rio comes standard with a few more appealing features, too, like a USB charge port located in the rear cabin, remote keyless entry with trunk release, and bi-function LED headlights. The Sonic's engine is slightly more powerful than the Rio's, but a lot less fuel-efficient, with the Rio's naturally aspirated four-cylinder returning an impressive 33/41/36 mpg. Though the Rio offers marginally less cargo capacity, with 17.4 cubes offered behind the rear seats, it one-ups the Sonic in every other regard and is the more sensible, higher value, and superior car overall.