by Roger Biermann
Seven years since its release, and two since its last refresh, the 2019 Chevrolet Sonic hatchback makes its appearance on the showroom floor in the hopes of taking on the likes of the Kia Rio and Honda Fit for top subcompact honors. RS badges hint at the now-standard 1.4-liter turbocharged Ecotec four-cylinder engine under the hood, while its sporty exterior styling does well to separate it from the rest of the herd. 138 horsepower is derived from its turbo engine with a joyful six-speed manual transmission as standard, and the more subdued six-speed automatic, optional. Stepping inside the Sonic brings forth a love/hate relationship that you'd either appreciate for its simplicity or dislike for the same reason. Truth be told, the Sonic doesn't really excel in any particular area or trump its rivals by being the best at anything; but it does serve well as the all-rounder companion with a bowtie, instead.
The 2019 model remains mostly unchanged from last years iteration, with the exception of the base 1.8-liter engine being kicked to the curb in favor of the then-optional 1.4-liter turbocharged motor, which now features as standard - and rightly so, as a brilliant powertrain for this segment. A new color joins the palette this year as well, dressing the Sonic hatch for a stint at the local disco in what Chevy aptly dubbed as "Shock", which is perhaps the best way to describe the vibrant green.
The Sonic hatchback has the advantage of being more exciting to look at as opposed to its rather bland sedan counterpart. With an aggressive front-end featuring chrome inlays and fog lights, a rear spoiler, chrome beltline, and either 16-inch aluminum or 17-inch black-painted aluminum wheels, it presents as a sportier, cheekier and more nimble vehicle overall. After its 2017 refresh, styling has largely remained the same, with the RS badge replacing the trim-level emblem at the rear. A sunroof and roof rack cross rail-set can be optioned on additionally.
The subcompact hatchback Sonic has proportions that see it thrive in an urban setting. The LT trim stands at 59.7 inches tall, with the Premier model being slightly shorter at only 59.3 inches. Pair that with a body which is 68.3 inches wide, and parking becomes a breeze no matter where you go. The 159.8-inch long body finds itself set on a 99.4-inch wheelbase, with the front and rear tracks both measuring in at 59.4 inches. The LT hatchback in manual and automatic configurations have a curb weight of 2,813 and 2,894 lbs respectively, with the Premier tipping the scales at 2,837 and 2,915 lbs. In all guises, the Sonic is on the heavier end of the spectrum in comparison to main rivals.
2019's Chevrolet Sonic hatchback is available in nine different hues, four of which carry a $395 premium price tag. Summit White, Silver Ice Metallic, and Nightfall Gray Metallic cover the lighter side of things, with Mosaic Black Metallic completing the light-to-dark spectrum. Red Hot is the only colorful option available as standard, while Kinetic Blue Metallic, Orange Burst Metallic, Cajun Red Tintcoat, and the brand new vivid green Shock color adding to its sticker price. Both trims have the same palette to choose from, with the only exterior variation applicable to the available alloy wheels.
Both Sonic hatchback trims utilize the same 1.4-liter turbocharged Ecotec engine, with a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic sending 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels, with this drivetrain being the norm in this segment. Neither its Honda Fit nor Kia Rio competitors offer more than one drivetrain option either, and both supply less horsepower and torque than what the Sonic manages to put out. The Sonic is geared towards a more efficient driving style, offering very little in terms of raw performance. That said, it's certainly not sluggish, and amongst the more lively in the subcompact hatch segment, managing the 0-60 mph test in 8.9 seconds in the top-end Premier trim with the automatic 'box.
The 2019 Chevrolet Sonic hatchback makes use of a single powertrain paired to one of two transmission options, across its range. At its core sits a 1.4-liter turbocharged Ecotec motor churning out 138 hp and 148 lb-ft, plentiful for the Sonic's modest dimensions. Each trim offers a choice between a six-speed manual gearbox or a slightly less efficient six-speed automatic transmission. The 1.4-liter engine handles itself relatively well and responds to the driver without any noticeable delay. There's also no turbo lag to be found anywhere, though it does seem to dig a little deep when at a lower RPM to find the necessary grunt. At higher speeds, it feels much more at home than it does crawling about side streets, largely favoring its mid-range powerband for some calculated, but relatively easy, overtaking.
Accelerating from a traffic light feels mostly the same, with or without a lead foot, when opting for the six-speed automatic. It shifts early in the range and feels reluctant to shift back, which is favorable for fuel economy but robs the driver of some power potential. The manual harnesses the motor at a much more enjoyable level, with a genuine sense of control making it the superior transmission of the two.
The black bowtie emblem on the grille, rear spoiler, and RS badges give a glimpse towards a more agile and assertive demeanor concealed in an otherwise compact body, with the Sonic performing as it looks. The chassis is rather taut in standard trim, delivering a good balance between road feedback and comfort, without significant body roll when you fling it in and out of side streets. And fling it you surely will, with an impressive degree of steering feedback letting you know where the front wheels are and what they have planned next. The optional sports suspension offers a lot more stability and control over the standard setup, though it takes it a step too far, robbing the Sonic of a great degree of comfort and affording it a rather harsh ride quality.
For everyday travels in and around town, the Sonic is a perfectly capable driving companion. Potholes and bumps are skimmed over with expected levels of jostling, while rough road surfaces reverberate through to the cabin. While a lot of effort has gone into noise insulation in the Sonic, it's not a luxury sedan by any manner of means to offer superior levels of silence. There aren't any fancy driving modes available to play with, but with its responsive and nippy driving dynamics, we don't think it needs it. The Sonic earns its place on the road, regardless of driving style or gearbox preference - it's a generally fun, and easy-going, hatchback to drive.
Despite the 'Eco' in its Ecotec powerplant, the Sonic hatchback doesn't boast the best-in-class fuel economy when pitted against its competitors. EPA figures are still a very reasonable 26/35/29 for city/highway/combined cycles, with only a single mile per gallon penalty applicable to highway driving for the automatic transmission. The Kia Rio achieves 28/37/32 from its naturally aspirated 1.6-liter motor and moves 380 miles on a full 11.2-gallon fuel tank. The Sonic achieves 353 miles with its 12.2-gallon tank comparatively. The Honda Fit is the clear leader though, boasting 33/40/36 when paired with its CVT gearbox, and does just over 381 miles between refills.
The Chevrolet Sonic hatchback's interior leans towards a more modern approach, with the dashboard flaring out from the center console in a more rounded, encapsulated style. The driver and front passenger-side air vents protrude outwards like turbo-fans, with the infotainment cluster and climate controls bulging at the center. Outward visibility is excellent all-around with large windows at the front and rear, affording it a spacious feel to go with its dimensions. The cabin is certainly amongst the more comfortable in the segment, although not the most well-appointed; characterized by low-rent materials, it is not as plush as the Kia Rio or the Honda Fit. The driver is greeted with a clear and vivid cluster too, featuring white backlit dials framed with a turquoise hue.
The 2019 Sonic is a five-seater hatchback with an impressively sized cabin for its class. The driver and front-seated passenger enjoy a roomy 38.7 inches of headroom, accommodating even taller drivers without issue. At the rear, the hatchback body sports 38.1 inches of headroom, offering fractionally more space for taller passengers than its sedan sibling. 41.8 inches of legroom in the front leaves plenty of leeway for stretching out legs on the occasional longer trip, while the rear is a bit more tightly packed, with 34.6 inches feeling a little shy in our opinion. Adults will find themselves rubbing shoulders in the back, with only 53 inches of shoulder room to work with, making it much more suitable for two teenagers or three kids, at a push.
Despite its well-designed and attractive interior styling, the materials feel a bit more on the low-budget side of things. Black, white, and dark-tinted hard plastics line the dashboard, pillars, and inner door cards, in a mute and almost mundane contrast to the rest of the car, while glossy plastics house the armrests, gear lever, and climate controls. The general build quality doesn't find itself leaning towards good or bad in particular but feels best described as just 'fine'. The LT trim's seats are covered in red and black deluxe cloth, with red accented stitching bringing things together. Things take a considerable leap towards quality with the Premier's leatherette seats, however, featuring microfiber inserts and RS detailing on the upper backrests.
Sonic owners can expect to find 19 cubic feet of space in the trunk for the everyday haul, enough to accommodate two week's worth of grocery shopping, or a few larger boxes instead. For the more ambitious haulers, the 60/40 split-folding rear seats push that figure to an impressive 47.7 cubic feet of cargo volume, making the sonic an impressively capable hatchback.
Upper and lower glove boxes can be found at the front of the cabin, with neither sporting storage space large enough to feel particularly useful. Things improve slightly with bottle holders in the doors at the front and rear, as well as two more bottle holders front and center. Small-item storage comes in the form of the well-sized compartment under the climate controls, and two more storage pockets on either side of the touch-screen display. A smaller, oddly-sized compartment can be found under the driver's center armrest, too.
Both hatchback trims carry an impressive list of features packed as standard, boding well for the small Chevy. Hill-start assist, a tire pressure monitoring system, rearview camera, automatic projector-beam halogen headlights, built-in 4G LTE Wi-Fi, a driver information center display, single-zone climate control, tilt and telescopic steering column, power windows and door locks, and remote keyless entry can be found in the LT trim, with additions such as push-button start, an enhanced driver information display center, heated front seats, and a six-way power-adjustable driver's seat found in the Premier hatch. Cruise control features on both trims too, as well as heated power-adjustable outside mirrors, adding a more premium touch. Driver-assist systems are only really optional affairs and are limited to lane departure warning, rear park assist, and forward-collision warning as part of a package bundle.
Both LT and Premier trims utilize Chevrolet's Infotainment 3 System in its full form, with the lesser version only found on its sedan counterpart. What this means for the prospective buyer is a brilliantly intuitive and crisp seven-inch touch-screen display paired to a premium six-speaker sound system as standard. An AM/FM stereo, as well as SiriusXM satellite radio streaming takes care of all things radio, while Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto deal with the connectivity aspect. Two USB ports and a single auxiliary port offer a more low-tech approach. The touch-screen is very responsive in general and features smooth transmissions between menus. Speaking of which, those are laid out really well too, and new users won't suffer a frustrating learning curve just to get by. Navigation, unfortunately, is entirely omitted from the line-up.
The 2019 Chevrolet Sonic hatchback boasts excellent reliability, with the majority of owners not reporting any major issues. No recalls have been issued, giving a bit more peace of mind to both new and upgrading owners. J.D. Power scores the Sonic at three-and-a-half out of five, putting it between average and better than most in this segment. Chevrolet has the Sonic covered with a three-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper, five-year/60,000-mile powertrain and five-year/60,000-mile roadside assistance warranty.
The NHTSA gave the 2019 Chevrolet Sonic hatchback a five out of five rating, with four stars awarded for the Rollover Resistance test. Similarly, the IIHS rated the Sonic with top scores of Good across the board. Only the ease of use for child seat anchors received a below-average rating of Marginal instead.
Chevy has emphasized safety in the Sonic, equipping the small car with ten airbags throughout the cabin. The driver and front passenger frontal and knee, seat-mounted side-impact, and roof rail-mounted head curtain airbags take care of the Sonics occupants, with a passenger sensing system for the front passenger as standard. StabiliTrak Electronic Stability paired with traction control, panic brake assist, and antilock brakes cover the rest. Unfortunately, forward collision alert, departure warning, and rear park assist are only available as optional, most of which we have come to see as essential in modern vehicles.
Chevrolet's dedication to the Sonic seems like a give-and-take scenario, with a long-anticipated redesign probably not going to see the light of day. Despite the company's shift in focus towards its more profitable crossover vehicles, the Sonic is still a well-equipped and driver-friendly car to note. Unlike the Honda Fit's practicality or the Kia Rio's exceptional warranty, the Sonic's styling is perhaps its only trait worth mentioning, with no other defining features setting it apart from the competition. Even that is only skin-deep though and leaves the Sonic fending for itself elsewhere. It's by no measure a bad car, and we'd even go as far as calling it a good car, but it's certainly not a great car. We find ourselves searching for the sense of excitement and fun present in other subcompact hatchbacks. For Chevrolet fans looking for the next hatchback to do urban drives, school runs, or face traffic, the Sonic will have you feeling right at home. New buyers might be better off looking at the likes of Honda and Kia instead.
2019's Chevrolet Sonic hatchback is available in two flavors, namely the LT and Premier. The base-model LT in manual configuration has an MSRP of $18,020, excluding tax, licensing, registration, and $875 in destination charges. $1,400 more gets your a six-speed automatic transmission instead of the manual. The Premier model in manual configuration will set you back $20,020, with $1,500 more getting you the auto. There are plenty of specials to be had on the Sonic, with dealerships offering cash allowances and incentives quite often, so shopping around might net you a better deal.
The Sonic hatchback range is comprised of two trim levels: the entry-level LT, and the range-topping Premier. Both trims make use of a 1.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine producing 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque. Mated to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearbox, the Sonic's trims are separated in feature count alone.
The base model LT offers 16-inch aluminum wheels, hill start assist, a tire pressure monitoring system, rearview camera, projector-beam halogen headlights, heated and power-adjustable outside mirrors, a driver information center display, single-zone climate control, power windows and door locks, remote keyless entry, deluxe cloth seats with accented stitching, and cruise control. At the entry point to the range, infotainment is based on a seven-inch touch-screen display featuring Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and SiriusXM, all of which can be controlled by steering-mounted dials. The exterior boasts a sporty body kit, rear spoiler, a sport exhaust, fog lamps, and black Chevrolet bowtie emblems.
The Premier model adds leatherette seats with microfiber inlays, red RS lettering on the backrests, heated front seats, six-way power-adjustable driver's seat, an enhanced driver information center, push-button start, and 17-inch black-painted aluminum wheels.
With both Sonic hatchbacks sporting the RS Package as standard, only three packages remain for buyers to pick from. The first, and most essential of the three, is the Driver Confidence Package, adding rear park assist, forward collision alert, and a lane departure warning system at $495 for both the LT and Premier trims.
The $650 Convenience Package is exclusive to the LT trim, offering two spare keys, six-way power-adjustable driver and passenger front seats, keyless entry, as well as keyless start. It also equips the Sonic with an enhanced driver information center and compass display, as well as adding heated front seats.
Lastly is the Performance Package, adding a performance exhaust and the RS lowering suspension kit at $2,775 for the LT trim, and $1,580 for the Premier respectively.
Our top pick for the Sonic is the Premier trim in its six-speed manual guise with a starting price of $20,020. At only $2,000 more than the entry-level LT variant, the leatherette seats with microfiber inlays, enhanced driver information center, push-button start, and 17-inch black-painted aluminum wheels are well worth the price jump, especially considering the choice of build materials for the rest of the cabin. The Convenience Package is already equipped on this trim level, leaving you with the $495, highly recommended Driver Confidence Package, for extra peace of mind.
The Honda Fit is a champion in this segment - and for good reason. Despite being sold exclusively as a hatchback, the Fit remains one of the most popular subcompact cars in the United States. While the Sonic in its hatchback form has superior base cargo capacity and slightly better rear headroom, both cars knew what they were going to be growing up and Honda did it better with the Fit. Versatility favors the Fit over the Sonic for its well-executed folding rear seats and boasts 52.7 cubic feet of cargo capacity with all seats down - five cubic feet more than the Sonic. Similarly, the Fit offers nearly five more inches of legroom at the rear, affording a much more comfortable experience for passengers. The Sonic's 1.4-liter turbocharged motor nets it ten horses and 35 lb-ft of torque over the Honda's output figures, but economy ultimately favors the Fit, and overall, so do we.
The Kia Rio outshines all competitors based on its exceptional warranty alone: offering five years and 40,000 miles longer than the Sonic's five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty off the showroom floor. The Rio also boasts a $16,490 price tag, about $1,500 less than its Sonic rival. The Sonic's sporty styling is definitely easier on the eyes than the Rio, sporting either 16- or 17-inch aluminum wheels over the Rio's 15-inch steel wheels with full covers. Interior build quality sets these two apart the most, however, with the Rio's cabin feeling much more premium than what is the norm at its price point, while the Sonic offers a cheaper cabin at a higher cost. We give credit to Chevy for retaining a manual transmission option which brings the turbo motor to life and gives the Sonic some character, but overall we feel the Rio is the more sensible choice when it comes right down to it.