by Jared Rosenholtz
Despite the fact that GM has announced the discontinuation of the Chevy Sonic along with many of its other passenger vehicles, it continues into 2020 with some minor updates, making its exact hour of demise rather unclear. However, with the dwindling popularity of the segment, it's expected that the nameplate won't go on to see the 2021 model year. The Sonic's familiar 1.4-liter turbo four-pot engine is stock this year, with 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque directed to the front wheels via a now-standard six-speed automatic gearbox. It's sad to note that last year's six-speed manual gearbox has been deleted from the entire lineup. Even with the thinning subcompact sedan market, the Sonic faces tough competition in the form of the Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, and Toyota Corolla. However, with the Sonic's comprehensive list of contemporary features, its nimble driving dynamics, and high level of safety, it still holds good standing in the eyes of the market.
Even with the dwindling popularity of subcompact cars in the US, Chevrolet continues to supply the Sonic and it has even added a few minor updates and alterations for 2020. It carries over unchanged from a design standpoint, though the Orange Burst Metallic and Shock exterior color options have been deleted from the Sonic's color palette. The most notable alterations are in the Sonic's powertrain, where the 1.4-liter turbo four-pot has been made the stock engine and is solely mated to the now also standard six-speed automatic gearbox, with the manual option having unfortunately been completely removed from the lineup for this year.
The exterior of the Sonic remains unchanged for 2020, the front end is discernible by its Camaro-like front grille, but is softer for a more modern-urbanite aesthetic and is differentiated by a more aggressive front air dam flanked by sharp, deep fog light moldings. Standard exterior lighting includes automatic headlights and LED daytime running lights; 15-inch steel wheels with bolt-on covers adorn the Sonic LS, swapped out for aluminum wheels on the Sonic LT, while 17-inch painted aluminum wheels fill the arches of the Sonic Premier.
The Sonic sedan doesn't differ too much from the Sonic hatchback variant in terms of its dimensions, measuring only longer by 14 inches at 173.9 inches; otherwise, they measure equally in height at 59.7 inches and in width at 68.3 inches, and both share a wheelbase of 99.4 inches. Curb weights range from 2,857 lbs with the Sonic LS to 2,917 lbs with the Sonic Premier.
With the 1.8-liter naturally aspirated engine removed from the lineup in 2019, the Sonic is left with the turbocharged 1.4-liter four-pot for 2020. With 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque at hand, the Sonic is capable of accelerating from 0-60 mph in approximately 8.7 seconds. The engine can feel slightly lethargic initially and the acceleration pedal may require some heavy-footed slamming to get the Sonic on the go, but once in motion, power responses are consistent and quick. The six-speed automatic performs adequately too, it's not in any way enthusiastic as it is efficiency-minded by design, but feels synchronized with the vehicle's intentions.
With its compact size and lightweight chassis, the Sonic moves with impressive agility and is actually pretty engaging to drive. It's extremely nimble too, as its sharp steering makes for smooth sailing through any twisty roads and sharp corners. Body roll is suitably managed, and the Sonics' basic tires are good enough to keep it firmly planted to the tarmac throughout its sedate driving range. It's relatively adept at managing most minor road imperfections and typical undulations as well, but more prominently broken road surfaces will be felt through the cabin - still, this is on par with other sedans in the class. A sport-tuned suspension is optional for the Sonic Premier, which does tighten up handling to a degree, but causes a notable compromise in ride quality.
Considering that the Sonic is equipped with a small 1.4-liter turbocharged engine mated to an efficiency-minded automatic transmission, has a relatively light curb weight, and is equipped with a FWD system, its EPA gas mileage estimates are pretty unimpressive and are slightly below-average for the class. The hatchback returns identical estimates to the sedan which gets 26/34/29 mpg on the EPA drive cycles. The Sonic takes regular unleaded fuel only and with its 12.2-gallon gas tank filled can travel a total range of around 353 miles before running empty. Though around $5,000 more than the Sonic, the 2020 Toyota Corolla, with its larger and more powerful 2.0-liter four-pot engine and automated CVT, performs far more economically, returning EPA estimates of 31/40/34 mpg on those same cycles.
The Sonic will comfortably seat four adult occupants; although there is a rear center seat, it's only suitable for a small child. The seats themselves are adequately comfortable, and the cloth upholstery in the LS and LT is of decent quality, but if it's leather-appointed seats you want, then it's only the Premier that'll deliver. The driver's seat from the base trim up features reasonable adjustability and the tilt-only steering column is all that's needed in the commuter sedan for a driver of any physique to find an appropriate driving position. Outward visibility is good all-round thanks to the Sonics' large front and rear windows.
The Sonic offers 14.9 cubic feet of trunk room which is pretty decent for the class; that's enough room for at least two large carry-on suitcases. The rear seats do fold down in a 60/40 split which increases cargo room and adds storage versatility if required. The trunk's liftover height is quite high, although the trunk floor is flat and clear of intrusions. As for small-item storage within the cabin, solutions include spacious door side pockets with bottle holder slots on the front doors, a small open center console cubby, dual cup holders between the front seats, a single cup holder nearer the rear cabin, and a front passenger seatback map pocket.
Not much is present in the base Sonic LS, with standard features limited to the bare essentials, such as remote locking and unlocking, manually-operated windows, manual side-view mirrors, and an integrated rearview camera. For the driver, there's a four-way manually-adjustable seat and manual tilt-only steering column, while in the rear cabin are 60/40 split-folding back seats. Upgrading to the Sonic LT will add power-operated windows and side-view mirrors with heating as standard. It also gets access to the Convenience Package which the top-spec Sonic Premier comes with as standard; it includes keyless entry and ignition, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated front seats, a six-way power-adjustable driver's seat, a compass display, and an enhanced driver information display. The Sonic gets a typical selection of standard safety and driver aids, there is a Driver Confidence Package that comprises forward collision alert, lane departure warning, and rear parking sensors.
Occupants of the Chevrolet Sonic will find that they are well considered in the way of infotainment; a seven-inch color touchscreen display in the center dash is tethered to a four-speaker audio system in the LS and a six-speaker audio system in the LT and Premier. All Sonic trims come installed with AM/FM radio, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality, Bluetooth connectivity for two active devices, voice command pass-through, and GM's OnStar software which includes 4G LTE data connection and Wi-Fi hotspot capability. All but the LS also get SiriusXM connectivity. The Sonic's media hub comprises two smart-charging USB ports for compatible devices. Chevrolet's Infotainment 3 system is the brand's latest infotainment software, and it's user-friendly and responds quickly to user inputs.
It's still early days for the 2020 Chevrolet Sonic Sedan, so it's no surprise that there have been no recalls commissioned for the model year as yet. The 2018 model year has been subject to a single major recall pertaining to an improperly welded seat back frame joint. Even so, we expect a high level of dependability from the new Sonic Sedan, with J.D. Power according the model with an above-average predicted reliability rating of three and a half out of five. Chevrolet further instills confidence in 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.
An overall safety rating of five out of a possible five was accorded to the 2020 Sonic sedan from the NHTSA; the IIHS, however, has not yet evaluated the 2020 year model for its crashworthiness. The authority did evaluate the 2019 year model, awarding it with top ratings of Good for five specified tests which can be expected for the new model as well. All Sonic trims come with ten standard airbags, hill start assist, a rear vision camera, a tire pressure monitoring system, and electronic stability and traction control. A rear park assist system, forward collision alert and lane departure warning are available for the LT and Premier only.
Despite its many drawbacks, the 2020 Chevrolet Sonic Sedan is still a pretty decent vehicle. Its 1.4-liter turbocharged inline-four engine delivers outputs and responses suitable for casual daily driving but can feel lackluster at times, and returns slightly below-average fuel economy estimates. Its cabin is also comprised mostly of low-grade materials such as hard-touch plastics which give off a low-quality impression, however, the cabin is favorably spacious and the seats reasonably comfortable. The Sonic impresses in terms of its decent balance between ride quality and handling, while it's capable and nimble around twisty streets it's also reasonably comfortable over most road surfaces. It has a contemporary infotainment system with all the functionalities expected from a modern vehicle including a favorable standard safety consignment and available active driver assists. With all of that, and considering that the subcompact class is predominantly a budget-friendly realm, the Sonic Sedan offers exceptional value for money as it is priced below the average offerings in this segment. While the Sonic does offer competitive levels of passenger and cargo room, the Honda Fit beats it in both, and the Ford Fiesta offers a far more enjoyable drive.
Starting the lineup off is the Sonic LS with an MSRP of $16,720, the Sonic LT follows with an MSRP of $18,620, and the Sonic Premier closes the lineup with an MSRP of $20,720. Those prices are excluding Chevrolet's destination charge of $875 as well as tax, registration, or any licensing fees. Fully-loading the top-line Sonic Premier with all the available packages, add-ons, and accessories can quickly elevate its pricing point to around $25,000.
With the LS being significantly scant on features and the LT offering not much more, we suggest opting for the line-topping Premier. It comes outfitted with all the necessities and gets most of the advanced features offered in the lower trims as standard. It also gets a few luxury features that aren't available on the two lower trims such as perforated leather upholstery and an available optional power-operated sunroof. We recommend opting in the Driver Confidence Package that's available for the Premier, for the active driver aids which include forward collision alert, lane departure warning, and rear parking sensors. If you'd like your Sonic with a bit more of a sporty character one could also select the RS appearance package which presents a variety of styling enhancements. For added capability, one could add the Performance Package, which installs a sport-tuned suspension and sport exhaust.
The Chevy Spark is available solely as a hatchback and is a lot smaller than the Sonic inside and out. Unsurprisingly it offers less passenger and cargo room and a smaller 11.1 cubic foot trunk. The Spark is also equipped with a less powerful straight-four engine which is more efficiency-minded than the Sonic's turbocharged unit, returning EPA estimates of 29/38/33 mpg. A Spark fitted with most of the features found in a high-spec Sonic still comes in at around $3,000 less, so it does offer a high value for money proposition, but the Sonic holds the greater appeal in its real-world practicality by offering greater passenger comfort and cargo capacity. The Sonic will suit the buyer who will be driving around with passengers on a daily basis while the Spark would be the ideal buy for younger drivers.
Despite the Honda Fit's hatchback-only vehicle style, it offers exceptional in-cabin passenger room and a trunk size nearly two cubic feet bigger than the Sonics. It carries an MSRP that is around $600 less than the Sonic, but comes equipped with a weaker naturally aspirated 1.5-liter inline-four engine. It is, however, a lot more economical; it also has a manual gearbox option which returns estimates of 29/36/31 mpg, with the CVT it gets an impressive 33/40/36 mpg. The Sonic's turbo engine is peppier though, and Chevrolet's infotainment system is also far superior, topping the Fit's five-inch touchscreen display and offering Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality from the base trim upward. The Fit does, however, get a greater selection of vehicle features as standard such as a tilt and telescoping steering wheel and Honda's famous magic folding rear seats. And considering that the Fit gets upgraded tech elements at the higher-trim levels, it still offers great value too. The Honda Fit is a great all-rounder and is definitely the better option of the two.