What's New for 2013
The Chevy Sonic gets a number of worthwhile additions for 2013. All models get standard Bluetooth phone connectivity and blind-spot mirrors, along with the option of the Chevrolet MyLink infotainment system that includes a touchscreen, Bluetooth streaming audio, a navigation app and additional smartphone-compatible services. A new performance-inspired RS model is also added to the roster.
The 2013 Chevrolet Sonic looks awfully good on paper. It's efficient and powerful, well stocked with features and a top performer in crash tests thanks in part to a Costco-load of standard airbags. Heck, it's even built right here in the United States. Usually, there would be a "but" coming right about now. However, the Sonic not only looks good on paper but it looks good in person, too, and is one of the more rewarding subcompact cars to drive. This is a car that both the right and left halves of your brain can endorse.
Like most subcompacts, the Chevy Sonic is available as a sedan or four-door hatchback; both offer sharp styling, solid build quality and a substantial driving feel that's usually the signature of German cars. The Sonic also boasts comfort, convenience and high-tech features that you normally wouldn't expect at this price point. Even the base Sonic comes with Bluetooth, automatic headlights and OnStar, while the top-dog LTZ gets niceties like heated front seats. For 2013, the Sonic can also be equipped with Chevy's new MyLink system that adds several smartphone app-based services to the car's other infotainment features and controls them all with a touchscreen interface.
Another new addition for 2013 is the Sonic RS, a performance-tuned model available as a hatchback only. It comes standard with the powerful yet surprisingly fuel-efficient turbocharged four-cylinder already available on the LT and LTZ trim levels, then adds a sport-tuned suspension, upgraded brakes and sportier styling flourishes. The regular Sonic turbo is already impressively fun to drive and the RS only takes it to another level that we quite simply don't expect from subcompact hatchbacks built in this country.
As impressive as the 2013 Chevrolet Sonic is, however, most of its competitors are also pretty good at appealing to both sides of the brain as well. The 2013 Ford Fiesta, 2013 Hyundai Accent and 2013 Kia Rio each offer a generous equipment list, a big-car driving feel and an efficient engine, plus a higher-quality cabin than the Chevy. The Honda Fit doesn't boast the style, refinement or available feature content of its rivals, but nothing can match its incredible interior versatility. Really, picking a subcompact has never been this difficult -- and that's a good thing. Even so, we think the 2013 Chevy Sonic stands tall as a top pick regardless of how you look at it.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2013 Chevrolet Sonic is a subcompact, five-passenger car available in four-door sedan and hatchback body styles. Both are available in LS, LT and LTZ trim levels, while the hatch adds a sport-tuned RS model.
Standard equipment on the Sonic LS includes 15-inch steel wheels, automatic headlights, an integrated blind-spot mirror, power locks, keyless entry, air-conditioning, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, OnStar emergency communications, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a trip computer and a four-speaker sound system with an auxiliary audio jack and steering wheel controls.
The LT adds 15-inch alloy wheels, heated power mirrors, power windows, remote ignition (automatic transmission only), cruise control, upgraded cloth upholstery and a six-speaker sound system (optional on the LS) that adds a CD player, Bluetooth streaming audio, satellite radio and an iPod/USB audio interface. The hatchback also gets a rear cargo shelf. The Wheels and Foglamp package adds 16-inch alloys and (surprise!) foglamps.
The Sonic LTZ gets you 17-inch alloy wheels, foglamps, chrome exterior trim, heated front seats, leatherette (premium vinyl) upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and the Chevrolet MyLink system (optional on the LS and LT) that adds a touchscreen interface and connectivity to Pandora and Stitcher radio services via your smartphone. MyLink deletes the CD player. A navigation system app can be added as well (late availability).
The Sonic RS gets all the LTZ equipment and comes standard with the turbocharged engine, four-wheel disc brakes, a sport-tuned suspension, unique 17-inch wheels, sportier exterior trim, leather and faux-suede upholstery and a sport steering wheel.
A sunroof is optional on the LTZ and RS.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2013 Chevy Sonic comes standard with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 138 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard and includes a hill-holder feature. A six-speed automatic transmission is optional. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 25 mpg city/35 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined with the automatic and 26/35/30 with the manual. These are acceptable ratings for a subcompact car.
Standard on the Sonic RS and optional on the LT and LTZ is a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder. It produces 138 hp as well, but provides a much bigger punch thanks to 148 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, while a six-speed automatic transmission is optional. In Edmunds performance testing, a Sonic LTZ hatchback with the manual went from zero to 60 mph in 8.8 seconds, which makes it the quickest car in the class by a wide margin. Impressively, fuel economy estimates are better than those of the base engine at 27/37/31 with the automatic and 29/40/33 with the manual. In extensive Edmunds fuel economy testing with the Sonic turbo, we've found that it's a little less efficient than these numbers suggest.
Every 2013 Chevy Sonic comes standard with traction and stability control, integrated blind spot mirrors, front and rear side airbags, side curtain airbags and front knee airbags. The LS, LT and LTZ feature antilock brakes with front discs and rear drums, while the RS has discs all around. Also standard is OnStar, which includes automatic crash notification, on-demand roadside assistance, an emergency button, stolen vehicle locator and active intervention, and remote door unlock.
In Edmunds brake testing, a Sonic LTZ turbo came to a stop from 60 mph in 123 feet, which is an average distance.
In government crash testing, the Sonic received a perfect five stars for overall protection, with five stars for overall frontal protection and five stars for overall side protection. The Sonic received a top score of "Good" in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's frontal-offset, side-impact and roof-strength crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Sonic's cabin isn't exactly the most handsome design in the segment, nor does its abundance of hard plastics stand up well next to the higher-quality materials found in some competitors. Nevertheless, the Sonic is nice enough for this segment and one of the most comfortable entries to boot. Even drivers taller than 6 feet will find a comfortable driving position, while passengers will find the backseat pretty generous.
Luggage capacity on the Sonic hatch is much the same as its rivals, with 19 cubic feet. Meanwhile, maximum cargo capacity with the second-row seat flipped down is 30.9 cubic feet, well behind that of rivals like the Fit and the Accent. The sedan's trunk accommodates 14 cubic feet of luggage, however, making it among the roomiest in this segment.
By and large, the comfort and convenience controls are logically clustered and clearly labeled, while feature content is very strong for a subcompact. In a sign of the times, power windows are not standard on the base trim but Bluetooth is. New for 2013 is the available MyLink system, which slots a touchscreen into the space normally reserved for the standard, smartly designed, stereo head unit. Besides providing a more advanced and customizable interface, MyLink utilizes the car's Bluetooth system to connect the car via the driver's smartphone to services like Pandora, Stitcher radio and a navigation system app.
With the 2013 Chevrolet Sonic, you get engaging handling that doesn't come at the expense of a comfortable ride. Ride quality is firm enough to paint a realistic picture of the road, while at the same time being accommodating enough to buffer undue harshness. The cabin is relatively quiet both on surface streets and on the freeway, while the steering is one of its high points -- light effort in parking lots but well-weighted and natural-feeling at speed. In total, the Sonic drives like a larger, more poised and refined car than you would expect.
Both of the Sonic's engines offer good performance for this segment. The turbocharged 1.4 is especially torquey and peppy, offering 0-60-mph acceleration that's nearly a second quicker than many of its rivals. The fact that it returns better fuel economy than the regular engine means you should definitely consider doling out the extra cash for this impressive little engine. One downside is the sluggish throttle response, which conspires with very tall gearing to make driving with the otherwise enjoyable manual transmission difficult at times.
Fortunately, that's not the case with the RS and its shorter gearing. The manual transmission is certainly the choice for those seeking a bit more excitement, as it does a much better job of keeping the turbo spooled up. Thanks to its sport-tuned suspension, the RS is also sharper handling around corners, yet this extra capability doesn't add any noticeable harshness as a result.