Published on January 2nd, 2014 | by Jo Borrás1
500 Mile Test Drive: 2014 Chevy Sonic Turbo
For those of you curious to find out how the 2014 Chevy Sonic turbo + manual transmission stacks up who don’t want to read a long, rambling review, let me tell you this: the Chevy Sonic is good. Like, really good. Those of you who are hoping for a little more context and clarity regarding the little Chevy are invited to read on.
A Little Context
Back in November, I took a Chevy Cruze diesel on a 1000-mile trip across three states and got nearly 44 MPG from the peppy turbo diesel engine. It was a strange review, in that I genuinely wanted to like the car (indeed, I named it “One of the 14 Best Fuel-efficient Cars You Can Buy” and said it passed the crucial “I’d recommend it to the in-laws” test), but my final review was pretty scathing. In the end, I blasted both the Cruze diesel’s hefty $28,000 price tag and its horribly un-intuitive MyLink infotainment system. I lamented that Chevy had, finally, “built a car that’s capable of going toe-to-toe with a premium competitor, but they’ve stuck the wrong badge on the nose. The truth is that this engine placed in Buick’s baby Verano (which is based on the same platform as the Cruze) could demand a $30K OTD price without anyone batting an eyelash.”
Almost immediately, then, I reached out to GM’s PR department and asked them for a Buick Verano to test. “Let me give that car the 5-star review it probably deserves,” I thought. “I won’t even care if it comes in at more than $30K.”
GM, however, had another idea: they sent me a Chevy Sonic turbo.
Sending me a Chevy Sonic, after my bipolar review of the Cruze was a brave move, but there was, apparently, enough material in my Cruze review to give Fred Ligouri (one of GM’s media handlers) a complete and clinical understanding of my psyche. I say that because, within minutes of the Sonic arriving at my Oak Park home, I was positively smitten.
The Chevy Sonic turbo squatted in the street like a rally car, and didn’t look totally dissimilar to my old Lancia, in profile. The sound, too, was great- thanks in large part to the unrestrictive sport exhaust my tester was equipped with. As I made a dramatic, handbrake-assisted turn across 3 lanes of Ogden RD’s midday traffic sideways and with the engine bouncing off the redline in 2nd gear a few minutes later, I had two clear and distinct thoughts cross my mind.
1. Don’t buy press cars.
2. I am going to get ALL the tickets.
Like the Mitsubishi Mirage I drove in October, the Sonic feels like it’s going fast all the time, and allows to feel the thrill of driving at eight or nine tenths without feeling like you’re in real danger. Unlike the little Mirage, however, the Sonic has more than enough juice to get you into Serious trouble in Chicago’s urban traffic. In addition to the excellent driving dynamics, though, the Sonic offers a few neat features that help set it apart from the rest of the subcompact market.
Chevy Sonic Super-fun Feature: Mirrors
The Chevy Sonic I drove was equipped with the same sort of “fisheye” mirrors normally reserved for heavy trucks and tow vehicles. These give Sonic drivers a wide-angle look at adjoining lanes, and make ill-advised, high-speed lane change moves seem less ill-advised.
Chevy Sonic Super-fun Feature: Trunk-in-a-trunk
I have no idea what I’d ever put in the Chevy Sonic’s trunk-within-a-trunk. I also wondered if said feature would make it illegal for me to drive the 2014 Chevy Sonic in the State of Ohio. Still, my 10-year-old thought it was awesome, and immediately began filling my Sonic tester’s “secret compartment” with Nerf guns. So, I guess “guns” is what I’d put in there? I’ll leave that one to Chevy’s PR dept., I think.
Chevy Sonic Super-fun Feature: Chevy MyLink
The touchscreen + button Chevy MyLink system fitted to the Chevy Cruze diesel I drove back in November was full of hate and rage, and it spit frustration-laced laughter at any poor sap crazy enough to sit in the passenger seat and play DJ after I’d given up on it. I said that there was “simply no reason for GM (or Ford, or any other car-maker) to be in the OS/GUI space, and MyLink is a vivid example of why that’s a fact.”
In the Cruze, that was true- in the Sonic? The MyLink infotainment system that showed up on my Sonic turbo was totally touchscreen, easy to read, simple to use, and totally intuitive. Heck, even the sound visualizations looked good! This is a major win for GM, and they should get the Sonic’s MyLink GUI into all their MyLink-equipped cars immediately.
So, that’s a lot of praise for Chevy’s little Sonic turbo- which, perhaps, should not have surprised me. The last time a Gas 2 staffer drove a Sonic was back in 2012 when Chris Demorro went and bought one with his own money. He apparently didn’t need much more than five minutes behind the wheel to be convinced to buy one of the first Sonics off of the assembly line. Much as I loved it, though, the little car was far from perfect.
For starters, I never saw more than 30.8 MPG on the Chevy Sonic’s trip computer. That’s after I re-set everything and got with the “high MPG compact” program, setting the cruise control to 68 MPH for most of a Chicago-to-Springfield run down a traffic-free I-55. I re-set everything once I got to Springfield and tried it again on the way back up, and didn’t even get 30. That’s a far, far cry from the 29/40 MPG the Chevy Sonic is supposed to deliver, and not tangibly better than the 26-27 MPG I usually get from the wife’s Hyundai Tucson on the same drive. For a car that most people will buy for its small footprint and economical fuel numbers, that’s terribad.
The second problem with the Sonic was that the car continuously reminded me that it didn’t think much of my driving. To do so, it used the Lane Departure Warning and Forward Collision Alert systems- part of Chevy’s “Advanced Safety Package”. In addition to freaking out whenever another driver drifted into my lane, the Lane Departure Warning system went off whenever I was forced to change lanes in construction zones, which significantly added to the stress of driving through those sections of I-55.
I’m all for safety, and I applaud Chevy’s efforts to increase the safety of their subcompact Sonic line. But, seriously, it went off all the time …
… and every single instance was either a “false alarm” or a distraction in a situation where I didn’t need it.
So, is the 2014 Chevy Sonic turbo perfect? No. That said, if you’re in the market for a small, fun-to-drive city car with plenty of interior room, touchscreen connectivity, the safety of OnStar, a strong engine, and a willing chassis, the Chevy Sonic should make for an excellent playmate. Have fun together!