A Few Days with a Chevy Sonic: Way More than a 4-banger
Here at HECN, we like our hybrids, diesels, electrics and fuel cell vehicles. But a thrifty 4-cylinder, known as a high-mileage car, isn’t outside of our jurisdiction. The higher the vehicle’s MPG the better. If it can be done the old-fashioned way, more power to it. Especially if it allows the driver to live within their current lifestyle. There’s no upside to a small thrifty engine if it doesn’t have the power to haul a family of 4 and their various stuff around.
So when Chevy asked me if I’d be interested in driving a Chevy Sonic for a week, I was excited. Naturally not as excited as driving a Volt, but 1) I need to start somewhere; and 2) a Sonic is a classic compact fuel efficient car.
But what I didn’t expect was this:
This was the performance version, Chevy’s attempt at tapping the hot hatch market. When they dropped this off, my eyes bulged out from the looks and the Dragon Green color. My right calf began to ache for the opportunity to punch the accelerator pedal.
So let me take you on a day by day recap of my thoughts about spending 7 days with a Chevy Sonic–Turbo.
Day 1: Spun the Front Wheels on Initial Takeoff
So after getting the quick and dirty on the electronics of the car, I took a few minutes to play around with the buttons and technology. Sticker price was $23k, which cemented my thinking that this was a vehicle set to go up against the Hyundai Veloster, used Cooper Minis and GTIs, and anything officially called a “hot hatch”.
Looking around the interior, it had everything except the sunroof, an available option.
My car had:
- Height adjustable, leather-trimmed racing seats
- Heated front seats with driver’s arm rest
- Power locks and windows
- Leather-wrapped telescopic and adjustable tilt steering wheel
- 6-speed pushbutton manual transmission stalk
- MyLink touchscreen audio, navigation and smartphone interface
- All-weather floor mats
- Lane departure and collision warning lights
In total, I had a very plush economy car. Well, scratch half of that. I had a very plush one-man American-made mini rocket sled.
It was the 5th or 6th day of spring in the Chicagoland area, meaning that it had just snowed 6 inches. I popped on the heated front seat. The heater didn’t really fry my butt, but it did stay on much longer than in the heaters in our Mercedes, Mazda or Jaguar. So that helped.
I set up the navigation. MyLink comes ready with a few standard audio apps that link to the ones installed on your smartphone. Bluetooth was pretty easy to connect. There’s a secure hatch above the glove box to store your electronics, complete with a USB to connect/charge your mobile device.
BringGo is the default navigation app, and costs $.99 at the App Store. It’s a NAVTEQ product, so it’s accurate. But out of the gate it isn’t clear that if you hard-connect your phone and cue up Waze or Google Maps you can use your favorite navigation and listen to turn-by-turn directions. However, it seems like BringGo is the only one that will show up on the MyLink touchscreen.
Figuring I might as well get it over with, when I pulled out for the first time, my street was empty.
So I punched it. And the front-wheel drive torque chirped the Hankook tires. I was surprised, blissful, and ecstatic in the single blink of an eye. This was going to be a good week.
That first drive was a lot of fun. The steering was precise, almost Kreskin-like in that it knew where I was going beforehand, and executed the move quickly and flawlessly. On Lake Shore Drive, I was quickly rewarded with power when just feathering the throttle. Passing was effortless, and so was warding off those Bozos that like to linger in your blindspot ready to jump in front of you when you’re not paying attention.
I wanted to try the push-button manual shift. But it’s in a weird spot on the side of the transmission shifter. Wasn’t excited about accidental shifting in the wrong direction.
Tunes for Day 1? It was a day for the British Invasion. So some Beatles, some Rolling Stones and a big dollop of The Who
Day 2: What’s This All About?
Before I get going on the stories of Day 2, let me remind you that the Chevy Sonic Turbo IS a small car. I, unlike the late teens and twenty-somethings likely to drive this thing, have got a little boy. So I had to put a child safety seat inside.
The good news is that there are anchors on both backseats. The bad news is that once the seat is in, then it’s a choice. Either a child or a front seat passenger. Or the front seat passenger can ride behind the driver. But only if the driver is short, or slides the seat forward.
My boy LOVED this car. It was the “Green Car”. I liked it. But I began to wonder what the market was. This long away from my hot hatch days, I wondered what the lineup of contenders was. I knew the Volkswagen GTI would likely be one–for performance at least. The GTI is a bit more expensive than the $23,000 sticker price for the Sonic. Was it the Fiat 500? As much as I like the Sonic off the line, the Fiat 500 Abarth smokes the little Chevy. Was it the Cooper Mini? Maybe, but I think a Sonic shopper is not a Mini shopper and vice-versa. So I took a look at a comparison tool from Edmunds:
Officially some of these are compact, others are subcompacts. Performance-wise they are similar. They are supposed to be small and frikkin’ fast.
For those of us who are looking at buying another imported sports sedan or SUV, a few thousand dollars difference isn’t much. But think back to your younger days. Unless your parents were buying the car for you, there’s a big difference between $21k and $27k. Performance wise, the GTI is presumably the king of the 4. The people at Fiat would have you think differently.
And I haven’t even mentioned the entry from Subaru.
But in my mind, small as it may be, is someone interested in a Subaru Impreza even thinking about a Chevy Sonic? Do they even know the Sonic RS Turbo exists? If the Sonic Turbo is Chevy’s entry into this market, they’ve done something good mechanically. From a marketing and branding point of view, there’s some big work to be done.
Tunes for the day: All 70’s soul, all day. “P-Funk (Mothership Connection)”, “Murphy’s Law (Got it All Together)”, and “O-H-I-O” by the Ohio Players.
Day 3: The Return of the Potholes
I do most work related to HECN from a startup incubator called BLUE 1647. BLUE is located south in a neighborhood called Pilsen. It’s a nice drive, taking me down LSD, along a little bit of Michigan Avenue and across Roosevelt Road.
But on the third day, I started to feel the jolt of the potholes. It was as if the rush of driving the car kept me from noticing the car-eating chasms in the road. The driving morphine was wearing off. When I felt the first one, my mind said “stay alert, you’re in Chicago. You don’t want to be THAT guy who lost a test car to a 6-foot pothole.”
With that event, I began to settle down and understood the next part of the test drive was beginning to kick in. How living with a Chevy Sonic RS Turbo would be.
The one of the things I noticed about the electronics was that I loved the locked cubby for my phone. I didn’t have to hang it anywhere. But at the same time, there was no place to put the device otherwise. I have an iPhone 6 Plus. Although the Sonic has locked and open cubbies everywhere, only the locked one fit that big a phone. When I stored the phone in the locked cubby, I walked away from the car numerous times without my phone. So if you get one, the best configuration would be to use an old phone or iPod as a music player. You can stream via cellular from an old phone, and the iPod would be your traveling library.
That’s one thing that kept bugging me. Not a deal-killer, but a nuisance. With a dedicated music player, you can use the phone’s crystal-clear Bluetooth for calls.
The other thing was space for passengers. My wife wanted us to all climb in and go on a trip to a place about 30 miles away. But not after she realized that it was either cram into the back seat behind me, or pin herself to the dash because our son was in the child seat behind the passenger’s front seat.
Now the child seat clipped in nice and easy, and there were anchors for both back seats. But the choice is clear. Kids or passengers.
Tunes for the day: Still more 70’s soul. “Love’s Theme” by Barry White and TSOP. “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers. And…“Serpentine Fire” by Earth Wind & Fire.
I had the 2016 Chevy Sonic RS Turbo for a total of 7 blissful days. My thanks for Fred Ligouri, James Bell, and the rest of the fine people at Chevrolet.
I’ve got no real complaints about the little green giant, and would gladly drive it if I had to give up the cars I have now. Would I buy it as a husband, father and landlord? Only if I had a medium solo commute and a second vehicle to haul the family and the big stuff.
If you don’t match my profile, buy it. Punch it. You’ll love it.
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