Used Vehicle Review: Chevrolet Sonic, 2012-2016

Vehicle Type

Many note that the Sonic drives like a bigger car, and doesn’t feel light, flimsy or delicate.

Compact hatch or five-door

History/Description

Launched in North America for model year 2012, the Chevrolet Sonic is the only subcompact built in North America, and it competes with models like the Mazda2, Ford Fiesta, Nissan Versa Note and Hyundai Accent. Available in both sedan and five-door hatchback models in the used market, and with several powerplant options and feature packages, Sonic lets shoppers devise a model that’s truly their own. Selection will be plentiful.

Both sedan and five-door models were built to deliver top-of-class rear-seat legroom and cargo space, ensuring drivers always have plenty of space and flexibility at their disposal.

A premium six-speaker stereo system could be specified, as well as full multimedia connectivity. Remote start, heated front seats and a sunroof are available too – all helping to create an upscale package. Highly connected drivers can seek out a model with the MyLink system, which lets the Sonic’s entertainment, navigation and communications systems fully capitalize on the latest in smartphone technology for a more integrated experience. Newer models will offer in-car Wi-Fi, powered by a built-in cellular connection via the OnStar system, to stream high-speed wireless data to numerous devices. You can even remotely start your Sonic from your iPhone, if properly equipped.

A full suite of safety features, including StabiliTrak, advanced anti-lock brakes, tire-pressure monitoring and six standard airbags, works to help drivers avoid crashes and protect those on board should one prove inevitable. Model year 2014 saw the addition of further crash-avoidance technologies, including forward collision alert and lane-departure warning systems to the safety mix. Add in top ratings from both the IIHS and NHTSA, and the Sonic should connect readily with safety minded shoppers.

Further confidence comes from Sonic’s 160,000 kilometres of warranty coverage, which means that finding a unit with plenty of factory warranty remaining should prove relatively easy.

Engines/Trim

Sonic was available with two engine options: namely a 1.8-litre four-cylinder EcoTec engine with 138 hp and 125 lb-ft of torque, and a 1.4L turbo four-cylinder engine with the same amount of horsepower, and an improved 148 lb-ft of torque. The turbocharged engine is mildly punchier overall, but considerably more responsive and effortless at lower revs. Look for manual and automatic transmission options with both engines. Trim grades included the top-line LTZ, and the sportier Sonic RS.

What Owners Like

Owners tend to comment positively on the Sonic’s flexibility, good fuel mileage, styling, highly relevant feature content, modern cabin design, and ride quality. Many note that the Sonic drives like a bigger car, and doesn’t feel light, flimsy or delicate. Powertrain refinement and maneuverability are also highly rated.

What Owners Dislike

Some owners wish for more comfortable seats, a touch more rear-seat legroom, and a little more logic to the placement of certain controls. Others wish for a covered centre console, and a little less wind noise at higher speeds. Planning to use some roof-mounted cargo carriers on your used Sonic? Note that some owners report that the factory roof-rack provisions are fussy and often difficult to fit properly.

Read some Chevrolet Sonic owner reviews here.

The Test Drive

The majority of owners seem to report few, if any issues, that used Sonic shoppers should be concerned about, though shoppers are advised to arrive at their test drive ready to carry out a few important checks, regardless.

Start by popping the hood and checking the coolant level and condition, after telling the seller to ensure the car is cold, and hasn’t been driven for the past few hours, before you arrive. Confirm that the coolant is fresh and full, and inspect the area immediately beneath the vehicle for signs of a coolant leak. Numerous owners have reported coolant leaks, possibly as a precursor to a fairly well-documented issue with water pump failure that’s typically covered by warranty. This issue seems to affect earlier models mostly, perhaps for the first year or two of production. It’s also exclusive to models with the 1.4L turbo engine.

Here’s some reading, via a technical service bulletin (TSB) about the water pump leak, and details regarding a warranty adjustment to the coverage of this part.

If the unit you’re considering exhibits no signs of coolant loss, remember that if the vehicle overheats at some point later, while you’re driving it, to pull over, shut the engine off, and have it towed to the nearest dealer for attention. Driving a car with an overheated engine can cause catastrophic damage.

Further, remember that coolant loss can drastically affect the performance of the vehicle’s heater system. If the heater, at some point after your purchase, fails to heat the cabin adequately, be sure to start with a coolant level check.

If the unit you’re considering happens to be a 2012 with the base 1.8L engine, note that a bad seal on an oil pressure switch may allow oil to leak from the engine in extreme cold. Here’s some more reading. This issue was remedied in many cases, free of charge, at low miles, by the Sonic’s warranty. If the issue pops up out of warranty, it shouldn’t prove pricey or difficult to fix.

Find a rough stretch of road, kill the stereo and climate

control fan, and listen to the front suspension. A rattling, popping or clunking sound is likely the result of prematurely worn-out front sway-bar links, which many owners have reported, even at relatively low miles. Here’s some more reading. These parts aren’t expensive or difficult to change, and the vehicle you’re considering may qualify for free replacement as part of a recall. Ask your local dealer service department about “Recall #12172”, and see if the vehicle you’re considering qualifies.

If you’re after a model with the manual transmission, check to ensure the clutch still has plenty of life left. Coax slippage out of a badly worn clutch by applying full throttle at low revs while climbing a hill, perhaps at 70 km/h in fourth gear. Another check involves setting the parking brake, engaging first gear, and very slowly releasing the clutch pedal over the span of 15 to 20 seconds. If the engine doesn’t stall by time the pedal is fully released, the clutch will likely require replacement.

On units with the six-speed manual, shift from first to second gear, quickly, at higher revs. If this sportier driving style coaxes any grinding or lashing sensations from the gearbox, the remedy may be to realign the shifter cable, and to fill the transmission with a revised fluid. More reading on Chevrolet Sonic transmission grinding here.

Note that a grinding transmission may also be caused by excessive internal wear, which is less likely, but still possible. In any case, if the transmission in the unit you’re considering is doing anything funny, be sure to have it checked out. Finally, if the unit you’re after has an automatic transmission, be sure the shifter release button works properly, and that the shifter moves easily between positions, several times, during the course of your test drive. If that’s not the case, a broken shifter button, or badly aligned shift cable, may be to blame.

Move to the front footwell carpeting, removing the floor mats and pressing your hand into the carpet beneath to check for signs of dampness and moisture. If you detect any, be sure to have the vehicle investigated for a leaky air conditioner drain system, or a bad body seal.

Shoppers should also confirm that all on-board electronics, including the OnStar and Bluetooth systems work as expected.

Here’s a great list of recalls and Technical Service Bulletins (TSB’s) to familiarize yourself with ahead of the test-driving process. Note that these issues are typically reported rarely and affect a minimal number of vehicles, but are worth being aware of.

The Verdict

Though Sonic has a list of issues for shoppers to check into, few if any of them are massively worrisome, and all should be easily detectable on a test drive or pre-purchase inspection. If upscale design, flexibility and feature content are priorities in your next used compact, possibly accompanied by lengthy remaining warranty coverage, a used Chevrolet Sonic is worthy of consideration.

Here’s a very lengthy list of recalls.

Crash Test Ratings

NHTSA: 5/5 Stars
IIHS: Top Safety Pick (2013, 2016)

Sonic loved for feature content and style 2/2/2017 6:30:00 AM