A six-speed automatic will run you about $1,100 more and its mileage is worse, getting only 25 mpg in the city and 35 on the highway. The Sonic LTZ I tested had the automatic, and over 326 miles I averaged 26 mpg.
Buyers with a little more change in their pocket can spring for the optional turbocharged engine. An extra $700 gets you a sedan or hatchback with a 1.4-liter, turbo four-cylinder unit. Horsepower stays the same at 138, but torque jumps 23 pound-feet to 148, giving you more mid-range power to play with when you need it.
This engine also gets better gas mileage, with the Environmental Protection Agency rating the six-speed manual transmission that comes with the turbo engine at 29 mpg in the city and 40 on the highway. Do yourself a favor and spring for this turbo option; more fun and better gas mileage is like bacon that reduces cholesterol.
A six-speed automatic will be available on the turbo next spring, and at the risk of having my car-guy membership revoked, I'd say consider waiting for that one. The manual that Chevy paired with the turbo just isn't fun to drive; the clutch has a high release point and the shifter is imprecise and sloppy.
Shifting issues aside, either Sonic handles the road well. The suspension is nicely tuned, the steering provides great feedback and the brakes are firm. The hatchback can't dance like a Ford Fiesta or Honda Fit, but it's certainly more lively than the Hyundai Accent.
Yet as an overall product, a means of pure conveyance, I'd still lean toward the Accent as the most complete hatchback in the segment. It may not shine in a particular category, but it just does everything well.
The conversation changes a bit when considering subcompact sedans. It's here that the Sonic's quiet cabin and stout exterior design combine with its relative enthusiasm for the road, especially the turbo, to push it above the Accent and Fiesta sedans.
Chevy finally has a tiny winner. And it only took a century.