A Case for the Chevy Sonic
In the past few years, American automakers have all but eliminated passenger cars from their lineups in favor of higher-riding crossovers and pickups. FCA received a lot of flak for discontinuing the Dodge Dart and Chrysler 200, but when Ford announced that they were discontinuing the Fiesta, Focus, Fusion, and Taurus, FCA’s move appeared more mild. GM soon followed suit with plans to discontinue the Cruze, Volt, Impala, LaCrosse, and XTS, leaving the Spark, Sonic, Camaro, and Malibu as the only passenger cars left in the Chevrolet lineup. With the next-generation Camaro now rumored to be on indefinite hold, this leaves us wondering what will happen to the Spark, Sonic, and Malibu. Today we take a look at the Sonic.
When it arrived on the scene, the Sonic was the replacement for the derided Aveo, the epitome of economy car cost-cutting. The Sonic was marketed as being more fun to drive, going as far as being featured in stunt videos. The Sonic performs decently in its RS trim with the 1.4L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. The Sonic was refreshed for the 2017 model year, adding more technology features but losing some of its charm with its more conventional headlight design.
The market for traditional hatchbacks has been declining significantly in the United States, with many automakers increasing ground clearance of such vehicles and adding a more rugged design in an attempt to market hatchbacks as crossovers. Notable examples include the Toyota C-HR and Nissan Kicks. GM has also jumped on this bandwagon with the Sonic-based Chevrolet Trax and the soon-to-be-released Trailblazer, the latter riding on a new GM architecture. With a lineup of more appealing small crossovers that bring higher margins than a hatchback, one has to wonder if it’s even worth keeping the Sonic around at all. We believe there’s hope left for the Sonic, specifically in the hot-hatch segment.
Dominated by the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Hyundai Veloster N, and Honda Civic Type R, the hot hatch segment is extremely competitive for such a small niche. However, hot hatches may hold on to their sales volume as traditional hatchback sales are slipping. This is illustrated by the rumor that Volkswagen will only import the next-generation Golf GTI and R to the United States, not the less-expensive mainstream models. GM could easily pull a similar move, selling a next-generation Sonic in global markets while only selling a higher-performance variant in the United States. With the next-generation Camaro now delayed, a performance hatchback could also help fill in Chevrolet’s performance lineup.
As far as powertrains go—and this is all just discussion at this point—GM could pull from their corporate parts bin and install the 2.0L turbocharged 4-cylinder first seen on the Cadillac XT4. This engine makes a healthy 237 horsepower and could be enough to give the Sonic more performance-oriented appeal.
We hope to know more about GM’s plans for their passenger car lineup in the coming months, but it’s not looking good for the Spark and Sonic right now. With the Trax and Trailblazer set to fill the compact-car gap in Chevrolet’s lineup, will GM take the riskier approach of marketing a next-generation Sonic to performance-minded customers who are shopping on a budget? If Ford’s decision to eliminate their performance hatchbacks from their US lineup is anything to go by, GM will likely bank on crossovers. Time will tell, but we hope the Chevrolet performance team still has a few tricks up their sleeves to add some excitement to the dwindling passenger car lineup.
Ryan had an obsession with cars from a young age, reading NADA books and MotorTrend magazine as well as sketching cars in grade school. He has since moved on to creating renderings in Photoshop and writing about auto news. Ryan lives in Oklahoma.