Chevy to upgrade successful Sonic with new features, styling for 2016

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What changes will make it different?

Considerable upgrades could be coming to this compact. There have been some spy shots circulating, but commentators seem divided as to whether they are of a Sonic, Cruze or even Volt, which suggests the design could be quite different. The next generation of the Sonic was due to be a 2015 model, but for unspecified reasons it has been delayed and will now arrive as a ’16 model year. The biggest news is that Chevy will bring an electric version (EV) of the car to market that is rumored to have a game-changing range in the vicinity of 200 miles.

Why should I wait for the 2016?

Since its launch four model years ago, it has done quite well. But if you’ve grown tired of the car’s look, it makes sense to wait. And if you’ve fancied the idea of an EV but have been put off by the relatively modest distances you can travel before needing to recharge, the upcoming EV Sonic might be just the thing.

Should I buy a 2015 model instead?

It’s an excellent compact, and one of the few in the segment that’s available in both sedan and hatchback styles in the United States. It’s certainly proved to be Chevy’s best compact offering so far, so you would be unlikely to regret pulling the trigger on a ’15 model. This isn’t the best car in its segment, but it’s a great all-around performer, especially if you like compacts on the larger side of small.

Will the styling be different?

The design is good as it is, but the carmaker is doing serious redesigning across the board, so the same might apply here. If the EV model isn’t going to look different from the conventionally powered versions, a lot of thought will need to be put into the design so that the car can house the required batteries but also be sold with a traditional gasoline power plant. We’re guessing that the design of the model-year ’16 Sonic will be more aggressive.

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Any mechanical changes?

In addition to an EV variant, look for an overhaul of the gasoline engines. The base 1.8-liter engine has little or nothing going for it, so it likely will be replaced with something considerably more modern. Both the manual and automatic transmissions are six-speed, which is par for the course in this class. They could be replaced by more up-to-date versions with the same number of gears; it would be extremely bold and potentially expensive to offer something more than that in a small car.

Will fuel economy improve?

Fuel economy is one of the biggest reasons people buy this type of car, but with the favored 1.4-liter turbo only returning something like 30-35 mpg, the Sonic could do better. Obviously an EV would be ridiculously economical compared to gasoline models, but there should be significant improvements in mileage from the traditional engines as well.

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Will it have new features?

Standard and available features have to improve. It isn’t that the Sonic is Spartan—it’s just that the competition is offering more and more for your money these days. With connectivity now being such an important element in car, it won’t be acceptable not to offer a USB as standard. Bottom line? Expect to see more bells and whistles, with many coming as standard features.

How will 2016 prices be different?

Nearly every segment is highly competitive right now, but compacts have to be especially keenly priced. Otherwise what’s the point? Thus, the ’16 model should cost about the same as the model-year 2015 version, and offer more bang for your buck.

When will it come out?

Since the all-new version was supposed to come in model year 2015, we’d expect that Chevy is keen to get it to market sooner rather than later. The summer of’15 seems reasonable, but don’t rule out the first quarter of the year either.

Best competitors

Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, Hyundai Accent, Toyota Yaris

What change would make it better?

The Sonic has become a bit too big to be considered a true compact, so it would wise for the next generation to be smaller so that it is more in line with offerings like the Fiesta. An edgier and more aggressive fascia would also be smart to provide a more modern look and, in turn, keep pace with the competition. Some truly enticing economy figures from some smaller, lighter engines would also be beneficial.

Quick hit

Chevy never used to be very good at producing smaller cars, but the Sonic was something of a sea change for the manufacturer. However, it’s no longer the automaker’s smallest model—that honor goes to the Spark—so the next generation must establish a firm and recognizable identity.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]