2017 Chevrolet Sonic

Test Drive: 2017 Chevrolet Sonic vs 2017 Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback

Vehicle lineups have stumped me for years now. I know what you’re all thinking: “How the hell does she do what she does if something as simple as models on offer confuse her?!” But hold up a second; when I say “stump me” I just mean that I often find myself scratching my head and wondering why on earth manufacturers offer vehicles that seem so similar in size/shape/design/drive/price. Why not amalgamate the two and make one big awesome-sauce model that will sell record amounts because it’s a combination of the two that are so similar?!

Somehow that idea’s just not caught on yet … and I think I know why.

Case in point: I recently test drove two Chevrolet models back-to-back. I didn’t actually realize how similar they were until I drove them as such. And it wasn’t just the colour either (both bright red), but their design, interior space, and price all matched up fairly well. And yet one came away the true winner (for me), and proved precisely why manufacturers do what they do.

2017 Chevrolet Sonic RS

My first red hatchback from Chevy was the Sonic RS. I remember attending the launch of this vehicle years ago, and not being overly impressed. The design was meh, the interior felt cheap and the drive was a snore-fest. At least it was priced accordingly, and I saw the appeal for first-time car owners or those who wanted a second vehicle with a bit of attitude.

However, this latest generation of Sonic has really upped its game. With subtle yet impressive exterior style changes (they nixed the open-air weird headlights thank goodness), as well as a highly improved interior with much better materials and more pleasing layout, the 2017 Sonic is definitely one to consider, and not just as a throw-away second vehicle.

What impressed me most about the Sonic RS was how it drove. Now, this isn’t a powerhouse of a car by any stretch of the imagination, but still it boogies. Equipped with an ECOTEC 1.4L turbocharged 4-pot this hot little hatch produces 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque. Coupled with a 6-speed automatic transmission (that can be controlled via buttons on the shifter, though I wouldn’t recommend it as it’s awkward to use and not really necessary), this little engine really aims to please. It’s peppy and responsive and gets the Sonic RS up to speed in a jiffy when asked.

Handling is precise and feels sharp. The sport suspension featured on my RS model tightened everything up a notch and actually made the little Sonic feel like a much more aggressive hatchback than you may have been lead to believe.

Driving this red rocket in the snow on a set of decidedly stylish black rims, I never for a moment wished I was in a larger vehicle or something sturdier. It did the job perfectly, and also offered up a fair amount of interior space (538L behind the rear seats, and 1,350L when those are folded) for shopping excursions and family visits with the offspring.

The infotainment system is easy to use and the centre stack layout is ergonomically correct and very simple to live with. Seats are comfy for longer hauls and thanks to the Sonic’s higher roofline hatch design, visibility is awesome sauce.

And with a starting price just under the $22k mark, the Sonic RS is a great deal in my opinion. It checks all the right boxes in terms of design (exterior and interior), comfort, driveability, space and fuel economy (the 1.4L is easy on the gas if you don’t drive like a complete hooligan all the time).

2017 Chevrolet Cruze Premier Hatchback

Chevrolet’s Cruze has been a hit since it landed on the market in 2009, thanks to a stylish look and affordable price. It appealed to Chevy’s younger audience and offered up a vehicle that wasn’t the Malibu and was decidedly much less stodgy and boring.

Now, they’ve gone an added an even more youthful feature: a hatchback body design. The combination seems like a winning one, right? I was definitely enamoured with the Cruze Hatchback the moment I laid eyes on it at the Detroit auto show. Hatchbacks are hot in North America, and this Cruze version was smokin’.

Or so I thought.

After handing over the keys to the Sonic RS, I was given the fob for the 2017 Cruze Premier Hatchback (same trim level as the Sonic RS, btw) and made my way out the equally red car to explore.

First impressions are so important, and when it comes to curb appeal, the Cruze Hatchback’s got gobs of it. It definitely has a much more grown-up feel to it when compared to the Sonic. It’s less teenage hip and more college-student cool, if you know what I mean.

2017 Chevrolet Cruze

Inside, the Chevrolet Cruze continues its more grown up look, but there’s something lacking in terms of layout and quality. I wasn’t as impressed with the Cruze’s centre stack design as I was with the Sonic. Sure it’s “fancier” with a black-out design and chic buttons and knobs, but it just wasn’t as ergonomically pleasing.

And while it’s slightly larger inside, with the rear seats folded down the Cruze Hatchback actually has 20 litres fewer than the Sonic hatch in terms of cargo space.

Equipped with the same 1.4L turbocharged 4-cylinder, Chevrolet tweaked the mill ever so slightly to produce 153 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque. Coupled with the same 6-speed automatic transmission, you’d think that would be a winning combination. Well, it wasn’t.

While the Sonic felt alive and full of character and pizzazz, the Cruze fell flat. The jump in power and torque did absolutely nothing for the car’s performance. It felt loose and heavy in the corners, and acceleration was almost painful. Not much larger than the Sonic in terms of weight (1,783kg compared to 1,726kg), you’d think the jump in power would make up for the ever-so-slight difference. Well, it didn’t.

I wanted to like the Cruze Hatchback more, I really did. It is, after all, the more grown-up option. It’s better looking, has a smidge more interior space and is older sibling. And with only a slightly larger price tag ($24,895 MSRP for my Premier version), it is possible to cross-shop the two. But I just couldn’t get behind it. And after loading it to the gills with gifts and cousins and taking it on a snowy road trip that took a few hours each way, I was wishing for my Sonic again.

Different but the same

I never would have realized how similar these two Chevrolet models were had I not driven them back-to-back the way I did. And I have to say, I’m happy I did because now I can recommend those who think they want a Cruze Hatchback to consider instead the oh-so-slightly smaller and less expensive Sonic Hatchback instead as I really do feel it’s the better car and choice here.

Related links:
Chevrolet Canada (Cruze)
Chevrolet Canada (Sonic)

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