View Full Version : Rental Car Review: 2015 Chevy Sonic LTZ Turbo

August 4th, 2015, 10:56 AM
It has been five years since I’ve rented a car, and also five years since I’ve flown in an airplane. Both things have changed quite a bit, but I won’t bore you guys with airplane and airport stories here in the Open Road.

At the rental counter, I expected to be handed a set of keys and told what I would be driving, but instead was told to go choose whatever we wanted from the Compact or Economy section or whatever it was called – the small, relatively inexpensive cars. I was hoping we’d get an upgrade, but no such luck this trip. The keys for each car were hanging from the driver’s side door locks. After choosing a car, we drove to the little check-out booth near the parking lot exit and that’s how they knew what we took.

There was a row of Chevy Sonic sedans, one Ford Fiesta hatchback, and a couple of Hyundai something-or-others way down the line that we didn’t get near enough to examine. While I like classic GM cars as much as any other classic car, I’m not a fan of modern GM offerings for reasons I won't go into here. My family didn’t seem to have a preference, so I attempted to load our four carry-on bags into the hatchback of the Fiesta. The luggage compartment was so tiny that there was no way to jam four carry-on bags back there, and that was the end of that.

Next to the Fiesta was a red Sonic sedan, and my son had the trunk open a second after he saw my predicament with the luggage. I, on the other hand, had to look around a while to find the trunk release button when it was my turn (it's on the center console, under the emergency brake handle). The Sonic’s trunk is quite large for such a small car, and the bags went in with lots of room to spare. This car was bright red, my son’s favorite color, as he never lets us forget, and my wife commented that perhaps we’d do better with a more sedate color. I couldn’t imagine getting busted for speeding in such a small car, but I figured perhaps a more plain-jane car would be less interesting to thieves or vandals in whatever parking lots we might find ourselves. About then I noticed a red TURBO badge on the dark grey Sonic next to the bright red one, and also alloy wheels and 50-series tires, and therefore I quickly agreed with her. I don’t think I’d ever buy a Turbo car with expensive tires, but for a rental, why not? Maybe there would be an autocross track next to our hotel.

The car had 3400 miles on it. I must assume it was a 2015 model. It smelled new inside and was surprisingly roomy. Like most American cars built for American-sized people, the seat actually went back father than I needed it to for my almost 6’2” body to reach the pedals, and there was lots of headroom, too. Legroom is a constant annoyance in my Accord, where I’ve spent the last seven-plus years wishing I the seat would go back another inch or two. I’m also glad I’m not a guy who wears baseball caps, as on the rare occasions I have, the top of the cap and the bill rub on the headliner when I turn my head while driving.

Here are my impressions of the car after driving it for eight days, and heavily clouded by my personal likes and dislikes. This is from a guy who drives a wheezy old 1999 Honda with 218,000 miles on it, so much of what annoyed me with this car is probably common to most newer cars.

It’s actually a decent-looking car, for a tiny little Chevy. The headlights were very bright as compared to the dim ones struggling to shine through cloudy plastic covers on my Accord. There were also a second set of lights down low. I think of these as “fog lights” but that's not the correct term, is it? Driving lights? Cornering lights? Racing lights? I dunno, but you guys know what I mean, I’m sure. I didn’t like that the headlights were on by default. I don’t like having to turn lights OFF when getting in a car, but at least I could turn them off, as compared to a Chevy WT-1500 pickup truck I once had as a rental, which had the lights on all the time, no matter what.

I also strongly dislike how GM cars have the reverse lights come on when the car doors are unlocked or locked. This is highly annoying to people trying to find a parking space in crowded lots. “ You know the deal…you’re prowling for a space – any space – and suddenly you see someone’s reverse lights go on, so you stop and put on your turn signal, only to realize there’s no one in the car and the owner is walking away but the damn reverse lights are still on. I cannot see any possible reason for the reverse lights to go on unless or until the car is in reverse.

Forward visibility was excellent but rear visibility was poor. The headrests, particularly the rear ones, are very large. The pillars are wide and turning to look back over my left shoulder before changing lanes to the left was practically useless. The interior rearview mirror is shaped like an American football or rugby ball, which makes things worse. Why not just have a rectangular one? Oh yeah, form over function. I have the same beef with the exterior mirrors, which are teardrop-shaped. They are large close to the windows, which is great to see the doors of the car I'm driving, but out at the ends – the useful part of the mirrors – they’re just little pointy corners that don’t inspire confidence when changing lanes. Didn’t anyone test-drive this car and attempt to change lanes safely on the highway before they started selling them? I guess not.

Speaking of mirrors, we were on the highway at night and I reached up to flip the too-small interior mirror to night mode after a truck with high and bright headlights got behind me. Suddenly, at maximum volume, like THE VOICE OF GOD, a woman’s voice bellowed through the speakers: “THIS IS ON-STAR! WHAT IS YOUR EMERGENCY?!”

What the hell?

My wife saw a disconnect button appear on the “info-tainment center” – oh, how that thing sucked – and hung up on her. Just when I was recovering some semblance of sanity and swerving back into my lane from this terror attack, she came back on again: “I’M CALLING YOU BACK! WHAT IS YOUR EMERGENCY?!!!” I said something like “we’re in a rental car – sorry” and she finally went away. Jeebus, that is dangerous as hell. I will NEVER own a modern GM product for this reason alone – never mind all the political reasons and horror stories I’ve heard from suckers who have bought GM cars over the years.

And while I’m ranting – don’t worry, I’m about to get to the good stuff – the radio annoyed the hell out of me. There were no knobs! Everything required taking my eyes off the road to study my options and then select tiny buttons. What’s wrong with good old tuning and volume knobs and raised preset buttons that can be used without looking at them? On the third day I discovered the rearview camera, which apparently comes on when the car is put into reverse. I hadn’t seen it sooner because I was looking where one is supposed to be looking while in reverse: out the rear window, with my arm behind the passenger seat. I can only assume these rearview cameras will further dumb-down drivers who now won’t have to learn how to back up safely and parallel park without taking eighteen tries while traffic backs up for blocks behind them. I also discovered, as the radio was on some annoying commercial, that the radio cannot be turned off or down while the car is in reverse. I’m sorry, but this is complete nonsense. Why remove perfectly functional features just to put in some video game tomfoolery that encourages less competent drivers to stay that way? I said something to my wife like, "hey, did you see this camera?" She did, but hadn't mentioned it. She knows me well. :)

Okay, on with the good stuff, finally: that car was FUN to drive. Granted, I don’t have much to compare it to, but it was great. We all had plenty of room inside the car, except once when I leaned over to pull my wallet out of my back pocket and crashed into my wife in the passenger seat, but I could get used to that. And, I almost always drive alone, so for me, a car this size would be just fine. I found myself eyeing Corollas and Civics and wondering if they’re as roomy inside as this Chebby was. I think the last Turbo car I drove was a Renault Fuego in the ‘80s, so I don’t claim to know much about Turbos, but this one went like the proverbial scalded cat once I figured out that I shouldn’t let off the gas when I felt the car upshift. That caused it to bog down. Keeping my foot down kept the car flying down highway on-ramps like a champ. Those highly risky lane changes due to poor rear and rear/side visibility were great fun, too, as I could zip around someone puttering along with their head down while texting on their damn smart phones in an instant.

I didn’t do much fast cornering, but the car seemed to handle really well, too, and the brakes…oh, the brakes. I loved the brakes. The first time I hit them my wife slammed forward in her seatbelt, as I am apparently used to stomping on the brakes in my car to get them to do anything. I quickly got used to the stop-on-a-dime brakes in the Sonic, and when we all piled into my old Accord at the airport yesterday, I was actually scared driving home because my brakes are so weak by comparison. I rarely have my whole family in my car, but it was the obvious choice to leave sitting at the airport for several days. The brakes in the Sonic are probably the best thing of this whole experience: I’m going to take my Accord to the shop for some LONG-overdue service and to get the brakes checked. That will happen this week. My brakes don’t feel spongy or make noise or anything, but they do take a long time to stop the car, and I’ve been driving it for so long I guess I haven’t noticed they have gotten so bad.

August 4th, 2015, 10:57 AM
Report card:

Driving experience: Consistently excellent. Quick acceleration when needed (or simply wanted), great brakes, fine handling, and it cruised at 70+ mph easily without sounding like it was about to explode, which surprised me. I figured a car this small would have a tiny engine that could barely get out of its own way. Nope, this thing was a firebreather, at least as compared to my expectations.

Interior comfort: Just fine for a family of four (young kids, not six-footers who have started shaving), with just one complaint – I could never figure out how to change the angle of the back of the seat. That wasn’t a big deal, but once I tried to recline it a bit and couldn’t figure out how. The handle that does that in my car and every other car I can remember being in with bucket seats raised and lowered the bottom of the seat instead of changing the angle of the seat-back.

Controls, except for the ridiculous radio and stupid remote-control switchblade-style key: Pretty good. The A/C was meat-locker quality, and my wife kept turning it off because she was too cold. The interior vents were round and retro-cool, like something from a Bel-Air or Corvair. The speedometer was digital and jammed into a little space not much larger than a credit card with the fuel gauge, odometer, and whatever else, and there was a huge (by comparison) tachometer for some unknown reason. I don’t see the need for tachs in automatic cars, but then again there’s a lot I don’t understand these days. I simply want less in a car, rather than a bunch of stuff like heated seats (which this had) and other unnecessary luxuries that drive up the cost and probably stop working long before the car is mechanically done for. Well, then again, this is a GM product. :lol:

Would I buy one? Hell no. Would I rent one again? Yes, in a second, and I wouldn’t even inquire about an upgrade to a larger car. I really liked the Sonic, minus all the electronic stuff. My only beef with it as an automobile, rather than as a computerized marvel of technology, is that the mirrors were too small and oddly shaped. I bet a manual transmission version with the Turbo engine would be super-fun.

Here’s a picture of the little speedster in front of my cousin’s house, and another of the tiny speedo and huge tach. As you can see, the indicator shows the headlights are on. I must have forgotten to turn them off when I got in the car. :rolleyes:



August 4th, 2015, 11:33 AM
What's funny about this to me is that you are my dad. :P

When my mom first told him that she demanded a Fusion (I'm exaggerating to make myself laugh because otherwise I will get upset) he complained about all the things that seemed wacky and weird to him, blaming it on typical American Ford Car Bullshit. Fast forward about six months, he learned where everything was and all his concerns are no longer problems. He now primarily drives the car he initially hated. IMHO, unless a car requires you to do something that is physically uncomfortable you will get used to it. You'll remember where the OnStar button is, you'll learn how to properly adjust modern aero side mirrors, and you won't fumble with the radio controls. Sure, academically all this stuff is poorly designed, but it's all workable. If the powerhandlingbrakescargoseats are right, a quirky stereo or rear view mirror isn't worth getting upset about. You'll acclimate incredibly quickly.

WRT the Accord, just due the brakes yourself. It's incredibly easy, and the money you'll save on labor you can funnel right back into higher quality components. :up:

August 4th, 2015, 12:48 PM
You'll never own a GM car because there's a conveniently placed, brightly colored button in case of emergencies. Duly noted.

August 4th, 2015, 01:50 PM
Well, I wouldn't buy one anyway, so that's a safe statement. :D

On-Star doesn't appeal to me, though. Too creepy to have some company tracking you at all times. Same with smart phones. I don't need either service, nor would I want to pay the monthly fees.

August 4th, 2015, 01:56 PM

MR2 Fan
August 4th, 2015, 02:35 PM


Alan P
August 4th, 2015, 03:18 PM
I've seen Die hard 4.0, Someone can steal your car with On-Star!

August 5th, 2015, 06:31 PM

I actually agree with a lot of this, moving from a 2004 xA to a 2015 Fiesta.... BUT.... I understand why a lot of it happens... at least I think

- I imagine the tear drop mirrors are because they help aerodynamics, and every little bit helps when meeting certain epa standards. They still cover blindspots just fine if you adjust them properly :P On the Fiesta, though, there's the added "truck" mirrors, which is a neat feature.
- Most customers want touch screen this and that... frankly, I agree it's dangerous to have only 'complicated' controls. More knobs please. That said, steering wheel controls are nice.
- OnStar would freak me out too, at least with a bad position where it might be bumped. There's an emergency function that uses my phone's signal with the Fiesta... I have it turned off.
- Visibility sucks in modern cars... but that's because you can flip the things on their head and not die. So, I guess that's cool.
- The last few 'new' cars I've been in have had headlight controls on a dial instead of on a stalk control, which to me, is kinda dangerous, because it takes reaching to get to. Instead the stalk control has various on board computer controls or something. Meh.
- All the on wheel controls (which are handy) means I can no longer hit the horn on a steering wheel with my left thumb (one hand on wheel, one hand on shifter), which sucks for city driving.
- Also, the sheer amount of automatic this, electric that, makes me paranoid about expensive repair bills in the future.


Even with all those complaints... its pretty amazing how awesome new cars are overall.

August 5th, 2015, 06:39 PM
tl; mostly dr... but from what I can tell, it can be summed up thusly:

"IhatethingsI'munfamiliarwith...Givemeflatheadengin esandpoints...Newcarssuck...Ithinkasafetyfeatureis unsafebecauseIaccidentallytriggereditonce...Kidsge toffmylawn...TheytookourjorbsArglebargle!"

August 5th, 2015, 06:54 PM
I drive various cars with various philosophies behind their interiors. Variety is the spice of life.

August 6th, 2015, 12:07 AM
tl; mostly dr... but from what I can tell, it can be summed up thusly:

"IhatethingsI'munfamiliarwith...Givemeflatheadengin esandpoints...Newcarssuck...Ithinkasafetyfeatureis unsafebecauseIaccidentallytriggereditonce...Kidsge toffmylawn...TheytookourjorbsArglebargle!"

I was going to post that his review really channeled a grumpy old man. Yours might be more succinct.

Heres my abridged review of a Buick LaCrosse from earlier this month.

Too thick A pillars. Rollover protection yadda yadda yadda da fuq did that motorcycle come from?
Crappy rearward visibility.
Shitty stereo (no rear speakers, seriously.) Pairs up to 4 phones concurrently, but you have to sync them each time to use them.
Neutral just about everything.
Very powerful yet frugal V6 engine (31mpg from Los Angeles to Cincinnati and back with lots of in town driving in Cincinnati and Indianapolis.) And we were going 5-10 over the whole way. Unobtrusive and refined. Meh 6 speed auto.
Useless-ish trunk. Large enough but small opening.

Decent everything but other than the engine (quiet, powerful, refined, frugal) nothing was spectacular. Other than fuel economy. All sensation was mildly isolated.

The Kia Optima I rented a coupla months before was more impressive, but less refined. Like that makes sense. Better FE, less power, more room, more accessible and bigger trunk, better stereo, **much better** rear visibility

August 6th, 2015, 09:03 AM
Sorry to be such a public grump. I guess I just don't have much to be happy about, as compared to early expectations in my life. I just got back from a great vacation with most of my living relatives. They are all happy and healthy and successful. I am none of these, but I try to act as if I were.

I don't know why I'm so obsessed with the past and uninterested in the future. Perhaps it's because my Dad and I are the only two males in his side of our family who were born in the 20th century. My Mom's story is pretty similar. Mom's parents were born in 1902 and 1905. Dad's parents were born in the 19th century, and my kids were born in the 21st. I grew up an only child in a very rural area and I tend to look backwards instead of forwards for entertainment and my continuing self-education. Dad describes his upbringing as Victorian, and I don't think mine was much different. While I had everything I needed, and then some, we always got material goods much later than everyone else - color TV, microwave oven, push-button telephone instead of a dial phone on a party line, and modern cars. I never set out to live that way, but I do. It seems normal, and it's all I can afford. At least I'm not in debt, other than our mortgage.

Modern life, with everyone bedecked in tattoos and iPhones held up in front of their faces at all times and spending money with abandon and unspeakable crimes glorified by the 24-7 media makes me despondent. I'm mean and judgemental and, in some ways, cruel. I have absolutely no right to be any of these things, nor to spread my misery here among you nice people.

It seems ironic to be posting how anti-tech I am on the internet, but remember this group of folks got together in the late 1990s - about the same time that I apparently stopped growing as a person. I'm not on FaceBook, I don't text, I don't have an iPhone, I rarely email other than as required for my job, and I carry a flip-phone, digital camera, and mp3 player around with me, whereas everyone else has all that in one device. This became very apparent on my recent vacation when I saw lots of other people all the time, rather than just going back and forth from home to work and seeing the same very small number of people daily and not many others. The last time I took a week off work before this trip was when our kids were born in 2008. I should be rich with such a work ethic, but I'm far from it.

The other day someone asked for my phone number in a crowded room with a bunch of other stuff going on. I whipped out my index card wallet (google it if you don't know what that is) and the pen I always carry and handed her my name and phone number on a card, without realizing she was staring at me with her thumb poised over her iPhone. I still write checks, too, when I don't have cash in my pocket.

Mostly I guess I'm pissed off about new cars and other new technology because I can't afford any of it. I'm poor and getting poorer. My wife stopped working when our twins were born - with my blessing - and I guess I don't have what it takes to be a superstar income producer due to wasting my 20s and 30s playing in rock bands rather than focusing on my career. Now I'm getting closer to 50 and can't figure out what I should be doing, or how I'll survive in this constantly changing world.

I graduated from a very good college but have nothing to show for it. I work as hard as any executive at work - probably harder than most I see who don't seem to do much - but I'm basically still in an entry-level position after all these years, and I just don't see things getting much better. My department is being outsourced to India later this year, and I'm trying to polish the turd that is my resume and find a pair of shoes to wear to interviews that aren't too worn down at the heels and a suit in my closet that doesn't look too dated or too cheap. Thankfully I'm not too fat, so I can still fit in my old clothes, but that's more of the same problem, isn't it? I have a large selection of 1990s paisley neckties from back when I gave a damn, but those probably won't do either. All I have going for me are shined shoes and a matching belt - two things most men these days can't seem to manage.

Mostly I just wish I could enjoy life and not worry so much. Sorry to go on and on with selfish thoughts, yet again, but believe it or not I consider you guys my friends, even if that's some twisted fantasy. But I guess that's what us losers without friends in real life do on the internet.

God bless my patient wife, who has stuck by me for eighteen years so far. She, and my kids, especially, deserve a lot better than me.

Best wishes,

Willy Loman

August 6th, 2015, 12:06 PM
Keep on keepin' on. :)

August 6th, 2015, 03:21 PM
I'm with Random, except that bit about writing checks. Stop that, please.

Personally, I don't feel like anyone has any obligation to be fascinated with new stuff. I'm the damned IT guy and I'm largely not fascinated with new stuff. But by the same token resisting it is, as they say, futile. Getting bent out of shape over inexorable progress is just a waste of energy and emotion. Things are going to continue to change, and some of it will be progress and some of it will be regression. Some of it will be motivated by making life safer, some of it will be motivated by profit, and some of it will be motivated by curiosity, but nobody is ever going to know the actual result until all the cards are dealt and the hands played.

Someone I used to know had lived a very hard life and clung the idea of "happiness is wanting what you have and not having what you want," and while I didn't appreciate it at the time, I sure came to. I think it's very easy to convince yourself new is bad solely on the basis that's it's unavailable to you, but I think the stronger position is accepting that new is neither good or bad, but it doesn't matter either way because you're alive and healthy. I've come to think the former is like anti-materialism, which ultimately is just another form of materialism, and I have struggled with that my entire life as my father is VERY materialistic. I was raised in an environment of "we must have the newest and the best" and it took me a long time to shut that down. But, you know, like a wise man once said "“The things you used to own, now they own you.” True.

I live in an old house and drive an old car while I wear old clothes and that's great for me. Everything else is just noise.

August 6th, 2015, 06:07 PM
Thanks to you both for coming to my pity party. I actually have a lot to be thankful for, and a really nice house that is part of the reason I feel poor at times. I was out in Seattle in the coolest log cabin and the relatives who have been here were raving about George and [wife]'s house and how everyone needs to visit during ski season. My wife and kids are healthy and smart, and my son is going to be a millionaire before he's twenty-five. One of is chores is pulling weeds from our flower beds and rock areas. He gets a small allowance for that. Yesterday he asked my wife if he could water the weeds so they would grow faster so he could pull more weeds and make more money. I tell ya, he's a genius and freakishly smart when it comes to getting what he wants in life. My daughter is, too, but I don't have a similar anecdote handy about her.

I got my old car out of the shop this afternoon. I still need to have the timing belt and water pump changed, and I'm saving for that, but it got a clean bill of health otherwise and should last me a good while longer, as long as I keep an eye on the oil level. I know I can find another job, and probably a better one, as that's what I've always done. My parents are alive and relatively healthy and live nearby. I have nothing to complain about, yet a couple things in my life like the job situation, with an ever-shrinking number of people but the same amount of work as ever, and a health scare have me feeling pretty weird lately. I'll get over it.

And besides, I actually liked the Chevy Sonic, overall.

Think this suit looks too dated for a job interview?


August 6th, 2015, 07:10 PM
Very dated. Much too baggy for the current stuff.

August 6th, 2015, 07:36 PM
Of course. I may not know how to pull in zillions of dollars per year, but I do know how to dress, and men's dress is one thing that doesn't change much over the decades. :up:

August 6th, 2015, 08:14 PM
Looks fine to me. :?

<-- rockin' the same conservative grey suit that his parents bought him for college graduation. :o

August 6th, 2015, 10:13 PM
Sorry to hear that you're losing your job, but hopefully the next one will be a step up.

I like old cars that I'm comfortable with, but it's good to shake things up a bit. Having said that, I've always found that the best part of renting a car is coming back to my Subes.

August 7th, 2015, 10:42 AM
Agreed - I appreciate a vacation now and again (which might include having a Volvo or VW around for a while), but I always come back to my '80s-mobiles. I seriously wouldn't trade old cars for anything.

August 7th, 2015, 11:40 AM
Sorry to be such a public grump. I guess I just don't have much to be happy about, as compared to early expectations in my life. I just got back from a great vacation with most of my living relatives. They are all happy and healthy and successful. I am none of these, but I try to act as if I were.

Mostly I guess I'm pissed off about new cars and other new technology because I can't afford any of it. I'm poor and getting poorer. My wife stopped working when our twins were born - with my blessing - and I guess I don't have what it takes to be a superstar income producer due to wasting my 20s and 30s playing in rock bands rather than focusing on my career. Now I'm getting closer to 50 and can't figure out what I should be doing, or how I'll survive in this constantly changing world.

I graduated from a very good college but have nothing to show for it. I work as hard as any executive at work - probably harder than most I see who don't seem to do much - but I'm basically still in an entry-level position after all these years, and I just don't see things getting much better.

Mostly I just wish I could enjoy life and not worry so much.

Brother from another mother! I am you, just with more tech.

August 7th, 2015, 12:21 PM
Whatever, old farts, I want a car with a heads-up display!

August 8th, 2015, 01:31 AM
You mean like an early 2000s Corvette?

August 8th, 2015, 05:21 AM
No, like on 1990s Pontiac Bonnevilles. THE FUTURE IS NOW!