Chevrolet Sonic 2012-2020: pros and cons, common problems

By Vlad Samarin. Updated: April 01, 2023
The Chevy Sonic is a sporty subcompact. It's available as a sedan or hatchback. The Sonic is fun to drive and offers top safety ratings.
Chevrolet Sonic interior2012 Chevrolet Sonic.

It's not very expensive and is good on gas. The Sonic's list of available features includes heated seats, remote starter, satellite radio and Bluetooth.

What should used car buyers be aware of? What are the pros and cons and common problems?

  • 5-star overall NHTSA crash test rating.
  • Affordable prices.
  • Agile handling and comfortable ride.
  • Maneuverable, easy to park.
  • Fuel economy: the 2012-2018 Sonic 1.4L turbo is rated at 28/38 mpg city/hwy.
  • Easy to work on DIY, many parts are not very expensive.
  • Engine and electrical problems.
  • Doesn't hold its value as good as some other compact cars.
  • Tight interior space.
Chevrolet Sonic Common Problems: Most of the problems are related to the engine and electrical systems. Cooling system problems and leaks, oil leaks are Check Engine light issues are common. It's a good car when it runs, but it will need some repairs here and there and some repairs could be costly. Keeping the engine oil and coolant levels topped up will help avoid some of the problems. Here are a few examples of the problems:

A failed PCV diaphragm in the valve cover or a missing intake manifold check valve can cause Check Engine light with codes P0171, P0106, excessive oil consumption, rough idle and other issues in the 1.4L turbo engine. The 1.8L also has problems with the PCV system. Check out this thread at for more details (the Cruze and the Sonic share the same engines). The GM service bulletin PIP5197 provides the technical information.
The code P1101 in the 2012-2013 1.4L turbo engine could be caused by a faulty PCV pipe as per the GM service bulletin PI0907B.
A faulty oil pressure switch may leak oil and cause the oil light to come on.
The water pump failures are mentioned by several owners.
2012 Chevrolet Sonic 2012 Chevrolet Sonic.
The GM service bulletin 14371A describes the issue with a leaking water pump in the 2012-2014 Sonic with a 1.4L engine. According to the bulletin, the coverage for the leaking water pump has been extended to 10 years or 150,000 miles; the solution is to replace the water pump. If out of warranty, the water pump replacement may cost from $480 to $690.

A leaking plastic water outlet has also been reported. The part is not very expensive and takes about an hour to replace.
Suspension problems are frequent too, including bad sway bar links and struts.
Overall, the 1.8L Ecotec seems less troublesome, while the 1.4L turbo requires more frequent attention and maintenance.

Chevy Sonic Summary: The Sonic is a good-looking small car that is fun to drive. However, it will need some repairs outside of regular maintenance. If you have Chevy Sonic, keep all the fluids and engine oil topped up. If you notice that the engine consumes oil, look into the repair options before the lack of oil causes more problems. Among similar cars, we would recommend Toyota Yaris or Honda Fit, both are very reliable.

Lineup: The Sonic is available as a 5-door hatchback or 4-door sedan.
The U.S. lineup consists of the base LS, popular LT and loaded LTZ trim levels. For the 2017, the Premier replaced LTZ.

Engines: Two Ecotec engines are available: the 138-hp 1.8L and the 138-hp 1.4L-turbo. These are the same engines as in the Chevrolet Cruze. The 1.8L is a solid motor but at higher mileage it will need some minor repairs here and there (leaks, intake issues, etc.), read more below.

The 1.4L is a bit more sensitive to overheating and other issues. Some of the problems may lead to excessive oil consumption; which means check the oil level regularly. Read also: Pros and cons of turbo engines.

Timing belt or timing chain: The 1.8L engine has a timing belt. According to the owner's manual for 2012 US Chevrolet Sonic, the timing belt in a 1.8L engine must be changed at 97,500 miles (156,000 km). Some owners change the timing belt earlier as a precaution. The 1.4L turbo engine uses a timing chain to drive the camshafts. The timing chain only needs to be changed if there is some issue with it.

Mechanical: The Sonic comes with a 6-speed automatic or a rare manual gearbox (5-speed manual with 1.8L and 6-speed manual with 1.4L turbo).
Chevrolet Sonic 1.8L Ecotec engine Chevrolet Sonic 1.8L Ecotec engine.
The Sonic has MacPherson struts in the front and a torsion-beam axle in the rear suspension; the steering is electrically powered.

Handling and ride: On the road, the Sonic is fun to drive. The ride is surprisingly quiet, although you will hear the engine on acceleration. The car handles very well for its size. According to Motor Trend, the 1.4L turbo Sonic with a six-speed manual transmission races from 0 to 60 mph in just 8.1 seconds.

Fuel Economy: The EPA rates the 2012 Sonic with the 1.4L-turbo engine and an auto transmission at 27/36 mpg city/highway. The 2012 1.8L Sonic with an automatic transmission is rated at 24/34 mpg. To help you save on gas, the Sonic's Driver Information Center displays the average fuel economy.

Safety: Standard safety equipment includes Antilock brakes and StabiliTrak® Electronic Stability Control System with Traction Control.
Chevrolet Sonic rear seat folded Chevrolet Sonic 5-door, rear seat folded down.
In the NHTSA crash tests, all 2012-2017 Sonic 5- and 4-door models scored five out of five stars overall rating, with 5 stars in the frontal and 5 stars in the side-impact crash tests. The Sonic also received a Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Similar cars:
2007-2008 Honda Fit
Chevrolet Cruze 2011-2015
Mazda 3 2010-2013
Mazda 3 2014-2018
Toyota Corolla 2009-2013
Toyota Corolla 2014-2018
Honda Civic 2012-2015

Interior: In line with other GM models, the Sonic has a dual-cockpit dashboard with matching front door panels. The small motorcycle-inspired instrument cluster looks original. There are two convenient pockets on both sides of the center console. The storage above the glove box will hold your phone as it hosts the second auxiliary input jack and an available USB port.

The Sonic's steering wheel tilts and telescopes. The front seats offer plenty of head- and legroom. The rear headroom is OK in the hatchback, but the legroom is tight. The rear seats fold down for extra cargo space. There is also a large cargo compartment under the cargo floor.

Chevrolet Sonic 5-door Chevrolet Sonic rear seat Storage compartment in the dash Chevy Sonic dashboard Chevy Sonic Gauges Chevy Sonic cabin Chevy Sonic storage compartment