An orange 2020 Chevy Spark is driving on a city street after leaving a Chevy dealership.

Chevrolet Subcompacts – the Spark and Sonic

Today cars are becoming larger and more expensive, and a short tour of any dealership’s lot will quickly confirm this. The average price of new vehicles sold in 2019 was approaching $40,000, and large pickup trucks and SUVs are outselling traditional sedans and hatchbacks by a wide margin. But before you give up on finding an affordable new car and start searching the used market, take a moment to consider the latest subcompact cars from Chevrolet. These small and budget-friendly vehicles now offer the utility and feature set formerly associated with compact cars and represent excellent value. If you are not convinced, take a moment to visit your local Chevy dealership and give them a spin.

Although often neglected by American shoppers looking for the largest vehicles their money can buy, the subcompact segment dominates foreign markets. A smaller vehicle is not only more affordable, but it will be easier to drive in traffic, can fit into tighter parking spaces, will take up less space in your garage or driveway, and will get better fuel mileage. Although these advantages may not jump out to you on paper or when you take a subcompact for a test drive at your Chevy dealership, they are the sort of things that make living with your car less of a burden.

A smaller car does not necessarily mean a cramped or underpowered car either. The Chevy Sonic, for instance, offers as much trunk space as the Chevy Cruze, and both cars have 1.4L turbocharged engines. The interior room is also extremely close in every dimension except the legroom of the rear seat, but neither car is really something you should be considering if you expect to often carry passengers back there.

2020 Chevy Spark

A pink 2020 Chevy Spark is parked in front of a cafe.

The smallest car you will find at a Chevy dealership is the Chevy Spark. Although technically this car is a minicompact, it is commonly grouped into the subcompact category. The current generation of the Chevy Spark was introduced for 2016 and is a two-door hatchback with an overall length of just 143-inches. The Spark seats four, but the two doors mean that the rear seats are really only there for the very occasional use. However, the rear seats fold down with a 60/40 split, giving the Spark an impressive 27.2 cubic feet of cargo space. The Spark is available in four different trims (LS, 1LT, 2LT, and ACTIV), and is one of the few cars on the market that can still be had with either an automatic or a manual transmission in every trim.

As would be expected of such a small vehicle, the fuel mileage of the Chevy Spark is excellent and averages 30 MPG in the city and 38 MPG on the highway. While the engine of this car is far from the most powerful, its light weight means that the acceleration and top speed of the Spark are actually similar to those of many other Chevy cars and SUVs.

Despite its small size, you will not be compromising your safety in a Chevy Spark. With no fewer than ten airbags, it has earned an IIHS “Good” rating in both the side and moderate overlap front crash tests. As with all modern cars, the Chevy Spark has electronic stability control, electronic traction control, a backup camera, and an automatic tire pressure monitoring system. Even more advanced electronic driver aids are available on the top 2LT trim, including automatic emergency braking, forward collision alert, lane departure warning, and rear park assist. In reality, the Spark may well be safer than a larger car because the Spark’s low price means that you can afford to include all of the optional safety equipment.

Standard interior features on all trims of the Spark include a 7-inch color touchscreen with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, a pair of USB data ports, and a 4G LTE wireless hotspot. However, if you want power windows, remote door locks, and cruise control, then you will have to upgrade from the base LS trim (this will also get you a 6-speaker audio system with satellite radio instead of the base 4-speaker setup). The top 2LT trim will further add heated seats, keyless start and entry, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, making for a rather attractive package.

Pricing for the 2020 Chevy Spark starts at an incredibly low $13,220, making it a new car that anyone could afford. However, it should be noted that that price is for the barebones LS trim with a manual transmission. A more realistic price tag would be around $17,000 for the 1LT trim with an automatic transmission (though if you opt for the manual, you can get the 1LT trim for around $15,000). But even this higher price represents an amazing value when you consider that the larger Chevy Malibu with similar features sitting next to it on the Chevy dealership lot starts at $22,095 and will cost more to operate.

2020 Chevy Sonic

A silver 2020 Chevy Sonic is driving past stone buildings.

If the Spark is too small for you, there is another subcompact option waiting for you at your Chevy dealership––the 2020 Chevy Sonic. This versatile vehicle is a particularly good choice as it is available both as a practical hatchback and as a more stylish sedan. In hatchback form, the Sonic is 160-inches in length and has up to 47.4 cu.ft. of cargo space with its rear seats folded. The Sonic sedan is 174-inches in length and has 14.9 cu.ft. of trunk space. But no matter which version you choose, you will get seating for five and the same set of modern features

Unlike the Spark, the Sonic is only available with an automatic transmission. The turbocharged engine is also roughly 50% more powerful; however, the Sonic is heavier, so the performance gains are more modest than that number might suggest. This performance comes at the price of worse gas mileage, with the Sonic averaging 26 MPG in the city and 34 MPG on the highway. Still, when combined with the Sonic’s four doors and more mainstream looks, the Sonic is an overall more attractive package than its smaller sibling.

The Sonic comes in three trims (LS, LT, and Premier), but the base LS trim is only available on the sedan. The base trim is also not as stripped down as the base trim on the Spark, coming standard with amenities such as remote keyless entry and steering wheel mounted controls in addition to all of the features found on the Spark (although you will still have to deal with manual windows and a 4-speaker sound system). The higher trims on the Sonic are also somewhat better equipped than those on the Spark, offering luxury options such as a heated steering wheel, a remote start system, and a power sunroof. Fully optioned, the Sonic compares well to most of the larger vehicles on the Chevy dealership lot.

However, pricing for the Sonic reflects its somewhat better feature set and starts at $16,720 for the base trim sedan. The LT sedan increases that to $18,620, while the LT hatchback is a bit higher at $19,420. The top trim with all the options (including the sport suspension and exhaust) can reach into the $25,000 range. But even those prices are still a couple of thousand dollars less than a similarly equipped Chevy Cruze.