One of General Motors' true "world cars," the Chevrolet Sonic has arrived in range-topping RS form for a little added sportiness. A Korean-born derivative of the late and not so lamented Chevy Aveo, Sonic is now built at GM factories worldwide, but until now it has lacked some of the flair we wanted to see.
Enter the RS, which grabs its nomenclature from GM's heritage department.
Varying styles and competitors.
The standard Sonic is available in four-door, three-box sedan versions, but the RS is exclusively available as a five-door hatchback. Whenb the non-RS hatch became available last year, it felt right at home as the vehicle of choice for an urban dweller or a new car for first-time buyers. We've long been impressed by its refinement and perceived quality, but it wasn't as fun to drive as rivals from Hyundai, Ford and Mazda.
With the appearance of the RS version, enthusiasts are breathing a sigh of relief that they weren’t excluded from the mix. And the mix is quite stout indeed. Competitors in this segment include the Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Toyota Yaris and Kia Rio, although at this point, none offer a dedicated performance model, although admittedly the RS isn't quite a Sonic SS either.
This Sonic RS includes nearly everything, save for a sunroof ($850) as standard. Leather seating surfaces, and a leather-wrapped, flat-bottomed steering wheel offer comfort and control inside, while custom 17-inch wheels and select performance design cues offer road-going style at the other extreme. Chevrolet even includes MyLink, their standard stereo and Bluetooth system, which incorporates smartphone-based navigation into the mix.
That’s not saying it’s perfect though. There is a little too much in the way of cheap-looking hard plastic instead of the more desired soft-touch material that these days, seem to be working its way into all levels and segments.
The little engine that could
Ordered in standard trim, the Sonic is equipped with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine producing 135 horsepower and 125 lb-ft of torque. That would be for regular, which the RS is clearly not. Does that make it irregular? Instead, our Sonic RS includes the 1.4-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder Ecotec engine that was previously available with the higher trim level cars.
Making 138 horsepower at 4,900 rpm, and 148 lb-ft of twist at 2,500 rpm, it transmits power to the front wheels through the RS’s six-speed manual transmission, which we tried during our half hour with the car. For those with an aversion to shifters, a Hydra-Matic 6T40 six-speed is available at an added cost. Mileage stands at a decent 29/40 mpg with the manual.
This unibody five-seater is suspended by a lowered (10 mm) ride and handling package that offers a sportier take on a five-door econobox. The Sonic RS relies upon a MacPherson strut front suspension with coil springs and stabilizer bar, and a compound link rear suspension with gas-charged shocks and semi-independent V-shaped torsion beam axle. Together, the kit would hardly be considered groundbreaking stuff, but in this application, it seems to work well enough.
We found the RS’s steering to be good at center and then slightly numb when off center. Steering feel gradually picks up again. It displayed nice handling in the corners, but sometimes became a bit darty, probably due to its shorter wheelbase.
We felt the noise was relatively well controlled for a small four banger—unless you really squeezed it, at which time it tended to yelp like a cat in heat. The gearbox offered slightly longish throws, not entirely unfamiliar in this segment. Its seats have lots of cushioning and bounce along as though you are in a trucker’s big rig seat.
Leftlane's bottom line:
Power to the people. Well maybe not so much power, but the Chevrolet Sonic RS is still an attractive and fun to drive car hiding in an econobox body.
2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS base price, $20,995.
Words and photos by Mark Elias.