Chevrolet’s resurgence in the small car segment has been well documented via the praise heaped on vehicles like the compact Chevrolet Cruze and the subcompact Chevrolet Sonic, especially in comparison to the bland models that came before them. One area where Chevrolet has yet to make a splash, however, has been in the small car performance scene. Although competitors such as Honda and Ford have pushed forward hot hatches and coupes of their own, Chevrolet has stayed on the sidelines until now with the impending debut of the 2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS hatchback. We recently had the chance to pilot the new Sonic RS along some challenging Californian roads, and we came away with a strong impression that someone at General Motors is taking the concerns of those seeking an affordable, sporty car quite seriously.
Not Fast, But Fun
The most important thing to keep in mind when evaluating the 2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS is that the vehicle isn’t intended as a factory hot rod. From a drivetrain perspective, the Sonic RS maintains the same turbocharged engine offered as an option with both standard versions of the sedan and the hatch. This is certainly not a bad thing, as the 1.4-liter, four-cylinder unit delivers 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque while returning excellent fuel economy figures. It does mean, however, that the Sonic RS is not going to be dueling it out with the likes of the Ford Focus ST or the Mazda MAZDASPEED3 for quarter mile dominance.
Instead of emphasizing straight-line speed, the guiding philosophy behind the development of the Chevrolet Sonic RS was to gather together all of the performance-enhancing elements that owners had been seeking in the aftermarket and provide them in a single attractively-styled and factory backed package. Consequently, most of the changes made to the Sonic via the introduction of the RS model have to do with addressing how the car drives, rather than adding additional grunt under the hood.
One of the most noticeable improvements can be found under the car’s chassis, where a revised suspension system adds stiffness and lowers the car by 10 mm. Combined with the vehicle’s 17-inch rims and tires, the overall effect is to dramatically improve the road-holding ability of the small hatchback. We were unable to generate anything other than a small push of understeer when throwing the Sonic RS back and forth on the narrow switchback’s surrounding San Rafael, California, and the car’s flat handling and eagerness to turn in are welcome additions to what was already a competent platform. The inclusion of disc brakes at all four wheels is another selling point for anyone considering taking their Sonic RS to the track, as no other Sonic trim level offers anything other than drums out back.
The Sonic RS – when outfitted with the available six-speed manual transmission – has also seen its individual gear ratios tweaked in order to better take advantage of the turbocharged engine’s powerband. Automatic-equipped RS models feature a more aggressive final drive ratio. The manual tranny Sonic RS we drove did a good job of making the car feel quick, but we were disappointed by how the revs would hang in the higher register in between gear shifts.
Dressed Up To Show Off
The exterior of the 2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS has been given a once-over so as to make it more appealing to the compact performance fans it courts. A unique grille, sporty-looking front and rear bumper treatments (with fog lamps nestled into the former), a shiny exhaust tip, and of course RS badging are all present and accounted for, and they do a good job of adding character to the hatchback’s curves. Four different colors are offered with the car – red, black, white, and grey – and its rear spoiler and rocker panels are also different than those found on the base model.
The passenger compartment features well-bolstered leather sport seats up front, more RS stamping throughout the cabin, and the inclusion of Chevrolet’s MyLink touchscreen entertainment and communications interface as standard equipment. MyLink provides more than a touch of upscale feel in such an affordable car, and it offers a reasonably intuitive interface for connecting mobile phones and other devices to the vehicle via Bluetooth. There’s no navigation system available per se with the Sonic RS, but a navigation app can be used in conjunction with a phone and the hatch’s seven-inch LCD screen. Aluminum pedals and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob round out the interior upgrades.
For those interested in adding some, but not all of the RS edition’s performance gear or visual flair, Chevrolet will eventually be offering the ability to order the regular Sonic with packages that include suspension, body, and interior upgrades.
A Compelling Package
The original edition of the Chevrolet Sonic certainly wasn’t dull to drive, but the 2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS comes across as a more complete, enthusiast-oriented vehicle. Yes, there are faster hatchbacks out there, but Chevrolet isn’t trying to conquer the world with the RS – it simply wants to engage drivers on a more direct level through snazzier styling and a better driving experience. In this respect, the Sonic RS is a success: fun to drive without asking buyers to tolerate a rough ride, and still as practical as the model on which it is based.
Photos courtesy of Benjamin Hunting.