2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS Road Test and Review: Introduction
Historically, an “RS” badge applied to a Chevrolet meant upgraded cosmetics, not mechanicals. That’s largely the case for the new 2013 Chevy Sonic RS, a “performance-inspired” new version of the Sonic 5-door hatchback that looks good and offers an extra dose of fun-to-drive.
The Sonic debuted last year to accolades from the media and from owners, who told J.D. Power and Associates that the diminutive new Chevy was the most appealing model in its class. The Sonic, built right here in the good old U. S. of A., replaced the drab Aveo in Chevy’s lineup, serving as the company’s entry-level model until the new Spark arrived for 2013. Once the Sonic arrived in showrooms, Chevrolet shot from last place to key contender in the sub-compact car market.
The Sonic offers the same engines as the larger and heavier Chevy Cruze, and provides its young, perpetually “connected” target owner base with available Chevy MyLink technology, which helps them to keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel. Top-notch crash-test ratings help to protect those youthful, relatively inexperienced drivers against injury in a collision.
Key competitors include the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Mazda 2, Nissan Versa, and Toyota Yaris. Among these models, the Honda Fit Sport, Kia Rio SX, and Toyota Yaris SE are sporty variants that take a similar approach to performance as the Chevrolet Sonic RS. Starting next year, however, a new 2014 Ford Fiesta ST model arrives with genuine sport mini-compact credentials.
The 2013 Chevrolet Sonic lineup includes a 4-door sedan and a 5-door hatchback offered in LS, LT, and LTZ trim levels. The RS model is exclusive to the Sonic Hatchback.
Changes to create the Sonic RS include a stiffer and lowered suspension to improve handling, modified transmission ratios to quicken acceleration, and 4-wheel-disc brakes to upgrade braking. Otherwise, the RS is essentially a loaded Sonic with unique front and rear styling tweaks, special aluminum wheels, and a nicer interior with leather seats and standard Chevy MyLink technology. An automatic transmission and a power sunroof are the only options for the Sonic RS.
My Victory Red Sonic RS test car, equipped with the standard manual gearbox, did not have the extra-cost sunroof. The sticker price was $20,995 including the $810 destination charge.2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS Road Test and Review: Design
- Restyled bumpers
- Sport-design grille
- Black mirror caps
- Rocker panel moldings
- Revised rear spoiler
- Polished exhaust outlet
- 17-inch 5-spoke Midnight Silver wheels
- Unique Jet Black interior
- Flat-bottom sport steering wheel
- Aluminum pedals
The Chevy Sonic 5-door is a stylish and attractive vehicle in a class historically devoid of style or appeal. Staggered headlights scowl from either side of an oversized grille equipped with an unabashedly large Chevy bow-tie badge. Key character lines sweep rearward to a tidy tail with vertically stacked round taillights that mimic the relationship of the horizontally arranged headlights, the rear door handles are deftly integrated into the trailing edge of the rear window frames, and the rear wheels are pushed out to the corners.
Starting with this basis, the Sonic RS adds just the right amount of visual aggression. Modifications include a redesigned front bumper with different fog lights, a honeycomb grille insert that matches the rear diffuser panel, 5-spoke Midnight Silver aluminum wheels, black mirror caps, a new rear bumper, and a polished exhaust outlet. Chevy offers Summit White, Cyber Gray, Victory Red, and Black Granite paint colors for the Sonic RS.
Inside, materials are exactly as might be expected of a $20,000 sub-compact car, but the hard plastic surfaces are textured to complement one another and colored to please the eye. The quality of the steering wheel, leather upholstery with suede inserts, and thick floor mats with red piping exceeds expectations at this price point, and the unexpected rubber inserts for some of the Sonic’s storage areas are a pleasant surprise. I should also point out the level of refinement with which the vents operate, which is exceptional for such an inexpensive vehicle.2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS Road Test and Review: Comfort and Cargo
- Leather seats with RS logos
My family used the Sonic RS as a daily driver, and while the car isn’t exactly roomy inside, comfort levels are unexpectedly good. I’m 6’0” with a 33-inch pants inseam, and I was able to adjust the heated and height-adjustable driver’s seat to a proper position behind the high-quality, thick-rimmed, leather-wrapped, flat-bottomed, tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel.
With the driver’s seat set to my comfort, I could sit in the rear seat in relative painlessness. Foot room is plentiful, and the rear seat itself is comfortable. Leg and knee room are very tight, requiring full contact with the front seatback, but because it is soft and padded, this isn’t as uncomfortable as it sounds.
If the Sonic RS commits a cabin fail, it is with regard to its 19 cubic-foot trunk. First, it sure doesn’t look like 19 cu.-ft. when you pop the rear hatch. Second, the only way I could get our compact travel stroller wedged into the cargo area was to remove the cargo cover and let the stroller’s handles rest on the plastic shelf where it met the rear roof pillar. It left scratches.
Additionally, the location of the LATCH anchors on the rear seatbacks precluded use of the cargo cover because the bulky child safety seat strap releases, when tightened, sat right in the same spot where the cargo cover required clearance for proper installation.
So yeah, maybe the Sonic RS is not the best kid-carrier in the world, which is too bad given the Sonic’s impressive crash-test ratings. Parents might instead wish to consider the Sonic LTZ Sedan, which is equipped with a 14.9 cu.-ft. trunk that’s as big as a midsize sedan’s.2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS Road Test and Review: Features and Controls
- Standard Chevrolet MyLink technology
With big, vibrant graphics combined with a simple and responsive 7-inch touchscreen display, the Sonic RS model’s standard Chevy MyLink smartphone connectivity system is a refreshing departure from often complicated, unresponsive, or visually displeasing infotainment systems. The touch commands don’t require the same level of precision and accuracy as the technology employed by some competitors, and the system’s simplistic, intuitive design is reminiscent of an iPhone or iPad.
That said, MyLink remains a distraction – less so that some other vehicles, but a distraction nonetheless.
Overall, the Sonic’s interior is stylish, adding just right amounts of “special” and “different” to capture the interest of the car’s target buyer. Some people might like the asymmetrical gauge cluster, comprised of an analog tachometer and a digital speedometer with an information display, but I’m not a fan. It seems contrived and superfluous where a matching analog speedometer and central digital information display would work better.2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS Road Test and Review: Safety and Ratings
- No safety-related changes to announce
Here’s a fun fact about the 2013 Chevy Sonic: it has 10 standard airbags. That’s impressive, and definitely contributes to the car’s excellent crash-test protection ratings.
If any of those airbags deploys during the first six months of ownership, the complimentary OnStar Directions & Connections service springs into action, putting a live operator in touch with the Sonic’s occupants to check on them. Even if nobody inside the Sonic can respond, the operator can send emergency personnel to the Sonic’s exact location to help speed rescue. After the free trial period, Directions & Connections service incurs a monthly charge.
Additionally, the Sonic RS is equipped with 4-wheel-disc anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, traction control, stability control, and hill start assist. The hill start assist system came in handy at Casa de Wardlaw, which has a driveway incline.
2013 Chevrolet Sonic Crash-Test Ratings:
According to the NHTSA, the 2013 Chevrolet Sonic receives an overall crash-test rating of 5 stars out of a possible 5 stars. Except for resistance to rollover, for which it gets a 4-star rating, the Sonic achieved the top rating in every one of the NHTSA’s frontal- and side-impact assessments.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) calls the 2013 Chevy Sonic a “Top Safety Pick” for it’s top rated performance in frontal-, side-, and rear-impact tests and in the roof crush strength test.
It is also worth keeping in mind that a Chevy Sonic RS weighs 2,811 pounds, making it one of the heavier vehicles in its class, and more crash compatible with larger vehicles.2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS Road Test and Review: Engines and Fuel Economy
- Stiffer, lower suspension
- More aggressive gear ratios (manual)
- Revised final drive ratio (automatic)
The Chevy Sonic RS is equipped with the same turbocharged, 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine that’s offered in the bigger and heavier Chevy Cruze, so it naturally feels more responsive in this application. A 6-speed manual transmission that is specific to this model is standard equipment, with a 6-speed automatic transmission optional.
Making 138 horsepower at 4,900 rpm and 148 lb-ft. of torque beginning at 2,500 rpm (1,850 rpm with the optional automatic), the Sonic RS model’s engine offers satisfactory acceleration and response, though buyers focused too much on the “Turbo” and “RS” badges might be disappointed. Without driving a Sonic RS back-to-back with a standard Sonic LTZ Turbo, it’s difficult to ascertain the effectiveness of the RS model’s more aggressive transmission ratios on acceleration.
The Sonic RS is equipped with stiffer shocks and a suspension that’s lowered 10mm. A set of 4-wheel-disc brakes is swapped in to replace the front-disc, rear-drum setup on other Sonic models, and the Sonic RS is equipped with 17-inch aluminum wheels wearing P205/50R17 Hankook Optimo all-season tires.
Fuel economy estimates for my Sonic RS test car, equipped with the manual gearbox, are 27 mpg in the city, 34 mpg on the highway, and 30 mpg in combined driving. I averaged 26.9 mpg in a mix of city, highway, and mountain driving.2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS Road Test and Review: Driving Impressions
I like this 1.4-liter turbocharged engine, and I think the Sonic is a better application for it than the larger and more popular Cruze. It supplies just enough power to ensure that the Sonic RS doesn’t become a rolling traffic cone when leading the pack away from an intersection, combined with satisfying mid-range thrust.
That said, the 6-speed manual gearbox is often displeasing, exhibiting vague, long throws. I found it consistently difficult to find 5th gear, and tried with little success to improve clutch modulation between 1st and 2nd gears. I would gladly trade the Sonic RS model’s sport suspension components for an improved gearbox.
Such a statement is easier to make when you understand that the Sonic RS model’s sport suspension doesn’t really feel sporty. The suspension has plenty of compliance dialed in, and it rolls to some degree when tossing the Sonic into turns, but neither trait is necessarily a negative because the ride quality is impressive and the extra lean in corners helps to keep the driver well within the meager level of stick supplied by the P205/50R17 Hankook Optimo tires.
On positive notes, the tires are quiet and communicative about approaching handling limits, the 4-wheel-disc brakes are effective, and the electric steering offers perfect levels of effort and response.
Around town, the Sonic RS is at its best, soaking up pavement irregularities, squirting through traffic, and jauntily whipping into parking slots. On a favorite back road, the car displays competency but lacks connectedness, feeling like it could be giving more with bigger wheels, better tires, a tauter suspension, and a decent gearbox. On the highway, I was regularly surprised to discover how slow I was going. That’s right. I said slow. For whatever reason, the Sonic doesn’t encourage speed, which is just as well.
Basically, the Sonic RS looks faster than it is, and doesn’t really encourage speedy driving, which is advisable for what is likely to be a youthful owner base already paying fairly high insurance premiums.2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS Road Test and Review: Final Thoughts
If this review is tinged with a touch of negativity, blame it on the Sonic’s “RS” badge, which ought to stand for “Revised Styling” instead of “Rally Sport.”
Viewed through the Revised Styling lens, this is an impressive package with good looks, great crash-test scores, and plenty of amenities at an affordable price point. I’m also a big fan of the latest edition of Chevy MyLink, which is simple to use and graphically pleasing.
Viewed through the Rally Sport lens, the Sonic RS is a dynamically competent machine but lacking in the kind of engagement and communication that people who enjoy driving might expect from the RS badge. The chassis feels like it has more to give, like it could handle a little more horsepower and torque, 18-inch wheels, performance-oriented tires, and a better transmission.
In summary, the Sonic RS could be a budget GTI. Instead, Chevy takes the classic “stripes and decals” approach here, but instead of actual stripes and decals, the key reasons to pay extra for the Sonic RS are related to its nice-looking wheels, leather seats, and standard MyLink technology. Given the Sonic’s mission within the Chevrolet lineup, maybe that’s not necessarily a bad approach.2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS Road Test and Review: Pros and Cons
- Attractive styling
- Affordable price
- Practical design
- Outstanding crash-test ratings
- Simple and easy Chevy MyLink technology
- Tight rear seat
- Small trunk
- Unimpressive fuel economy
- A “B” student with “A” potential
Chevrolet supplied the vehicle for this review
2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS photos by Christian Wardlaw