2012 might have only just begun, but many subcompact car shoppers are eagerly awaiting the debut of the 2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS later this year. The Chevrolet Sonic RS is being positioned as performance-oriented edition of the domestic brand's newest subcompact offering, and this special trim level will be available exclusively on hatchback editions of the car.
What extras does the 2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS bring to the table when compared against the standard versions of the small hatch? Surprisingly, the Sonic RS shares its turbocharged, 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine with the optional unit found with the Sonic LT and LTZ. 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque are not intended to overwhelm drivers with speed, but the motor is definitely no slouch and General Motors elected not to mess with the efficient mill's mojo in the creation of the RS model.
Instead, the 2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS makes its mark in other areas. The RS comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission that features closer gear ratios in order to boost acceleration without compromising too much on fuel economy. An optional six-speed automatic is also available with the RS, and it makes use of a more aggressive final drive ratio to achieve the same zippy effect off of the line. Four-wheel disc brakes - a first for any Sonic trim level - are also found with the RS, and the vehicle's suspension has been lowered and tightened up in order to reduce body roll and give the hatchback a more aggressive stance. A sport-tuned exhaust system is also on hand to sweeten the Sonic RS' soundtrack at full throttle.
The remaining additions to the Chevrolet Sonic RS are largely cosmetic. The Sonic RS wears unique front and rear fascias, an RS-specific spoiler and side skirts. Five-spoke 17-inch wheels round out the most evident exterior changes. Inside the passenger compartment sport seats grip both forward occupants through the curves while a flat-bottom steering wheel, aluminum pedals and a special shift knob provide an additional premium touch to the automobile. Chevrolet decided not to skimp on the high tech goodies for the Sonic RS, with features such as Chevrolet MyLink (complete with seven-inch LCD touchscreen), Bluetooth integration and access to internet services such as Pandora all included free of charge.
Pricing for the Chevrolet Sonic RS has yet to be announced, but with the MSRP of the current Sonic ranging from $14,635 for the base model all the way up to $18,495 there is at least some clue as to how much the sportiest version of the hatchback will set buyers back. With that MSRP spread in mind, let's take a quick look at three subcompact cars that look to be the most direct competition for the 2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS and see how they stack up in comparison.
The 2012 Honda Fit Sport is intended to add a dash of cachet to the practical urban commuter car. The Honda Fit Sport hatchback falls short of the Chevrolet Sonic RS when it comes to horsepower - its 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine pushes out 117 horses and 106 lb-ft of torque - and it comes with one fewer forward gear for either its manual or automatic transmission. There's not doubt, however, that the Fit Sport represents a considerable upgrade over the standard model in terms of looks. The top of the line hatchback comes with a sleek body kit (including a rear spoiler and different front and rear bumpers), 16-inch alloy wheels and a chrome exhaust tip. Inside, the Sport adds a dash of chrome and metal trim while making available an optional voice-controlled navigation system and a few other entertainment focused features.
The 2012 Honda Fit Sport isn't a match for the 2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS in terms of handling upgrades, power or amenities, but its affordable MSRP of just under $17,000 continues to attract a strong following amongst subcompact buyers.
The 2012 Hyundai Veloster is an all-new, three-door subcompact hatchback that is specifically aimed at drivers looking to escape from the ordinary. The Hyundai Veloster doesn’t come in a special sport model but its aggressive, crotch-rocket motorcycle-inspired styling places it firmly in the 'hard to ignore' camp when contrasted against more pedestrian hatchback options.
Under the hood the 2012 Hyundai Veloster is gifted with a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder motor that matches the Sonic RS' 138 horsepower output but falls somewhat short in the torque department, checking in with 128 lb-ft of twist. The Veloster does benefit from the choice of either a traditional six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed dual-clutch automated manual, with the latter offering quicker gear shifts than the Sonic's torque converter autobox.
The 2012 Hyundai Veloster's high level of standard equipment, $17,300 base MSRP and comparable power make it a closer contender for the hearts and minds of would-be Sonic RS buyers than the Honda Fit Sport. That being said, the Veloster's three-door design (versus the four doors of both the Honda and the Chevrolet) might turn off some utility-focused buyers.
It might seem unusual to include the 2012 MINI Cooper on this shortlist of 2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS rivals, as it is typically considered a premium subcompact with a correspondingly higher price tag than that found on any domestic hatchback. It's true that at $19,500 the MINI Cooper represents a stretch of $1,000 over the most expensive edition of the Sonic RS, but in return drivers are rewarded with a willing, lightweight chassis that dips into corners with aplomb, along with a reasonable level of standard gear that keeps occupants comfortable.
The 2012 MINI Cooper pushes out 121 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque from a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine, putting it at a disadvantage to the turbocharged Sonic RS. A low-mass design has helped the Cooper remain spry off the line, however, and its six-speed manual transmission offers relatively short gear throws. A six-speed auto unit is also available for those not interested in shifting themselves.
The 2012 MINI Cooper is a must-drive for anyone considering the 2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS, if only as a benchmark for what can be achieved in the subcompact segment when it comes to handling, acceleration and overall refinement.