Editor's note: This review was written in August 2013 about the 2013 Chevrolet Sonic. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2014, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
The 2013 Chevrolet Sonic is a well-balanced car for not a lot of money, but the new RS trim level's engine and suspension tweaks fall far short of a driving enthusiast's expectations.
Buying a small car these days doesn't mean giving up much in terms of features. But what about performance? Chevrolet looks to answer that question for subcompact car shoppers with the new RS version of its Sonic hatchback.
The most significant change for the 2013 Sonic is the addition of the RS trim level, which comes only in hatchback form. You can read a review of the 2012 Sonic sedan and hatchback models here. Compare the 2012 and 2013 models side-by-side here.
For a photo gallery, click here.
Performance & Price
The main draw of buying a model like the RS is getting an extra dose of power and driving excitement.
Unfortunately, the RS doesn't offer more power than the more pedestrian Sonics, at least those equipped with the up-level, 138-horsepower, turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine. A fully loaded Sonic LTZ hatchback with a manual transmission costs $1,635 less than the RS, which costs $20,995, including destination charge.
What do you get for that extra money? There's a stiffened suspension that also lowers the car by 10 mm, four-wheel disc brakes and what Chevy calls more aggressive gear ratios.
Does that make the RS greater than the LTZ? Not really, and certainly not significantly enough to warrant the extra cash. The Sonic is short in length and somewhat tall, so it often exhibits unwanted body lean when taking hard corners. The modified suspension tries to lessen this, but there's no escaping the Sonic's overall dimensions.
The fact that the RS isn't a significant performance upgrade doesn't mean it isn't relatively fun to drive. You just have to remember what it is. It's a small hatchback that feels zippy, with a smooth manual shifter and a light clutch that make it a formidable daily driver that also gets excellent gas mileage. More than one of our editors saw mileage exceed 30 mpg in mixed driving. The RS is rated 27/34/30 mpg city/highway/combined.
However, because there are so few performance alterations it's surprising that the RS' mileage is in fact lower than that of the LTZ with the same engine; that car is rated 29/40/33 mpg city/highway/combined. We would have to test both back to back to see if the difference is that significant in real-world situations, but if you're buying a compact car more for efficiency than fun, the RS is a tough sell.
Ford has recently introduced a Fiesta ST — a high-performance variant of that compact. That model, at $22,195 including destination, costs $2,600 more than a top-level Fiesta Titanium. But Ford has a significantly more powerful engine in that car, which boasts 197 hp.
If the performance isn't worthy of its own trim level, Chevrolet sure went through great pains to make the RS look the part. It has a slew of exterior and interior tweaks to make it stand out.
The grille and front bumper are tweaked, there's a unique rear spoiler, added rocker molding, special 17-inch wheels, leather and microfiber seats, a stitched leather steering wheel and shifter, aluminum pedals and, of course, lots of RS badging inside and out.
Interior & Cargo Room
The more pedestrian Sonic trims have decent interior and cargo room, which doesn't change with the barrage of RS badging.
Interior volume is rated at 90 cubic feet and is spacious for the driver and front passenger, with a tall greenhouse for plenty of headroom.
The backseat is competitive in this class, and at 19 cubic feet the cargo area is extremely competitive. I was able to fit large bags of mulch without having to resort to folding the rear seats forward. Doing so expands cargo space to 47.7 cubic feet, which competes admirably against the Fiesta, Hyundai Accent and Mazda2. You can compare all four here.
The Sonic is a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, scoring the top mark of Good in front, side and rear crash tests, as well as roof strength. A new small-overlap test has not yet been performed (see the details).
Both the hatchback and the sedan versions of the Sonic earned a five-star overall crash rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
There are 10 standard airbags, including knee airbags for the driver and front passenger. Seat-mounted side-impact airbags are also included for both front and rear occupants.
Sonic RS in the Market
The market for go-fast compacts is not a booming one, and the RS doesn't go much faster than its pedestrian siblings. The extras don't seem worth the money for performance, but perhaps the package price will attract buyers looking for the practicality of the Sonic with a little extra styling flash.
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