2014 Chevrolet Sonic RS Sedan First Test
Being in the Back of the Pack Can Be Fun, Too
The 2014 Chevrolet Sonic RS sedan clearly has sporting aspirations -- you can see that as soon as you look at it. The subcompact four-door has a sportier front fascia, side, and rear aero stylings, a lowered stance, and tasteful but clear RS badging. Inside, the feel comes from black leather seats -- with microfiber inserts -- that have red contrast stitching, as do the steering wheel and the signature floormats.
But the subcompact performance market (Ford Fiesta ST, pricier Mini Hardtop Cooper S, Fiat 500 Abarth) is pretty competitive. So we spent some time in a manual-transmission Sonic RS to see how engaging it is to drive and what value it offers.
The mechanical upgrades on the RS are singularly aimed at improving road handling, which isn’t shabby to begin with in lower-trim Sonics. The RS gets a sport-tuned suspension and disc brakes fitted with 17-inch aluminum wheels, and it sits a half-inch lower than other Sonics.
Drivers will immediately notice that the view through the enormous windshield is fabulous, and glass stretches almost the entire side of the car until the C-pillar gets in the way. The car feels a bit Spartan, with little up-front storage for phones and such, but it’s not supposed to be a luxury experience. Our RS with a six-speed manual starts at $21,150 including destination charge. Add a $325 Advanced Safety Package and you get forward collision alert and lane-departure warning.
Even though the seats are adjusted manually (yes, a first-world problem) it’s easy for the driver to find a commanding position.
Driving the 2014 Chevrolet Sonic RS is a gratifying, engaging experience. The steering is a real find for this class. It’s very well-weighted, giving good feedback without transmitting so much that it would be burdensome on long trips. And you wouldn’t call the shifter short-throw by any means, but neither is it a giant lever as in a school bus. It’s fun. Easy-to-find gates lead to a soft “thunk” when you land them.
The performance-look pedals are spaced well for heel-and-toe braking on downshifts. The 1.4-liter turbo I-4, with 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque, likes to rev, and the gears are more closely spaced than on other Sonics, so to keep up with quick-moving traffic (it exists sometimes in L.A.) the driver must put in some work. If I were Chevrolet I’d include an option to turn off the “hey, buddy, it’s time to shift” indicator, as it’s clearly programmed for efficiency and demands shifts far too early in the rev. That seems especially wrong for a car with such sporting aspirations.
Are they hollow aspirations? Let’s see: The 2825-pound Sonic RS made it to 60 mph in 8.7 seconds. That’s light-years away from America’s hot hatch of the moment, the Ford Fiesta ST, which speeds to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds. The far more expensive Mini Hardtop Cooper S is a shade quicker still at 6.3 seconds. The more utilitarian Honda Fit we last tested in 2012 (we haven’t yet tested the 2015 Fit) made the run via its manual five-speed in 8.4 seconds.
The Sonic’s 0-60 time isn’t bad for such a tiny engine, but if driving feel wasn’t as good as it is, it would be creeping into “feels like slow” territory. The Sonic RS continued on to the quarter mile in 16.4 seconds with a trap speed of 83.8 mph. It stopped from 60 mph in 118 feet, a respectable distance.
Around our figure-eight test, which tests limit handling and transitional handling, the Sonic RS was clocked at 27.8 seconds at 0.61 g (average). That’s about dead in the middle of all cars we’ve ever tested. Also about average: The EPA fuel economy of 27/34 mpg city/hwy (2015 Fiesta ST gets 26/35 mpg while the manual-transmission 2015 500 Abarth is good for 28/34 mpg).
Despite the joy to be had flinging the Sonic RS around freeway ramps and mountain roads, the ride is compliant enough to be comfortable in everyday driving on L.A.’s battered commuter roads. And that’s something some pricey sports sedans don’t do all that well.
Also comfortable: The Sonic RS dash layout. The MyLink screen (it’s a respectable 7 inches on RS models only) is within easy reach and has intuitive controls. It’s Bluetooth compatible, with Pandora streaming radio and voice-command capability. The gauge cluster (cluster might be an overstatement) was, Chevrolet says, inspired by motorcycles. It has easy-to-see digital readouts for everything except the tachometer, which is the familiar analog dial.
Another surprising bonus of the Sonic RS: The trunk. Since most of the other sporty subcompacts are hatchbacks, you’d think the Sonic wouldn’t stand out when it comes to cargo. But the 14.9-cubic-foot trunk feels enormous. No, it’s not as versatile as the hatch with its 19.0 cubic feet of cargo capacity with the rear seats in place, but it offers plenty of utility.
The Ford Fiesta ST, which only comes as a manual and with a hatch, starts at $21,740 for 2015. Its performance is clearly better, but some might prefer the tamer ride of the Sonic RS for daily commutes. If the price being so close to the ST is bothersome, you could always drop down to a Sonic LTZ manual, which for 2014 starts at $18,915 with the turbo 1.4-liter I-4 and a manual transmission. It wouldn’t be as performance-oriented, but you’d still be rowing your own gears.
Writing for our 2013 Best Driver’s Car competition, associate editor Scott Evans said there are “two kinds of car people: numbers people and experience people.” The former might overlook the Sonic RS. The latter will be having fun flogging Chevrolet’s, er, hot trunk around a curve somewhere.
|2014 Chevrolet Sonic RS Sedan|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$21,475|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||1.4L/138-hp/148-lb-ft turbo I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||2825 lb (61/39%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||159.0 x 68.3 x 59.3 in|
|0-60 MPH||8.7 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||16.7 sec @ 83.8 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||118 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.86 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.8 sec @ 0.61 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||27/34 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||125/99 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.66 lb/mile|