ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: You know how when you accidentally shrink a sweater in the wash, it's not always a proportional downsizing? The Sonic sedan is a little bit like that. It's a larger sedan shrunk down, but not all its parts shrunk down by the same amount. It shares its tall, narrow proportions with the Ford Fiesta sedan.
It's dorky, but in a kind of endearing way. It would look funny in a petite garage next to a new Trax, the Sonic's platform-mate. I'm smiling just thinking about it.
Whether you like the looks or would prefer the hatch, though, you're going to get the same 1.4-liter turbocharged performance on this RS-trimmed car as we did on the LT-trimmed model we tested late last year. That's not a bad thing: The 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque are more than adequate to get the little car moving in a drama- and lag-free manner. The shifter isn't crisp, but it also seemed less beat than the one in the previous RS.
The infotainment system might be a curveball for you. It's the Chevy MyLink system, which uses your smartphone for functions like navigation. There are a few areas where I think this could be improved. Switching between navigation and audio and back, for example, requires multiple inputs on a touchscreen (there are no dedicated navigation/audio buttons as on most systems). Adding a cluster of commonly used icons (navigation, audio and climate control) at the top of the touchscreen would greatly simplify the majority of operations. GM products already include this on some systems.
Still, I think this sort of system is the way of the future. Why pay extra for a navigation system when you carry one in your pocket?
(Full disclosure: I use an Android phone, and Chevy supplied an iPhone for testing purposes. I haven't attempted Android integration, but I will next time I have the chance.)
So no real complaints about what this fairly pleasant, affordable, frugal and (from what I can tell), versatile vehicle is. Instead, I feel like Chevrolet missed an opportunity to create something with more of a punch -- a truly hot hatch. Er, sedan. Sedan/hatch. Thing.
What, exactly, does the RS badge get you that you can't get in a Sonic LTZ? Supposedly, the final drive ratio is quicker and the car sits slightly lower than normal on sport-tuned suspension. But that's about it. The engine, while not underwhelming (especially at an observed 27.8 mpg) could really use a kick in the ass. This is supposed to be a sporty trim, right?
A comparably equipped Ford Fiesta ST is going to cost you a few thousand more, but it's a genuine hot hatch. Perhaps Chevy crunched the numbers and figured that goosing this little 1.4-liter mill enough to compete with the Fiesta ST's 197 hp and very accessible 202 lb-ft of torque wasn't feasible -- I just don't know.
I think there's still room for a truly sporty take on this particular platform, should the Bowtie feel compelled to create one. As it stands, you're still getting more features -- and more enjoyment -- out of this $21,000 RS than you will out of any of the comparably priced Nissan Versa and Toyota Yaris.
EXECUTIVE EDITOR RORY CARROLL: Boy, hatches never get better looking when you turn them into sedans -- it's a recipe for styling awkwardness. But, I suppose I wasn't expecting this 2014 Chevrolet Sonic RS sedan to be beautiful anyway. Those weirdo headlights are more than up to the job of muddling the sharp-ish styling of the hatch, so the sedan never really had a chance. I see what Chevy was going for with the lamps, and I appreciate the desire to do something novel, but the Sonic wears a permanent look of dopey frustration that's hard to ignore.
Having driven the Sonic RS hatch about a year before, I was expecting the sedan to be entertaining, and it didn't disappoint in that respect. It's not a Volkswagen GTI/Ford Fiesta RS-competitor -- it just doesn't have the guts, chassis or brakes to really get up and sprint like those cars do. Maybe Chevy will build an SS version that is capable of running with the Ford and VW. They did it with the Cobalt and that thing was awful.
Graham's right, the shifter wasn't great, but it's a manual, so I'm not going to complain too much. It's not exactly slow though, and it's sprung softly enough that there's a little drama at your fingertips well before you've started to approach illegal speeds. If you can ignore the Fiesta RS and GTI, you'll find yourself having fun hooning the Chevy.
EDITOR WES RAYNAL: I prefer the Sonic as a hatchback, but that's really it as far as my complaints go. For $21K -- especially considering the Sonic replaces the weak Aveo -- there's a lot to like here.
Such as? For starters, it's fun to drive -- a huge consideration in this class and price point. The little turbo four loves to rev, there's little turbo lag and the powerband is smooth to the redline (gotta maintain 3K-plus on the tach to keep things interesting, though). As I said last time I got in a Sonic RS, it's more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow. This little dear basically defines that. The chassis is good for a small car, it zips around town tidily with little body roll while not beating on you over broken pavement. The steering is quick -- it could use a tad more weight at speed. Still the overall feeling is quite a bit more refined than I would have guessed.
Especially out on the highway, where the Sonic has no trouble tracking straight, and a quick shift down into fifth or fourth gear will get you past traffic handily. Last time I drove a Sonic I remember commenting on hearing some road and wind noise at speed, but this car seemed quieter to me -- again, more refined than I thought it'd be.
The interior is roomy and comfortable (four adults traveled to the Tiger game last night without crabbing), the steering wheel is nice and fat. Fit and finish is good; materials could use an upgrade but for 20 grand, it's definitely competitive with what's out there. The analogue tach and digital everything else is cool and different. According to the digital mpg readout, I got 32 mpg and change in mostly city driving. Impressive.
My 25-year-old said, “I'd get a hatchback, but Sonics are cool.” A young person saying that has got to just sound like gold to Chevrolet.
WEST COAST EDITOR MARK VAUGHN: A six-speed manual! Saints be praised it's a six-speed manual! They still make these things! Such were my thoughts on getting into the red 2014 Chevy Sonic RS. And not only is it a manual, it's mated to a mighty 1.4-liter turbo four that peaks at 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. That's more than enough to pull around the RS model's 2,847 pounds by the front wheels. Thus the RS is both fun to drive and cheap to buy. There are a couple other rigs that might compete with this: the Ford Fiesta ST, Mini Cooper and 2013-model Volkswagen Golf are all about the same sticker price and are each in their own way fun and each cost near the Sonic RS hatchback's $21,000-or-so sticker price. Go up about three grand and you can look at the Ford Focus ST, Mazda Mazdaspeed3 and Subaru WRX. Go down a few thousand and you're in Hyundai Accent/Kia Rio territory, along with base model Fiesta S range. So you have a few choices here. But don't dismiss the relatively stealth Sonic RS. It is a delightful discovery in this class. RS probably means “rally sport” as in Chevies past, i.e. the Camaro RS. In this case the letters mean a 10 mm lower ride height, four-wheel discs and its own sportier gear ratios in both manual and automatic trim. We'd have gone with the stock ratios as these tend to wind out a little sooner, but that might be nit-picking.
On the road the shifter operates with a rubbery notchiness that felt a little artificial but it's something with which I could live as I wound up to the car's 6,500-rpm redline. Actually, I usually found myself shifting at about 5,000 rpm. Turned out peak power is at 5,000 revs, so I was doing it at about the right place. Also, the suspension is still more than a little isolating, so you're not getting the same directness as the Ford or Mazda products, but the difference is pretty small. Nonetheless this remains one of the nice, undiscovered, fun little hatchbacks out there. Oh, and the entertainment system works via a touchscreen interface on which most buttons more or less work most of the time except for the on-off touchpoint, which, it turned out, required that you hold your finger on it for a second or two to make it work. One of those things you figure out eventually. I didn't like the touchscreen setup, and if I owned this car I'd maybe have ripped out the entire premium sound audio system and replaced it with a Pioneer in-dash cassette tape player from 1972. Likewise, I found the forward collision alert unnecessary and the lane departure warning system just irritating. If you're so hopelessly clueless that you need these things, you shouldn't be driving.
The whole rig as-tested was a mere $21,545 (for my test car in California). Drop the advanced safety package with the forward collision and lane departure warnings and you're down to $21,150. It's sporty, roomy, practical and fun. I went on the original introduction for this car and had a great time tossing it around twisting two lanes in Northern California. Find some twisting roads where you live and you'll have a similarly good time.
2014 Chevrolet Sonic RS Sedan
Base Price: $20,530
As-Tested Price: $20,925
Drivetrain: 1.4-liter turbocharged I4; FWD, six-speed manual
Output: 138 hp @ 4,900 rpm, 148 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm
Curb Weight: 2,847 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 27/34/30 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 27.8 mpg
Options: Advance safety package including forward collision alert, lane departure warning ($395)
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