Fun with frills — A road trip in the 2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS


By Jim Meachen

(May 7, 2013) We were a bit apprehensive when a 2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS showed up for our 800-mile round-trip to a famous South Carolina resort island. We weren't apprehensive about the Sonic, which we had experienced in 2012, but about its size. We needed something that could haul four adults to various eating places and attractions around the island without compromising such things as leg room and comfort.

The Sonic is the antithesis of a mid-sized to large family sedan. It measures only 159 inches in length, a good 30 inches shorter than an Accord, Fusion or a Malibu. We flopped the rear seatbacks down for hauling our rollerboards and other paraphernalia on the 350-mile journey down the interstate to our destination. No problem.

But we had promised to provide the getting-around-town car for another couple once unpacked and settled into the condo, and that's when the real apprehension set in. Fortunately, our worries were misplaced. Hat's off to the little sub-compact Sonic that reached the U.S. market last year and has been a good seller for Chevrolet.

Without adjusting the front seats, we asked our rear seaters if they had enough legroom. A "no problem" chant came from the back. We pressed the point (never let a good thing alone). "But are you comfortable," we questioned. Again, there was a chorus of yes, very comfortable.

There was also enough room in the cargo area for the dozen grocery bags accumulated at the supermarket on the way back from the first-night dinner. Capacity with the seats up is 19 cubic feet, about the size of a trunk in a large sedan, with at least 10 of those cubic feet usable under the cargo cover for shopping bags. Storage with the rear seats folded is 47.7 cubic feet.

Perhaps more amazing then the little car's hauling capabilities, is its long-distance ride comfort. The front seats proved very compatible. Driver fatigue from squirming around in an ill-fitting seat for a long distance was wonderfully absent from our trip. Adding to the stress-free drive was a unusually quiet interior considering we were driving a 20 grand car.

Maintaining interstate speed using the steering-wheel-mounted cruise control switches was spot on. In addition, sightlines out of the Sonic are excellent.

Our RS version was equipped with a smooth-shifting six-speed manual transmission, and cruising the long stretch of interstate highway in sixth was certainly a contributing factor to getting overall gas mileage of 33.6 mpg, which included three days of stop-and-start driving. The Sonic RS is EPA-rated at 27 city and 34 highway.

To vividly demonstrate the advantage of good gas mileage, we filled up after 330 miles next to the other couple traveling with us who were driving a full-sized SUV. We both started with full tanks. We pumped 9.5 gallons of "inexpensive" South Carolina regular while our neighbors pumped in 19 gallons of premium. Our gas bill: $30.68. Our friends' gas bill: $65.17. 

Interior styling is interesting and to some perhaps cute. We became fond of the living quarters. Chevrolet has used the dual pod look to great effect in other vehicles, namely the Malibu, and it works with the Sonic as well. The center stack is kind of cartoonish with its robot look face outlined in aluminum-like trim as featured in our test car. Looks aside it flows down through to very intuitive audio and climate controls. Although our upgraded audio system used up and down arrows, the system in the standard-trim models comes with round knobs for volume and tuning, a rarity these days, but still the best way to operate a radio.
We particularly like the layout of the round tachometer hooked on the right by a squared-off digital speedometer/gas gauge/trip odometer in a very compact package. While it may be kind of cluttered (we have heard criticism of the design) it’s still one of the neatest layouts of any car we’ve driven lately.
Storage for the small things of driving life are ample and, again, we like the storage openings on either side of the center stack in an area many times reserved for the climate control vents. The storage bins slant downward to keep items from flying out.
The Sonic is offered in both sedan and hatchback format, but for our money it's hard to beat the hatch for versatility, the versatility that left us in good stead on our road trip. Both styles come in three trim levels — LS, LT, LTZ. The new-for-2013 the sport-tuned RS is offered only as a five-door hatchback. The standard engine is a 1.8-liter naturally aspired four-cylinder making 138 horsepower and 125 pound-feet of torque. Optional in the LT and LTZ and standard on the RS is our favorite, a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder making the same 138 horsepower, but 23 more pound-feet of torque at 148.

The extra punch offered by the turbocharged engine results in a 0-to-60 time with the manual shifter of 8.2 seconds. The RS model brings 10-mm lower ride height, more aggressive gear ratios with the manual, four-wheel disc brakes, a new front fascia with fog lamp design, unique 17-inch five-spoke wheels, leather seating surfaces with red RS accents, aluminum sport pedals and a bright exhaust outlet. Also standard is the Chevrolet MyLink system that consists of satellite radio, Bluetooth streaming audio for music and select phones, and voice recognition of connected phones.

It also brings a bigger price tag. The well-outfitted RS — no options are needed — stickers for $20,995.

But fear not — the Sonic five-door hatch can be purchased in lesser, but very adequate trim for a more affordable price starting at $15,580 for the LS with the standard engine. We would opt for the mid-level LT trim with the turbocharged engine ($616 option) at $18,335. It comes with full power accessories including windows and doors, Bluetooth audio and satellite radio, cruise control, and six-speed automatic transmission.

In sedan format the LT trim with the optional engine goes out the door for $17,735.

For those individuals and families who can only afford one newer car, we discovered that the Sonic can fill the bill accomplishing all the driving chores of life in very commendable fashion.

Base price: $20,995; as driven, $20,995
Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
Horsepower: 138 @ 4,900 rpm
Torque: 148 foot-pounds @ 2,500 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 99.4 inches
Length: 159 inches
Curb weight: 2,811 pounds
Turning circle: 36.1 feet
Luggage capacity: 19 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 47.7 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 12.2 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 34 highway, 27 city
0-60: 8.2 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, Scion xD

The Good
• Fun to drive nature
• Comfortable, spacious cabin
• Powerful and fuel-efficient engine

The Bad
• Cargo capacity on the small size

The Ugly
• RS treatment brings hefty pricetag