Since its inception, Chevrolet’s Sonic has done rather well for the General Motors brand. In fact, in the most recent Ipsos (formerly Synovate) quality survey, the Sonic, in sedan form, came first in the small sedan category. The Sonic may have ticked a lot of boxes, however, one thing it could never claim to be was inspiring to drive.
Chevrolet decided to change that with the introduction of the 1.4-litre turbocharged Sonic RS. Don’t be fooled by the badge: by Chev’s own admission this is not a true hot hatch – RS is the first level of performance-oriented vehicles in the marque’s various ranges and it’s only when you step into S, SS and Z badge territory that you can expect serious performance. That said, let’s not assume the Sonic RS is no fun before we’ve even sat behind the wheel – because that would be entirely incorrect…
See, with 103kW and 200Nm on tap, the RS is a brisk car but not exactly warp-speed material, but whoever said you needed to go fast to have fun? In fact, on the contrary, the mark of a truly impressive everyday car is how much fun you can have at the speeds at which both you and the car are comfortable. And there, the Sonic RS has things pegged.
Right off the bat you can see, and indeed feel, that this is no ordinary Sonic. Outside there’s an RS-specific grille, a small rear spoiler, redesigned foglights, a trapezoidal exhaust and, most notably, 17-inch gunmetal alloys. Inside you’re greeted by comfortable leather seats with faux Alcantara inserts, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and, probably hardest to miss, Chevrolet’s nifty new MyLink infotainment set-up.
MyLink is a highly intuitive touch-screen system that allows the user to view videos and pictures when the car is stationary, connect their smartphone to access apps such as TuneIn world radio and, most importantly, make and receive calls on the go without becoming distracted from the road ahead. Of course with all this connectivity, playing music from said phone or another device is a simple plug-and-play process through the USB port or connect-and-play through Bluetooth streaming.
But that all takes a back seat, perhaps not as soon as you start the car, but certainly as soon as you take your first corner in anger. The RS’s suspension is 10mm lower than that of the standard Sonic, and stiffer too, and this means that a tight, twisty road with plenty of low-speed corners is great fun in this car. The Sonic grips nicely and turns in well, although making your way through the gears is a bit problematic thanks to the lack of feel in the gearbox.
However, that minor foible is more than compensated for by the excellent steering. The RS provides plenty of feel and feedback through the wheel and this means road-to-hand communication is out of the top-drawer, which in turn fills you with the confidence to know when you can push that little bit harder in the next corner.
So no, the Sonic RS is not going to break any land-speed records (top speed, incidentally, is 197kph) – but it was never designed to. It was designed to be a fun car to drive, not in the sense that a real hot hatch delivers bang-for-buck thrills across the board, but in terms of making everyday journeys that bit more exciting thanks to those sporty genetics with which the Sonic RS has been injected.
The problem for the Sonic is that its most natural rival, the Suzuki Swift Sport, does that with aplomb, too – and the two can’t even be separated by price. At Reef altitudes I would definitely opt for the force-fed Sonic RS, but down here at the coast that would be a battle I couldn’t call without driving the two back to back.
It’s important to remember where the Sonic RS comes from. If you’re expecting a hot hatch you will be disappointed, but if you look at it in the same way you look at putting Tabasco on your food you’ll love it – it’s still the same meal, just with a bit of zing, and that’s exactly what the Sonic RS is: same old Sonic, but with a bite. – Richard Macaskill
Pricing Sonic RS R225 300