BY GERRY MILES
So-called sport package editions for various cars leave me cold. They often indicate a slow selling car, traditionally put few upgrades or “spiffs” in dealer parlance on them beyond new wheel covers, decals, maybe a spoiler atop the trunk, an exhaust that sounds like it’s falling off the chassis to sound “sporty,” different fabric and red blazed “RS” letters on the dash and shifter to indicate it’s a rally sport. Of course, it costs more cash but hardly the cache one desired.
Imagine the surprise sliding behind the wheel of the 2014 Chevy Sonic RS that wiped away all of those premonitions.
Yes, the RS had the aforementioned upgrades, but this time it has the sizzle to muscle to match the marketing. While the court of public opinion will easily agree that a turbo, in and of itself dropped into an car does not a go-kart make, the ability to weave, pass and stay at speed from the South Shore up Route 495, 24, 128/95 and 93, not to mention the underground race track that is the Big Dig’s tunnel, handle the expansion joints on the upper deck or play with the lines, swerving through Storrow Drive are bona fides that the Sonic RS can handle Boston’s most notorious roads and motorists.
The Sonic, the only subcompact car assembled in America says Chevy, got another boost when it was selected as one of the 10 Best Back-to-School Cars of 2014 by Kelley Blue Book’s KBB.com.
The RS cues were immediate upon sliding behind the wheel: firm supportive seats and bolsters, black dash panel and instruments, padded steering wheel and accents all around.
Sonic’s dash was a neat cluster that seemed up-to-date in today’s wired world yet intuitive. Befitting this model the tach is extra large, underscoring the car’s intentions, speed is displayed in eye-friendly digital blue light, there’s a large information screen in the middle of the dash and knobs for fan speed, temps and the like. Although Sonic bears an irritating up-shift arrow, it was in a small space that’s hard to notice, so why bother?
On the outside there’s a sportier front fascia that’s curved to create wheel well space for standard 17-inch wheels. Two round headlights on each side standout for the fact that they’re not small LEDs, and a large grille opening, which a neighbor’s child thought would suck up the road, is tied off with a garish gold Chevy “bowtie” in the middle. The logo would be better if it matched the grille’s color was the size of the smaller trunk logo not a leftover piece from the Avalanche parts bin. A single, bright exhaust pipe is subtle as is a single, red RS on the trunk to announce its athletic pedigree.
Under way the RS is always fun to drive, sliding the six-speed manual to and fro to make the engine growl or adapt to a twisting road that invites you to want to carve the apex and hit the go pedal on the way out. Fear not, an automatic transmission is also available for those who have no idea what the third pedal next to the brake.
The 1.4-liter Ecotec turbo feels stronger than its listed 138 horsepower and 148 lb.-ft. of torque that arrives between 1,850 and 4,900 rpm. That’s prime power for passing, merging or scuttling past slower commuters. There’s no discernable turbo lag from days bone by and I experienced little torque steer as well.
Sonic stays composed and calm, due to the lowered suspension and sport-tuned dampers, adding to the fun, feeling as well built as a mid- or full-sized car.
Even more surprising is the estimated 40 mpg and constant reading of 33.78 mpg that was displayed on the dash. During my drive I pulled 34.48 mpg in more than 200 miles of mixed driving.
What you’re left with is a car that doesn’t feel like a compromise to get the fuel economy or the composed, spirited ride and comfort. The lack of wind noise on the highway and road noise even over milled roads waiting to be repaved was another surprise.
An optional safety package provides lane departure warnings and forward collision alerts on the dash.
Sonic isn’t a tarted up pretend toy to take to the track and wrung what you brung. It is a spirited, well-composed, efficient daily driver that will take the monotony of the daily coffee commute.
One could make comparison to the Ford Fiesta ST since you’ll be in the low $20s but with nearly 200 horses in the ST, the cross-check stops there. Sonic is also more fun and roomier than say the Mazda2, Toyota Yaris, Ford Fiesta, and Honda Fit.
While it doesn’t force you into the seatback like a Corvette, the RS Sonic does surprise and give you a drive that’s more than expected while breaking the mold of special editions that really weren’t special.
2014 Chevy Sonic RS
Price, base (with destination): $19,705 ($825)
As Tested: $21,150
Fuel economy: 27-mpg city/34-mpg highway.
Drivetrain: 1.4-liter, 4-cylinder turbocharged engine. Body: Four-door sedan
Horsepower: 138 hp @ 4,900 rpm.
Torque: 148 lb-ft @ 1,850 rpm
Overall length: 159 inches.
Wheelbase: 99.4 inches.
Height: 59.7 inches
Width: 68.3 inches.
Curb weight: 2,847 lbs.
Fun to drive, composed, balanced ride. Fuel economy. Available with automatic or more versatile hatchback.
Gaudy large logo on grille, upshift light, $55 smokers package (ash tray) available. The black granite metallic paint cost $225.
THE BOTTOM LINE
A subcompact car that delights, more than meets its mission with comfort, economy and pizzazz.
Also consider: Toyota Yaris, Hyundai Accent, Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta, Mazda 2