2014 Chevy Sonic RS is a surprising, solid ride from the Bowtie Boys

2014 Chevy Sonic RS

2014 Chevy Sonic RS

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 Dash

Sonic Dash

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.

Sonic engine

Sonic engine

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

2014 Chevy Sonic

2014 Chevy Sonic RS

THE BASICS

Price, base (with destination): $19,705 ($825)

Options: $620

As Tested: $21,150

Fuel economy: 27-mpg city/34-mpg highway.

Drivetrain: 1.4-liter, 4-cylinder turbocharged engine. Body: Four-door sedan

THE SPECIFICS

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.

THE GOOD

Fun to drive, composed, balanced ride. Fuel economy. Available with automatic or more versatile hatchback.

THE BAD

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

 

2015 Chevy Colorado takes aim at midsize truck market

2015 Chevrolet Colorado Z71 shown as a concept vehicle

2015 Chevrolet Colorado Z71 shown as a concept vehicle

BY GERRY MILES

Who is Chevrolet trying to be? If you read their press release, they want to be the Baskin-Robbins of the midsize truck market based upon their unveiling of the 2015 Chevy Colorado at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

With the lack of a small pickup, since Ford stopped making Rangers and Dodge dropped its Dakota line, Chevy hopes its new Colorado offered only in 3 midsize versions and looking every but like the old Ford SporTrac or a Chevrolized Toyota Tacoma in what it hopes will be a grab on the active lifestyle market place.

However, as Nike has found out the hard way many times, trying to be everything to everyone does not always work. Some models were hits and some fell flat. Diversification may be great in a mutual fund but not so much in a product line. Staying with what works often works best.

In that regard, Toyota’s Tacoma and its variants have a long, established posture in the midsized market and a rock solid reputation for reliability.

Other “sport trucks” or variants that have come and go include Subaru’s Baja, Ford’s SporTrac, the Ranger and Dakota to name a few.

Chevy is betting that the void provides an opportunity and it might provided its priced right.  With the 4-banger engine and larger optional motor and the diesel due in 2016 Chevy could prove its hunch is right if it’s priced right. Prices of course weren’t released yet.

“Our strategy is simple: meet the needs of the broadest possible customer base, and let them choose precisely the right truck to meet their needs,” said Mark Reuss, General Motors executive vice president and president of GM North America. “The all-new Colorado benefits from the solid foundation established by the Silverado, and it reinvents the midsize truck while reinvigorating the segment at the same time.”

The 2015 Colorado’s configurations are:

  • an extended cab model with a 6-foot bed
  • a crew cab with a 5-foot bed
  • a crew cab with a 6-foot bed.
  • a single cab config is not offered.

To promote the active lifestyle, there’s the cargo net to add two feet from the 6-foot bed with 8-foot items before the gear hangs over the end in space.

Power comes from one of two engine choices:

  • 2.5L, 193 hp,  I-4 (standard) 184 kb-ft of torque
  • 3.6L, 302 hp, V-6 (optional) 270 lb-ft of torque

Each engine hitches to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The 2.5L is available with a 6-speed manual transmission on extended cab 2WD Work Truck models.

What might be the most interesting part of the presser that’s buried down deep is its offering the segment’s only diesel engine: a proven Duramax 2.8L I-4 turbodiesel.

Colorado is expected to have a class leading payload capacity and trailering capacity of more than 6,700 pounds.

2015 Chevrolet Colorado Z71 trim

2015 Chevrolet Colorado Z71 trim

WT, LT and Z71 trims are available, all in 2WD or 4WD. The Z71 is the brand’s off-road- rugged branded model, featuring gunmetal grille surround – a change from the chrome standard on the other models – projector headlamps and unique 17-inch aluminum wheels.

To keep its weight down, Colorado features an aluminum hood. It also features the segment’s only active aero grille shutters, which close at certain highway speeds to enhance aerodynamics.

As one might expect after the new intros of the Silverado, many neat features migrate down to its stablemate:

  • Standard CornerStep rear bumper design pioneered on the 2014 Silverado
  • Available EZ Lift-and-Lower tailgate that uses an internal torsion bar to make raising the tailgate easier with one hand, and a damper for more-controlled lowering
  • Standard two-tier loading that allows a platform to effectively split the bed into upper and lower sections, making it easier to haul, store and conceal items such as tools
  • Thirteen standard tie-down locations throughout the bed for use with available, movable cargo tie-down rings
  • Standard bed rail and tailgate protectors
  • Available factory-installed spray-in bed liner.

Keeping up with the refinement of pickup trucks, there are more interior upgrades than one might have imagined in the past of slab vinyl bench seats with stark interiors. The connections one finds in most of our gadgets is expected in today’s top vehicles.

2015 Chevrolet Colorado interior

2015 Chevrolet Colorado interior

Colorado Interior details include:

  • Sculpted door panels that make it easier to enter/exit the vehicle
  • Upper-instrument panel storage bin (when not equipped with the uplevel audio system) and large glove box
  • Standard center console with room to store a tablet
  • Rear under-seat storage.

For connectivity there’s an:

2015 Chevrolet Colorado interior

2015 Chevrolet Colorado interior

  • 8-inch diagonal color touch screen (LT, Z71) and multiple USB drives
  • A 3.4-inch diagonal driver information screen in the instrument cluster
  • Available next-generation OnStar and MyLink enhancements with gesture recognition and natural language voice recognition
  • Available navigation

Safety times include:

  • 6 standard air bags, including head side curtain air bags designed to help keep occupants from being ejected in a crash
  • Large rearview mirrors and standard rear-vision camera system for greater visibility
  • Available segment-first application of forward collision alert
  • Available segment-first application of lane departure warning
  • Standard StabiliTrak electronic stability control system with rollover mitigation, trailer sway control, hill start assist and hill descent control (Z71).

The Colorado has a short turning radius of about 41 feet (12.5 meters), enabling easier turning in tight areas such as city streets or backing a trailer into a camping spot.

2015 Chevrolet Colorado Z71

2015 Chevrolet Colorado Z71

Chevy has an attractive offering, but with the strength of the crossover market, I’d expect more variants in the mold of its Buick Encore to be more competitive than the midsize truck market that the stalwarts have abandoned. This could be interesting.

Chevy, GM join to fight breast cancer – but only on selected dates, at selected dealers and only up to $130,000

Danica Patrick and Kasey Kahne give rides to Cancer survivers at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton GA. (HHP/Harold Hinson)

Danica Patrick and Kasey Kahne give rides to Cancer survivers at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton GA. (HHP/Harold Hinson)

BY GERRY MILES

For the third straight year, General Motors, its employees and Chevrolet will team up to fight breast cancer with the support of the American Cancer Society through the Making Strides walks. This money helps fund research, wellness, breast cancer awareness education and support for breast cancer patients and their families.

For every customer to test drive a Chevy, during October, the automaker will contribute $10 up to $130,000 to the American Cancer Society for every eligible test drives take nationally on select dates at participating dealerships. (Drivers must be over 21 with a valid driver’s license. The promotion is limited to one test drive per person.)

While this sounds all warm and fuzzy on the outside, the devil is in the details.

However, if GM and Chevy will really willing to toss in to fight cancer – it should sponsor test drives during the entire month of October nationally – not just at participating dealerships on selected dates. To me, that’s just a trumped up way to drive showroom traffic on the back of national awareness.

By comparison, when Toyota undertook an effort to send lunches to victims of Superstorm Sandy up to a certain, the wide spread reaction was so great they boosted the donation level…twice!

For each view of a short film on youtube, Toyota set a pledge goal of 250,000 meals for 250,000 views.

After an overwhelming response, the import carmaker soon prepared to send up  to 1.25 million meals from Toyota as a result of the video views for a great cause without conditions of the views having to be on a certain day or participating dealership.

Chevrolet will donate $200 for every lap run under caution during select NASCAR Sprint Cup and IZOD IndyCar Series races throughout October and not just selected races. A special pink Chevrolet Camaro SS will pace select NASCAR Sprint Cup series races. A 2014 Corvette Stingray will serve as the pace car for the IZOD IndyCar Series event at Auto Club Speedway in October.

Anyone interested in participating in a Making Strides for Breast Cancer walk in their community can visit www.makingstrideswalk.org.

GM nabs 8 awards – 5 for Chevy in JD Power 2013 Initial Quality Study

Porsche Ranks Highest Among Nameplates; Most problems customers face in the first 90 days are design-realted and can be fixed at the dealership.
BY GERRY MILES

In some welcome initial quality study information, GM received 5 awards in just announced JD Power initial quality ratings, with Chevy’s Avalanche (tie), Camaro (tie), ImpalaSilverado HD and Tahoe receiving kudos.

According to the study, the majority of problems owners experience with their new vehicle in the first 90 days of ownership are design-related rather than manufacturing defects. These design problems are far less likely to be successfully resolved at the dealership than are defects, according to the J.D. Power 2013 U.S. Initial Quality StudySM (IQS) released today at an Automotive Press Association luncheon at the Detroit Athletic Club.

The J.D. Power Initial Quality Study, which serves as the industry benchmark for new-vehicle quality, has been redesigned for 2013. The study has been enhanced to better measure the quality of today’s vehicles, particularly problems related to new technologies and features now being offered. In addition, the study, now in its 27th year, allows for more detailed feedback from new-vehicle owners.

Nearly two-thirds of the problems experienced in the first 90 days of ownership are related to the vehicle’s design, as opposed to components that malfunction. For example, the component may be working as designed, but owners deem it a problem because it may be difficult to understand or operate.

Because design problems are not the result of a breakdown or malfunction, just 9 percent of these problems are taken to a dealership within the first 90 days of ownership. When owners take their vehicle to a dealership for a design-related issue, the problem is fixed only 13 percent of the time. In contrast, 28 percent of owners who experience a defect or malfunction with their vehicle within the first 90 days of ownership take it to a dealership, and 42 percent of the time the dealership is able to fix the problem.

“Automakers are investing billions of dollars into designing and building vehicles and adding technologies that consumers desire and demand, but the risk is that the vehicle design, or the technology within the vehicle, in some cases may not meet customer needs,” said David Sargent, vice president of global automotive at J.D. Power. “Keep in mind that automakers are trying to design vehicles that appeal to a broad array of consumers, and what works for the majority may not work for all. The successful companies will be those automakers that find a way to give customers the technology they want while at the same time making it sufficiently intuitive so all customers find it easy to use.”

Overall initial quality for the industry averages 113 problems per 100 vehicles (PP100).1 The study finds that many of the problems owners have with their vehicle relate to the driver interface, which includes voice recognition or hands-free technology, Bluetooth pairing for mobile phones, and the navigation system, among others.

Features that are difficult for owners to operate, hard to understand, or inconveniently located in the vehicle likely will remain a problem for the life of the vehicle.

“Owners desire, and in some cases are demanding, more content in their new vehicles, especially technology-related features, and automakers are trying to provide it,” said Sargent. “The majority of owners don’t experience problems, but those who do are frustrated. That’s understandable, especially when owners often keep their new vehicle for five years or more. In contrast, when consumers have a problem with their smartphone, they are likely to replace the phone much sooner.”

GM, Porsche atop 2013 IQS Rankings
Porsche ranks highest among nameplates included in the study, averaging 80 PP100. GMC ranks second with 90 PP100, and Lexus ranks third with 94 PP100. Infiniti (95 PP100) and Chevrolet (97 PP100) round out the five highest-ranked positions.

Among the 26 model-level segment awards:

  • Chevrolet received 5
  • Honda received 2
  • Kia received 2
  • Mazda received 2
  • Porsche received 2

Chevrolet models receiving an award are the Avalanche (tie), Camaro (tie), ImpalaSilverado HD and Tahoe.

Honda receives awards for the Civic and CR-V; Kia for the Soul and Sportage(tie).

Mazda for the MAZDA2 and MX-5 Miata.

Porsche for the Boxster and911.

The Lexus LS ranks highest in the Large Premium Car segment and achieves 59 PP100, the lowest average problem level among all models in the study.

Also receiving segment awards are Acura TLBuick Encore (tie); Cadillac EscaladeChrysler Town & CountryFord Mustang (tie); GMC Sierra LD (tie);Hyundai Genesis SedanInfiniti FXMercedes-Benz GLK-ClassNissan Muranosmart fortwo; and Toyota Camry.

JDPower2013IntQuality

Top Three Models Per Segment: CUV, MPV, Van, Pickups

Top Three Models Per Segment: CUV, MPV, Van, Pickups

Top Three Models Per Segment:

Top Three Models Per Segment:

Plant Assembly Line Quality Awards
Toyota Motor Corporation’s Lafayette B Plant (SIA) in Indiana, which produces the Toyota Camry, receives the Platinum Plant Assembly Line Quality Award for producing models that yield the fewest defects or malfunctions. Plant awards are based solely on average levels of defects and malfunctions and exclude design-related problems.

Among plants in the Asia Pacific region, the Toyota Motor Corporation Yoshiwara, Japan, (TABC) plant, which produces the Lexus LX and Toyota Land Cruiser, receives a Gold Plant Assembly Line Quality Award.

In the Europe and Africa region, Audi AG receives a Gold Plant Assembly Line Quality Award for its Neckarsulm, Germany, plant, which produces the Audi A4, A5, A6, A7 and A8.

The 2013 U.S. Initial Quality Study is based on responses from more than 83,000 purchasers and lessees of new 2013 model-year cars, trucks and multi-activity vehicles surveyed after 90 days of ownership. The study is based on a 233-question battery designed to provide manufacturers with information to facilitate identification of problems and drive product improvement. The study was fielded between February and May 2013.

The study is used by manufacturers worldwide to improve quality and by consumers to help them make more informed purchasing decisions. Throughout the years, initial quality has been shown to be a leading indicator of long-term durability, which directly impacts customer loyalty and purchase decisions.

JDPowerPlants

Consumer Reports: Small turbos miss fuel economy promise

Fuel Economy, Acceleration No Better than in Conventional Powertrains

By Gerry Miles

The headquarters of consumer happiness – Consumer Reports – has released a new report that ought to have the motoring community and its engineers scratching their heads, spreadsheets and graphs to disprove the report that the purported power and fuel economy of small turbos often falls short of their stated goals.

Today, CR’s report said that the small turbos accelerate slower than reported and have no better economy at the pump than larger conventional motors. Specifically, CR noted that turbos operate with extra air pumped into the engine to deliver the boost of power that drivers and passengers feel. However, the tradeoff is that the extra fuel has to mix with the air and likely offsets any economy savings. That said, traditional gas engines use a specific fuel-to-air mixture that usually won’t fluctuate such as in the turbo example provided.

CR nicked Ford’s EcoBoost in the Fusion and Chevy’s Cruze for slower pickup and economy. The mag also named the Hyundai Sonata Turbo, Kia Sportage Turbo, and Ford Escape 2.0T as cars with turbocharged 4 cylinder engines that are less fuel efficient than V-6 editions.

Receiving good news was BMW’s new 2.0-liter turbocharged 4 with 28 mpg in the new 328i Sedan and delivered improved mileage in the 2012 X3 SUV by one mpg, with essentially identical power and acceleration. Volkswagens using that company’s 2.0-liter turbo also return impressive mileage, though CR hasn’t tested any model variations with other engines that are directly comparable.

The latest example of underperforming small turbocharged engines is the collection of 2013 Ford Fusions with EcoBoost engines – small, turbocharged four-cylinders with direct injection –which were recently tested by Consumer Reports. The smaller engine – a 1.6-liter producing 173 hp – is a $795 option over the basic conventional 2.5-liter Four on Fusion SE models. But that car’s 0-60 mph acceleration time trails competitive family sedans, and it delivers just 25 mpg, placing it among the worst of the crop of recently-redesigned family sedans.

The most direct comparison among the vehicles Consumer Reports has tested is the Chevrolet Cruze. CR tested both a Cruze with the base 1.8-liter conventional four-cylinder, and one with the smaller 1.4-liter turbocharged Four. While the 1.4-liter feels marginally more powerful in daily driving, it was barely faster to 60 mph, and got the same fuel economy as the larger engine.

The full report can be found online at ConsumerReports.org.

News from CR was used in compiling this report.