Chevrolet Sonic packs a lot in a small package

The front-wheel-drive 2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS is an all-new, performance-enhanced version of the Sonic subcompact car introduced for model year 2011. It is offered in one configuration, a five-door hatchback. Rear side door handles are high and integrated into the car’s C-pillar, giving the Sonic RS the sportier appearance of a two-door while still providing the convenience and functionality of a four-door.

Power comes from a peppy 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine generating 138 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque. It can be paired with a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic. With a manual gearbox the fuel economy rating is 27 mpg city and 34 mpg highway; with an automatic the numbers are 25/33 mpg.

Better fuel economy isn’t the only thing working in favor of the manual transmission. It’s also smooth and precise, operates effortlessly, coaxes more liveliness from the engine, gives the Sonic RS even more personality, and boosts the car’s fun factor. The old anxiety about manual transmissions, that you’ll roll backward and crash into the car behind you while gear-shifting on a steep hill, has been eliminated by Hill Start Assist technology, the automotive equivalent of Xanax. It keeps the car in place for a few seconds so you can shift into first gear and get going, panic-free. Hill Start Assist is becoming common on cars and is standard equipment on the Sonic RS.

I got a crush on the RS at first sight. Its somewhat boxy shape reminded me of the Volkswagen Golf, one of my favorites. Sonic’s low, aggressive posture is enhanced by great-looking five-spoke 17-inch wheels and a dramatic front fascia with an air dam flanked by vertical intakes that house the fog lights.

The infatuation would have vaporized if the Sonic RS felt cheap, tinny or poorly put together, but it’s none of those things. Interior materials are good quality and parts are connected with precision. Seats are sport-comfy and trimmed with sueded microfiber inserts. The dashboard and console design is captivating, especially what’s directly behind the flat-bottomed sport steering wheel: a big, round tachometer with overlapping rectangular driver-information screen, highlighted by horizontal circles above and below. You can see it for yourself in one of the photos accompanying this post.

Though Sonic is small, it provides plenty of room inside in every direction, even generous legroom for rear-seat passengers. The rear cargo area has a solid removable cover that connects to the hatch door and conveniently moves up and down with it. Rear seats fold down breezily – zero struggling – to create a nearly flat cargo floor. Noise inside the passenger cabin is low even at higher speeds, and the ride is civilized without compromising sportiness too much.

Standard features on the RS include remote keyless entry, anti-lock brakes, stability and traction controls, rear window wiper and washer, a moveable driver-seat armrest, satellite radio, premium audio system with six speakers and steering-wheel controls, power windows and door locks, tilt and telescoping steering column, cruise control, air conditioning, driver and front passenger heated seats, and the Chevrolet MyLink telematics system featuring Bluetooth streaming audio and phone voice recognition.

Sonic is the only car in its segment with an overall five-star safety rating by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and it has been designated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). It is also the only subcompact car assembled in the U.S.

2013 CHEVROLET SONIC RS

Base price, including destination charge: $20,995

Price as driven: $20,995

Mary Lowry is a free-lance automotive writer who has been reviewing cars for more than 20 years. She is a member of the Motor Press Guild and a board member of the Northwest Automotive Press Association. Vehicles are provided by the manufacturers as a one-week loan for review purposes only. In no way do the manufacturers control the content of the reviews.

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