Wheels

FIRST DRIVE: Chev's Sonic RS

By: JANINE-LEE GORDON 2014-02-07 07:28
So there’s a new performance badge in town – even though it’s a rookie plate – it looks like ye old faithful automaker has some tricks up the Sonic RS’s sleeve.

I’ll tell you about the new model in just a bit because first I want to tell you about a few changes at the American automaker. Chevrolet doesn’t just have the first woman to be the CEO of an automaker in the industry but parent General Motors also sold 9.7-million units globally in 2013.

Vice-president of GMSA, Ian Nicholls, added “Of those, 4.98-million units were Chevrolet models. That equates to South Africa’s total motoring sales for the past eight years.”

GALLERY: Chevrolet Sonic RS

Earlier in 2014 Wheels24 reported the automaker's announcement that it would halt production in Australia in 2017 at its Holden (another GM brand) plant so no more emphasis on our neighbouring right-hand drive market.
 
Boo-hoo? No big deal for us? Well, yes it is, because that also means no more V8’s such as the Lumina SS Utes and sedans for SA. GM says the brand will stay in the land of Oz but won't be assembling vehicles there due to its relatively small and very fragmented market.

But back to Chev's new hot hatch...

The launch of the 2014 Sonic RS took place in beautiful Cape Town at its international airport and as I sat there looking at the car on display while presentations were delivered I thought to myself ‘I hope its driving capabilities are a lot more impressive than its beefier looks’.

BEYOND LOOKS?

We headed out to the cars and, after meeting the car head-on and doing a little walkabout, I thought ‘Hmmm, not too shabby’. Its assertive looks are noticeable, thanks especially to its larger fog lights,  black mirror housings and 17” gun-metal ally rims – and then the rear spoiler and lekker side skirts  stand out too.

However I still didn’t think it was worth R225 300 - the previous top model, the 1.3 diesel LS costs R201 500. You see I never really liked the standard Sonic, available as 1.4 or 1.6 petrol model or 1.3 diesel units. I liked the styling and it was a clear step above the smaller Spark or Aveo but I was never quite comfortable about the drive.

It had that ‘Made in China’ feel, the gearbox didn't feel great and steering responses was a bit delayed.

Chevrolet SA also explained that 'RS' was the entry-level branding for its sport models. ‘SS’ and ‘Z’ depicting more macho models in the range, such as the Lumina SS or Chevrolet Camaro Z1 and so forth.

And then I opened the door. First thing which stands out are the funky leather sports seats with RS red badging on top and even etched on each seat squab. There’s an 18cm multimedia touchscreen for the MyLink system which can play movies or picture galleries - when the car is parked.

While driving you can connect your smart phone or media files via Bluetooth, iPod or the USB port in the cubby to play all your music, connect to the Stitcher app on iPhone and the radio connect app which picks up any radio station... and there’s a voice control option.

Super nifty is that Chev has even left a tiny gab for your cable to stick through so you don’t have to bang the lid shut while your mobile device is plugged in.

AND THEN WE DROVE IT...

Now, I’m not too sure what exactly the Americans did, but this car feels like something else. The 103kW/200Nm isn’t just for show.  It now felt very European, if it should have ‘Made in Germany’ stamped on the engine.

It's not as fast as a Ford Fiesta ST and might not be macho enough for you burly types but the Sonic RS feels darn solid on the road. It inspires so much confidence in its handling that made me raise my eyebrows. It sits through the bends and the turbocharged 1.4 just wants to go.

It’s mated to a six-speed gearbox but when climbing hills you almost feel it wants to slap your wrists for wanting to gear down because it can handle the inclines in higher gears. The instrument's been upgraded and includes a gear shift indicator.

We headed out of Cape Town towards coastal Arniston via Hermanus and Bredasdorp, about 200km from Cape Town, and the RS hooked into the straight stretches and twisty bits with gusto.

One Wheels24 reader called the Sonic RS "a hot hatch for wimps" when we published a preview  about the car. He/she was wrong.

I asked GMSA’s Lunga Ntsendwana what had really been done to the car’s chassis because somewhere something seems fishy – in a good way. He simply said: “The Americans have played with it. Despite the obvious steering wheel from the Camaro Z1, they’ve played around with the suspension quite a bit.”

DIFFERENT CREATURE

Not a definitive answer but, good enough. Then I started thinking that it actually was a fine contender up against the Suzuki Swift Sport, especially its almost identical price of R223 900. Then there are those who will argue" "Add R35 000 and you can buy a Fiesta ST."

But not everybody can afford that extra R35k and some might just like the Sonic RS, even if it has to be called a hot hatch for girls – please don’t lambast me here.

I have a friend, her name is Adele Van der Post, who's just bought a Sonic. She looks sweet in her car and loves it to bits but I know the RS is the kind of car that pulls at her heartstrings. You see, she’s not a speed freak, but she does like to give some pedal to the metal and is content knowing that if she needs to drive faster, the car will have that extra oomph.  It has a top speed of 197km/h and does 0-100 in 9.5sec.

She'd completely love its sporty nature, as portrayed in its styling, bigger rims – which reminds me of the sexy wheels found on the RS Audi models - the trapezoidal tailpiece and the protruding rear lights.  There are also red-accented cabin mats, aluminium pedals and adjustable seats and steering-wheel.

It comes in several colours: white, black, blue, silver, burnt orange and a pinkish-red.

It’s only downfall would be the boot space could have been bigger. You can barely fit two small travel cases and a laptop backpack. While the interior seems more refined than other Sonics, Chevrolet could do some work inside where the roof lining meets the plastic panels on the A-pillars.

Would I advise anybody to buy it? Yep. It would be great to be able to put the Sonic RS up against the Swift Sport and Fiesta ST, though, and record the outcome.

The Sonic RS costs R225 300 and is sold with a five-year or 120 000km warranty and a three-year or 60 000km service plan. Service intervals 15 000km.
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