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Quick Review: 2016 Chevrolet Sonic RS Turbo – An Exercise In Masochism Or Is There Something To Like?

Quick Review: 2016 Chevrolet Sonic RS Turbo – An Exercise In Masochism Or Is There Something To Like?

Full disclosure: I had no intention of driving this car when I was heading out to Campbell Chevrolet. None. At no point prior to arriving and parking at the dealership did I think, “You know what sounds like a good idea? Forget the Camaro, don’t bother begging for a Corvette…go drive a Sonic. I just might like it.” You’ll see what I did get to drive next week, what I was really there for, but as I was driving through the dealership lot for the third time trying to find a place to park, something dawned on me: just how bad could one of the many small cars on the lot actually be? I know what a Chevrolet Spark is, and I know it’s only use, but what about a Sonic? Normally, the only thing I know about the Sonic is that it’s small and not for me. But I asked anyways, and J.T. brought around this red Sonic RS Turbo. As soon as I saw the badging, a memory floated up of the last two cars I knew that were labeled “RS” and came turbocharged. One was a late 1980s Nissan Skyline that appears every so often around the Western Washington area, and the other was the early 1980s Dodge Colt RS that one of my aunts owned, with the strange “Twin Stick” four-speed manual and enough power to break the front tires loose…a strange phenomenon for an early 1980s front-driver barely making triple-digit horsepower. We know that small cars can be fun, so could Chevrolet’s outgoing Sonic RS be one of those rare fun ones? With a new generation car coming in and the old cars being sold with massive discounts, I thought, “What the hell.” Let’s give the Sonic a fair shot and see if it’s deserved all of the mockery I’ve made of it or not.

July Test Drive_3

Ok, for starters, why the Sonic? Easy…the smallest Chevy you can buy, the Spark, is pretty much useful only as a golf cart replacement and nothing more. Honestly, if you normally cart around a EZ-GO in your race car trailer, pick up a Spark so you can have a plated car to run around with at the track. That is it’s best feature. The Sonic, on the other hand, is the smallest car that I could honestly see myself ever buying, hence why I chose it. It’s also the smallest Chevy you can get that has a trunk…sorry, but I’m not a fan of the hatchback look unless it’s power makes up for it. No Sonic has that power, not even the RS Turbo. Unlike the Ford Fiesta ST, the Sonic doesn’t go all angry-chihuahua on you off of the bat. In fact, it’s kind of sedate…that wasn’t a good sign. A snotty little front-drive four-banger with a turbocharger should make for some fun, so hopefully the drive would make it worthwhile. Did it? Follow along with the photos…

July Test Drive_1

Meet the powerplant. That is 1.4 liters of GM Family 0 four-cylinder fury, bringing 138 horsepower and 148 ft/lbs of torque to the table. The Sonic weighs in at just a tick under 2,900 pounds (less one stout driver, of course) so it’s not horribly underpowered. That being said, the Ecotec isn’t ever in a hurry to get moving. It isn’t immediate off of the line power, but it does has a happy spot between 3,500 and 5,000 RPM where the engine likes to play, and has enough horsepower to get you into trouble. I might have seen 83 mph on the speedometer on my highway run on accident. And I mean that…I got a solid run up to 70 mph on the highway, but I didn’t bother setting cruise control and the next thing I knew…

July Test Drive_7

Small car, large driver. Can’t avoid the obvious, so let’s take it head-on: how does my big ass fit into a Chevy Sonic? The answer: shockingly well. I’m not even joking…I have as much headroom and legroom in the Sonic as I’ve got in the Imperial, and it’s comparable with my wife’s Silverado. I could drive this car for hours. By comparison, the Angry Grandpa Chrysler is tight with the headroom and the sixth-generation Camaros are flat-out claustrophobic. The plastics aren’t completely great, and the piano-black plastics would be a pain to keep clean, but the steering wheel is a delight, I actually started to like the simple gauge package, and whoever signed off on those sport front seats deserves a bonus check…they are unbelievable for a B-car. The Sonic seats two very comfortably. If you try to shove four in here, you are gonna get what you deserve. Whoever decided that the manu-matic shift control should be a thumb button on the automatic shifter, however, needs to be beat with a bundle of switches. What gives, man? At least you can get the Sonic RS with a six-speed manual, and that’s what we recommend.

July Test Drive_8

It looks like it was raided from a touring bike, but after five seconds I grew to like it. Everything you need, nothing you don’t. Kind of refreshing. I didn’t bother seeing if there were more settings for the display, so be sure to investigate if you are actually looking at purchasing one.

July Test Drive_12

It’s all in the badging, isn’t it? To be quite honest, a couple of tiny “RS” badges, one small “Turbo” badge and some dress-up bits (different fog lights and the 17″ wheels) are all that really separate the Sonic RS from the regular models. Compared to what it could have been, you could even call it tasteful. Maybe. But open up that trunk…

July Test Drive_2

I was not expecting such a cavernous hole for a small four-door sedan. I didn’t try it out, but I think that I could sleep in this trunk. I’m not kidding, either. Fold down the rear seats to stretch out or leave them up for the cozy feeling. The hatchback is useful if you want your Sonic to double-up as a micro-SUV, but the sedan can handle quite a bit on it’s own.

July Test Drive_10

So, how is it to drive? The power isn’t quite what I was hoping for, but it’s there. The steering is “right now” direct, well weighted, and…dare I say it?…fun. Looks are subjective, but here’s why I’m walking away impressed: I drove it with no misconceptions or visions of what it would be. If you want a Fiesta ST or a Civic SI, you’ll be disappointed. If you think this little cracker box has nothing to offer, you’ll walk away surprised at what you will get. The Sonic RS Turbo has it’s place: first car, college car, or an autocross toy that does double-duty as an economy ride. Sometimes, driving a slow car fast is better than a fast car slow, and while our automatic test car wasn’t the best, a six-speed Sonic RS just might be the ticket for having a ball in the small-car world.

Thanks to J.T. and the staff at Campbell Chevrolet in Bowling Green, Kentucky for letting us take this Sonic out for a drive…and trusting us to not turn this review into a piñata-bashing session.

(See, I told you I’d be fair!)

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3 thoughts on “Quick Review: 2016 Chevrolet Sonic RS Turbo – An Exercise In Masochism Or Is There Something To Like?

  1. russell

    We have one with a 6 speed manual. Zippy fun little car with an aftermarket for tuner parts & suspension.

  2. ImpalaSam

    I just bought a 2016 Cruze,I didn’t even consider the Sonic, for one reason, that hideous dash.


    We bought a HB RS in April 15, left over 14 model w/o WIFI that no one wanted. It was to be a second car behind the Yukon Denali and even behind the Harley. Well, 12 months later it had 26,000 miles, Driven on 6 trips of over 2000 miles + normal use, Wife parked her Denali and now drives it every day. If you need a small car, give the RS (better seats, 17″ wheels and rear disc brakes) a try. Great little 33mpg car.

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