ROAD TEST: Chevrolet Sonic RS
Johannesburg - Chevrolet has no shortage of performance car heritage to brag about. From as far back as the 'sixties the bowtie badge has been in the thick of the muscle car craze with its Camaro, while the Corvette has been something of a sports car halo for even longer.
But that's a far cry from the Chevrolet we've come to know in South Africa for the last decade, if we ignore the rare and now-extinct Lumina SS for a second.
Now Chevrolet brings some flavour to the masses with the new Sonic RS.
Flavour? While there is a rather neat styling kit in the form of a bolder front bumper, 17-inch alloys, side skirts, rear spoiler and diffuser, the big talking point here is the 1.4-litre turbopetrol engine under the bonnet.
Let's not mistake this with any genuine hot hatch though. Developing 103kW at 6000rpm and 200Nm at 4000rpm, the Sonic RS is not pretending to be one. That said, it certainly has a bit more chilli in its relish than the other hatchbacks at its price level, which are mostly normally aspirated.
Floor the loud pedal and you won't feel any blissful sensation of boost, but its linear power delivery can be deceiving and against the clock the RS managed to sprint from 0-100km/h in 9.4 seconds in Gauteng. There's no jet-pack sensation here, but performance is certainly satisfying and open road overtaking is effortless.
There are a few blemishes in the overall driving equation though. The clutch is a bit on the heavy side, the footwell is cramped and lacks a foot rest and the gearshift-action feels a little notchy at times. The steering does have a reasonably meaty feel to it though and GM has struck a reasonable balance between ride quality and road holding here and the Sonic feels rather compliant and composed over most surfaces.
I also liked the overall decorative effect that GM has achieved in the cabin. The sports seats are clad in a smart-looking mock suede and leather combination, complete with RS logos. These seats, along with various red accents throughout the cabin and a flat-bottomed steering wheel, make the cabin feel rather special, or at least a few notches more inspiring than your average humdrum commuter hatch.
They've gone quite big on technology too and a standard feature in the RS is the new MyLink system. Here a seven-inch touchscreen is your gateway to an infotainment hub that offers full smartphone integration, including Bluetooth audio streaming if you have the data to spare.
GM has hardly skimped on luxury in this hatch - even cruise control is part of the deal - but I'm disappointed that they haven't fitted curtain-level airbags, only front and lower-side cushions are featured here. At least traction control wasn't forgotten.
The Chevrolet Sonic RS offers some proper bang for the buck within its price context and it's a well equipped hatch with a racy look and satisfying performance.
It might lack the overall sporty driving experience you get in a Suzuki Swift Sport, but the RS does have the performance edge in its segment, particularly for those living at Reef altitude.
Chevrolet Sonic RS
Engine: 1.4-litre, four-cylinder turbopetrol
Gearbox: Six-speed manual
Power: 103kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 200Nm @ 4000rpm
0-100km/h (tested): 9.4 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 197km/h
Consumption (claimed): 6.6 litres per 100km
Price: R225 300
Warranty: Five-year/120 000km
Service plan: Three-year/60 000km
Ford Fiesta 1.0T Trend (92kW/170Nm) - R227 230
Hyundai Accent 1.6 5dr (91kW/156Nm) - R234 900
Peugeot 208 1.6 Allure (88kW/160Nm) - R231 700
Suzuki Swift 1.6 Sport (100kW/160Nm) - R226 900
VW Polo 1.6 Comfortline (77kW/155Nm) - R224 800