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We drive racy new Chev Sonic RS

Arniston, Western Cape - Chevrolet has launched a warmed-up derivative of its Sonic hatchback in South Africa.

Aimed at young buyers seeking a bit more than commuting performance, the Sonic RS is powered by a new 1.4-litre petrol turbo engine that delivers 103kW and 200Nm to the front wheels, offering a claimed 197km/h top speed and 0-100km/h sprint of 9.5 seconds.

The Chevrolet Sonic RS is powered by a 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine producing 103kW and 200Nm.

While that doesn’t sound like the fire-spitting pace expected of an RS badge (a la Audi or Ford), in Chevrolet culture the RS moniker denotes a car at the entry-level of the performance league, with SS reserved for the true fire-spitting cars.

So try to forget about hot Audis and Fords, and even RS-badged Renault Clios, and think of the R225 300 Sonic RS as a rival to a Suzuki Swift Sport, which sells for nearly the same money (R223 900) but comes at a power disadvantage with its normally-aspirated 1.6 engine producing 100kW and 160Nm.

FREE-REVVING TURBO MOTOR

I drove the Sonic RS at its media launch in the Western Cape last week and it’s an impressive little package for buyers on a (relative) budget who are seeking something a little sportier than, say, a 1.6-litre Polo Vivo. Small turbo-petrol engines are becoming all the rage these days and for good reason: they offer good economy and zippy performance, and don’t become lethargic at high altitude.

The Chev’s little four-cylinder Ecotec turbo engine has a fairly punchy and free-revving nature, exhibiting brisk acceleration and easy cruisability – and all without feeling like it’s huffing and puffing itself into premature cardiac failure. In fact it’s a decidedly smooth performer and I accidentally hit the rev limiter a couple of times because the engine didn’t seem to be making anything like enough noise to be near the redline.

At a claimed 6.6 litres per 100km the five-door hatch throws good fuel economy into the bargain.

A slick-shifting six-speed manual with close ratios plays its part in making this souped-up Sonic an enjoyably low-effort drive, and the speed-sensitive power steering prevents tired arms without feeling artificially light.

FLEET-FOOTED AGILITY

A 10mm lower ride height and stiffer springs than the regular Sonic gives the RS improved corner-carving skills without feeling too firm, and the little Chev danced through the Western Cape’s curvy roads with fleet-footed agility. I particularly liked the way the chassis handled high-speed mid-corner bumps without getting unsettled. Electronic Stability Control and ABS brakes provide the potentially life-saving tech, along with front and side airbags.

As the sporty model in the Sonic range, the RS is visually revved-up with all the things that make wannabe boy-racers go weak at the knees, including a more aggressive front bumper, side skirts, and 17” gunmetal-painted mags, while the rear view is spiced up with a roof spoiler and a diffuser with a trapezoidal exhaust tip.

Sporty cabin treatment takes the form of piano black and matt-silver trim, red RS-specific detailing, sports leather and suede combination seats, sports pedals and RS floor mats.

The RS’s well-stocked spec sheet includes a MyLink infotainment system (standard in the RS and optional on other Sonics) which allows hands-free phone calls, audio streaming via Bluetooth or USB port, and also video playback and picture gallery viewing (only while the car is stationary) on a 7” touch screen.

The Sonic RS is sold with a five-year/ 120 000km warranty and a three-year/ 60 000km service plan with service intervals of 15 000km.

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