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car review

2013 Chevrolet Sonic.Dan Proudfoot/The Globe and Mail

The Chevrolet Sonic's sales brochure pictures youthful skate boarders, tubers, picnickers with gear stowed in the car's roomy cargo space.

I get that, totally. I'd definitely be into skateboarding myself if I weren't born in a time of single-gear bicycles with 28-inch wheels and coaster brakes.

Anyway, Chevrolet's marketing experts surely know what they're doing pitching a car that starts at $13,665 at fun-loving, younger buyers.

Now, turn the page. The model featured further inside the brochure, without any sports gear whatsoever, is in a separate category altogether. The $23,560 RS is a kick for every age.

The RS makes driving as entertaining as boarding (or so an older fun-lover might imagine). And, of course, this form of exhilaration comes with no need for antiseptic or bandages; wiping out is hardly in the realm of possibility with standard stability control.

This Sonic RS corners like your grandfather's MG or Miata sports car. GM engineers have lowered and firmed up the regular Sonic suspension and fitted premium shock absorbers that combine athletic handling with a decent ride.

Unfortunately, it's slow. The otherwise lively RS makes do with the same engine as other Sonics and Cruzes (1.4-litre turbo, 138 hp) and it's as inappropriate in this model as it is adequate in the others. Imagine skate-boarding without a ramp and you've pretty much got the sensation.

How slow? Accelerating to 100 km/h takes 10 seconds, as established in Canadian Car of The Year testing conducted by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. The next-slowest was Hyundai's Veloster Turbo at 8.1 seconds among 10 cars in the Sports-Performance Under $50,000 category. From 80 to 120 km/h, a good measure of passing power, Sonic RS again was ponderous at 7.7 seconds, against 5.6 for the Veloster Turbo.

Braking arguably is as important as acceleration. It certainly counts more as a safety consideration. In this measure Sonic RS impressed with its four-wheel discs' performance, stopping from 100 km/h in 40.1 metres – better than the Fiat Abarth, Ford ST, Veloster Turbo, Subaru BRZ and Volkswagen Golf R.

So the RS aces two out of three sport-vehicle attributes. And its mediocre power may be acceptable for those of us who count fuel consumption among our priorities.

We average 8.0 litres/100 km in our week of suburban driving – and it's rare for a sport-oriented car to qualify for this Eco Driver series of reviews of cars with a Natural Resources Canada rating of better than 10 litres/100 km in city driving; RS's government rating is 7.5.

The manual transmission helps compensate for the engine. Shifting among its six gears is slick and involving. Choosing lower gears and higher rpm maximizes performance; the engine response is weak at low rpm before the turbocharger comes into play.

For boarders who are capable of smooth noseslides or slick ollies but cannot use a clutch, an automatic transmission is available.

One common fear of manual shifting has been addressed: standard hill assist prevents Sonics from rolling backward from a stop on a hill. The brakes remain engaged for one-and-a-half seconds as the driver moves his/her foot from the brake pedal to the accelerator.

The eye-catching aluminum sport pedals are one more good reason for going manual. The RS interior pops with the cues of a more powerful car. The thick, flat-bottomed steering wheel feels good in the hands. Red-stitching on the wheel and shift knob compliment 'RS' lettering on the seats and carpets.

The fit is first-rate as well. The driver's seat is four-way adjustable, the steering wheel tilt and telescopic. Support is excellent as well with firm cushioning and adequate bolstering. Heated seats are standard in the RS, as are AC, keyless entry, Bluetooth, USB, satellite radio and the Chevrolet MyLink system with touch-screen display.

The test car's black granite metallic paint is a $195 option that enhances the 17-inch wheels painted silver grey regardless of body colour in the case of the RS model. The spoiler enveloping the rear window caps the super Sonic's look.

But it's how it goes that counts. In another century before most of today's boarders were born, Chevrolet's Cavalier Z24 generated 150 horsepower and 155 lb-ft of torque. It didn't handle nearly as well as the Sonic RS, and it consumed a lot more fuel, but today's Chevrolet could be even more appealing with a little more of the Z24's power.

With 40 more horsepower, this car could rival far more expensive sport models like Volkswagen's Golf GTi, Fiat's Abarth or Mini Cooper S.

Tech Specs

2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS

Type: Four-door subcompact hatchback

Base price: $23,560; as tested, $25,255 (including options and $1,500 destination charge)

Engine: 1.4-litre, DOHC, turbocharged four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 138 hp/148 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): Natural Resources Canada rating, 7.5 city/5.8 highway; in our suburban driving, 8.0; regular gas

Alternatives: Hyundai Elantra GT, Volkswagen Golf