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2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS review: 'Really slow' Sonic offers high-tech for small budgets

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The Good The standard MyLink infotainment system in the 2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS offers a good array of digital audio sources and smartphone app integration. The RS' chassis and suspension are responsive, while the turbocharged engine supplies pretty good power.

The Bad The six-speed manual transmission almost spoils the fun with its vagueness and oddly spaced gearing. Fuel economy is down from last year. We'd like a premium audio option and a volume knob.

The Bottom Line The 2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS may not be a true hot hatchback, but it brings good, forward-thinking tech and great value to the B-segment.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

6.8 Overall
  • Cabin tech 7
  • Performance tech 7
  • Design 6

Review Sections

The Chevrolet Sonic is a simple car. For a reasonable price, you get four seats and a hatchback, a reasonably powered engine, and a pretty good infotainment setup. On paper, there's not much to go wrong or terribly right either with this followup to the frankly dull Aveo hatchback with which we're familiar.

Between you and me (and the rest of the Internet), I'm a huge fan of B-segment vehicles. There's something about the low entry cost, the cleverness of the packaging, and the potential for low-speed thrills that I just get. I'm more of a "drive a slow car fast" kind of guy.

As they say, the devil's in the details. Look more closely at our 2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS and you'll find a number of interesting gems: That reasonably powered engine is force-fed via a turbocharger. The hatchback design sits atop a sporty suspension. And the pretty-good infotainment system is remarkably cutting-edge in its own way, having more in common with an Android tablet or iPad Mini than your average dashboard stereo.

No one listens to CDs anymore
The Chevy Sonic is an interesting intersection of low-tech cost savings and high-tech thinking. Depending on the trim level and options chosen, the Sonic can be had with manual, crank windows and a 7-inch touch-screen infotainment system. This example would also be powered by GM's OnStar telematics system, which would let you unlock your doors from anywhere in the world, but you wouldn't be able to lower the rear windows from the driver's seat. How quaint.

Fortunately, the RS model that showed up in the garage has a fairly decent set amenities. We've got power windows, heated RS-style seats with leatherette trim, and cruise control -- features that most of you likely take for granted in a modern car.

MyLink by Chevrolet
The MyLink infotainment interface system reminds us of the Zune HD portable media player. We rather liked the Zune. James Martin/CNET

The infotainment system that is optional on the Sonic, but standard at our RS trim level, is the third infotainment system to use the MyLink name that we've tested this year. (The 2014 Cruze and Impala models that we tested use different software.)

The system is built around a 7-inch touch screen in the dashboard upon which you'll find a homescreen that isn't so much reminiscent of Microsoft's Zune interface as it looks exactly like it. The homescreen is dominated by large, thin sans-serif text indicating the different sections of the interface, such as audio sources, apps, and phone functions.

The available audio sources that feed the MyLink system and the Sonic's six-speaker stereo system include Bluetooth for audio and hands-free calling, AM/FM radio, SiriusXM satellite radio, and USB connectivity for MP3, WMA, and AAC playback and iPod interface. You can also view images and playback video from USB storage when the vehicle is parked. Supported video formats and extensions include AVI, MPG, MP4, DivX, XVID, and WMV.

You may or may not have noticed that CD playback is missing from the list of audio sources. That's because the Sonic's MyLink system doesn't have an optical disc drive. Chevy reckons that its younger target audience is more likely to carry music digitally, rather than on physical media. Welcome to the future.

With the exception of the climate control system, which involves a trio of knobs, the entire system is touch-controlled. There are capacitive keys beneath the screen for volume keys, home menu, and a power button that visually echo those that you'd see at the base of a tablet or smartphone. It's cool, but I'm not a fan. You can take away my CD player, but bring back the proper volume knob. I'd rather be able to quickly lower the volume with a flick of the wrist when needed, rather than being stuck tapping a downward-pointing arrow for seconds at a time.

MyLink with Pandora
There's no CD slot, so you'd better bring along a USB drive or smartphone loaded with music. James Martin/CNET

One of the most interesting tricks that this version of MyLink boasts is heavy integration with the apps installed on your smartphone. With no extra software needed, as long as your phone is connected to the car you can use MyLink to take command of Pandora, Stitcher, TuneIn, and BringGo.

Most of you will no doubt be familiar with the first three apps in that list: Pandora offers streaming Internet radio with custom-generated stations based on artists and songs that you like. MyLink gives you access to those stations to play through the car speakers and you can fine-tune the song choice on the touch screen by rating songs with a thumbs-up or thumbs-down. Stitcher is a podcast streaming app that MyLink is capable of tapping into to bring you your favorite serial content, while TuneIn streams local radio stations from around the world via your phone's data connection.

BringGo is probably a new name to most of you. This app supplies turn-by-turn navigation using your phone to store map and destination data and to do the heavy lifting of processing routes and traffic. We've already taken a deep dive into the BringGo app and found it to be serviceable for getting from points alpha to bravo, but its confusing interface kept us from recommending this $50-to-$60 app. That it can mirror its map and menu interface onto the MyLink touch screen and use the audio system for spoken turn-by-turn directions does place this app in the unique position of being the least expensive in-dash navigation option that I've ever tested. Inexpensive as it may be, the BringGo app frustrated me during my testing and I'd like more navigation app choices.

Four apps supported is nowhere near the number of apps that, say, Ford Sync AppLink offers, but there's plenty of space for growth on that app selection screen when more app partnerships are eventually added.

I did the bulk of my testing with an Android handset, but when paired with an Apple iPhone, the MyLink system gains one more very cool trick. Tapping the voice command button on the steering wheel activates the Siri assistant on the Apple device, so you can speak commands and requests to the software without looking at or touching the phone.

No matter the trim level, the Sonic comes equipped with GM's OnStar telematics system, which empowers the car with remote features such as door unlock, car finder, stolen vehicle recovery, and automatic 911 collision response. If you chose a model with an automatic transmission, you can add remote start to the list of features.

OnStar also gives the Sonic owner access to a service tier that includes turn-by-turn navigation. I hate to keep dissing BringGo, but I think I'd rather use OnStar for my directions, despite the fact that the telematics service will cost more over the long term than the app. Seriously consider this option during the six-month free trial of the service before rushing out and downloading the app.

Turbocharged engine
The standard Sonic is powered by an Ecotec 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine that outputs 138 horsepower. Our hotted-up RS model is powered by an Ecotec 1.4-liter turbocharged four-banger that outputs, well, 138 horsepower. What gives?

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