2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS

2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS

Chevrolet has been expanding and revamping its presence in the small-car market for the past couple of years with impressive vehicles such as the Cruze and the Sonic. Here at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Chevy is furthering its small-car agenda with a sportier version of the already-sporty Sonic, as well as two concept cars aimed at meeting the needs of "Millennials," a young generation of car buyers whom Chevy defines as 18- to 30-year-olds. Research shows these potential customers want to be treated with respect, and they want cars with design passion, room for friends and affordable pricing.

Research: Economical Commuter Cars

NAIAS 2012


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2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS

Click to enlarge picture2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS (© Rod Hatfield)

2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS

Click to enlarge picture2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS (© Rod Hatfield)

2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS

What is it? A sport-tuned version of GM's new entry-level hatchback.

What's hot? The Sonic RS adds some performance goodies to the likable Sonic. Stiffer suspension settings and a 10-millimeter lower stance will make this already-sporty car even more agile. Rear disc brakes replace drums, which could add stopping power. On the outside, it gets unique 17-inch smoke-finish wheels, more aggressive front and rear fascias, rocker moldings and carbon-fiber-look mirror caps. Inside, it adds leather front sport seats, a race-inspired flat-bottom steering wheel and aluminum pedals. Chevrolet's MyLink radio comes standard with a 7-inch touch-screen that can act as an interface for smartphones.

What's not? Despite its status as a sport model, the Sonic RS gets no more power. The 1.4-liter 138-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder is the only engine, and it is offered with a choice of 6-speed transmissions, manual or automatic. The car may be a bit quicker thanks to revised gearing ratios, but we'd like to see a direct-injected version of this engine with a bigger turbo. That could add 20 to 30 horsepower without hurting fuel economy.

How much and when? About $18,000. Due at the end of 2012.

MSN Autos' verdict: The Sonic is surprisingly sporty, and the overall level of quality raises the bar in the subcompact class. More aggressive looks and even sportier handling can make this appealing car even more fun. We're looking forward to it, provided the price isn't too high.

Tru 140S and Code 130R Concepts

Click to enlarge pictureChevrolet Tru 140S Concept (© Rod Hatfield)

Chevrolet Tru 140S Concept

Click to enlarge pictureChevrolet Code 130R Concept (© Rod Hatfield)

Chevrolet Code 130R Concept

What are they? Youth-oriented 2-door concept cars.

What's hot? They are high on style and low on price. The Tru140S is a 2-door lift-back coupe that looks like a combination of a Mitsubishi Eclipse and a Scion. The Code130R is a 2-door coupe with definite Camaro influences. Both cars use General Motors' 1.4-liter turbocharged engine, but the addition of GM's eAssist mild hybrid technology aids fuel economy and increases horsepower to about 150. Chevy quotes 40 mpg on the highway for both cars. The Code 130R rides the same rear-drive platform as the new Cadillac ATS, while the Tru 140S is based on the front-drive Chevy Cruze platform. Chevrolet says both cars, aimed at buyers without a lot of spending power, would offer passion in the form of looks and sporty handling. Both also would have useful space for the driver and three friends, and would likely offer the latest in connectivity features.

What's not? General Motors' research shows that only 64 percent of Millennials buy cars and that 90 percent in the 18- to 24-year-old range opt for used cars. With the Sonic and Cruze performing well and the Spark due in late 2012, is there really room for a couple more small cars? Not for a while, at least.

How much and when? These cars could represent the next generation of Chevy small cars. Both would start at about $20,000.

MSN Autos' verdict: A next generation of small cars with style and attitude could indeed attract younger buyers. We doubt these concepts will see production for at least four or five years, but it doesn't hurt to reach out to the next generation of buyers now to help develop products for a market largely uninterested in cars in general.

Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, and currently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.