There was a time in our not-so-distant past when features like navigation and heated seats were luxuries reserved exclusively for premium brands. If you wanted that (now) small, pixelated screen in the middle of your dash, you’d have to buy a Lexus or BMW, and that meant spending a pretty penny on the rest of the car, too.
However, things are different now.
Middle-schoolers are glued to their cell phones and social media owns hours of our teens’ lives each day.
For the first time ever, personal technology has become more important in young people’s worlds than their 16th birthdays and Justin Bieber concerts- ok maybe not that last one. That’s required the automakers to get pretty crafty when it comes to building their most affordable cars, and they’ve grabbed features from the luxury categories to win back the interest of future shoppers. Enter the 2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS, an affordable, techno-chic hatchback that’s rocking Mom and Dad’s high-tech duds.
The Sonic is offered with a few of the basic features that you’d expect to see on any luxury car, but they’re items that we appreciated even more in such an inexpensive model. The headlights and daytime-running lights are automatic, so you never have to worry about being seen or being able to see in the dark. Safety should always come first, and that’s even more important in a vehicle geared toward less experienced drivers. The car also has optional heated seats with a single on/off setting. While you might prefer to have more control with how much heat is under your rear, the fact that it’s an option in a $20,000 car will likely impress your friends.
By comparison, there are some cars out there that might surprise you with their missing features. Take the Volvo XC70 as an example. Fully-loaded, the XC70 exceeds well over $50,000, and automatic headlights aren’t even available. Or look at the new Cadillac ATS, where heated seats aren’t standard on a car that starts above $30,000.
When it comes to in-car wireless connectivity, Audi leads the way. Whether you’re looking for Bluetooth hands-free dialing or the option to create a rolling Wi-Fi hub right from the dash, these cars do it all. But as it turns out, they’re not the only ones. GM recently announced that its cars will have the ability to create mobile 4G LTE hotspots from the road starting in late 2014. While that doesn’t affect this year’s Sonic RS model, it’s likely that you’ll see this technology available next year. Plus, the Sonic LTZ and RS models both come equipped with Bluetooth connectivity for mobile phones, as well as the ability to download apps and stream Pandora internet radio with a data connection.
Even better, GM is one of the first of the automakers to include the iPhone’s Siri virtual assistant in cars, and the Sonic is one of the first to receive that technology. What does that mean to you? At its root, it means that your car will understand more of what you’re saying, rather than you having to remember voice prompts for its navigation system. And so far, the Sonic (and it’s smaller, cheaper sibling, the Spark) will be two of the only cars on the road with the feature built into their infotainment systems.
Navigation is an easy sell for most luxury cars. In fact, you can’t even buy many of the most expensive cars on the market without it. And even with its large 7-inch touch-screen, Chevrolet MyLink experience, the Sonic doesn’t have viewable maps like some of the biggest players in the market. That’s a pretty big gap to fill when you look at Audi’s inclusion of Google Maps and StreetView in its MMI-equipped cars. However, the Sonic does offer turn-by-turn directions as long as you have an OnStar subscription. While it may not be ideal to have to push a button to chat with a representative when you want to find a destination, and it’s even less ideal to pay $30 per month to have access to that service, it gets the job done. Not only does it push directions to you car, but OnStar also provides perhaps the most luxurious technology feature available in any car: concierge service.
OnStar doesn’t have the monopoly on in-car assistance. Infiniti Personal Assistant allows owners to call a number from their cell phone, and the operator can find restaurants, make reservations or purchase movie tickets, but there’s no real connectivity to the car—it’s just a service offered to Infiniti buyers. Lexus Enform is similar to the Sonic’s OnStar system in that the operator can push directions to the car and find locations, but there’s little else offered there. That’s where OnStar really takes the cake, and it’s also where the Chevy Sonic has a leg up in the business. Headed to a restaurant? OnStar can send your Sonic there. Don’t have reservations? Now you do. It’s a neat service that also extends to features like lojack for locating your car, and remote unlocking if you forget your keys inside.
Back when screens and hard drives and phones were expensive options that only the wealthy could afford in their cars, the line between luxury and economy was a pretty distinct one. Now, that gap has shrunk and the line has blurred. Truth told, the Chevy Sonic isn’t a luxury car, but it’s not trying to be. After all, the Sonic is loaded for less than $22,000. It’s an economy car with tons of technology available from the dash, and for on-the-go technophiles, that might be just enough luxury to satisfy.