Ed Hellwig, Executive Editor
You don't really expect much from a new car with a price that starts at just under $10,000. Whether it's the tattered history of cars in this class or merely the idea that you can't possibly get a worthwhile vehicle for such a meager price, expectations are admittedly low.
Chevrolet is gunning to change that perception with the all-new Aveo subcompact. Designed in Italy yet built in Korea, the Aveo is a rebadged Daewoo that Chevrolet is adding to its lineup to serve as an entry-level model priced below the upcoming Cobalt (the long-awaited replacement for the Cavalier). With cars from Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia already making serious headway in this segment, GM figures it can fight fire with fire and stem the loss of first-time buyers to foreign brands.
Available as either a sedan or four-door hatchback, the Aveo comes in three levels of trim: Special Value, base and LS. In order to claim the prize as one of the least expensive cars on the market at $9,995, the Special Value model foregoes some amenities but still manages to provide items like an AM/FM stereo, tilt steering wheel, rear window defogger and a 60/40-split-folding rear seat. At $11,670, the base model adds standard air conditioning and floor mats, as well as offering optional items like a four-speed automatic transmission, CD/MP3 player and antilock brakes. Top-level LS models start at $12,586 and come standard with power windows, remote keyless entry, a CD/MP3 player, heated outside mirrors and upgraded interior upholstery. Options include antilock brakes and aluminum wheels, but by midyear a sunroof and premium audio system will be offered as well.
Only one engine is available but it compares favorably with the competition. The 1.6-liter four-cylinder features a high-tech design that allows it to deliver 103 horsepower and up to 35 miles to the gallon on manual-equipped models. A five-speed is standard, but base and LS models offer a four-speed automatic with manually selectable gears.
None of the cars in this class are known for their performance, so the fact that the Aveo offers only modest acceleration should come as no surprise. Driven back-to-back with Hyundai's Accent, the Aveo feels equally as quick. There's still considerable engine noise and it takes some time to get up to highway speeds, but the overall drivetrain package is competitive for the segment.
When it comes to ride quality and handling, the Aveo feels a step above the Accent. Its overall body control is noticeably better and the underpinnings feel more composed over bumps and potholes. The steering is sharper, the brakes more confident and the interior noise level seems lower as well. Trying to find refinement in this category is usually a lost cause, but the Aveo does manage to offer more than just the bare minimum when it comes to driving dynamics.
Bare minimum is also what you might expect in the cabin of the Aveo given its price, but there, too, it manages to provide subtle design details and solid build quality that give it a slightly more upscale look and feel. Gray plastic dominates the doors and dashboard, but distinguishing design elements like geometrical door shapes and individual gauge cluster binnacles manage to break up the monotony. The climate controls utilize a simple three-dial design, and the radio features a large faceplate with well-spaced buttons. None of the switches and dials have a particularly substantial feel, but their general operation presents few problems.
Neither the sedan nor the hatchback provides an expansive cabin, but there is enough room for six-footers to find a decent driving position up front. Seat comfort is marginal at best as the front buckets have minimal padding, and the rear bench is flat and unsupportive. Compared to the Accent, the Aveo's rear seat offers slightly more knee and headroom, but the overall comfort level is roughly the same.
With a trunk capacity of 11.7 cubic feet, the Aveo sedan offers slightly less cargo room than some of its competitors like the Accent and Toyota Echo. If you really need the space, however, the hatchback offers a maximum of 42 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seat folded down a full nine cubic feet more than the Scion xA. With the backseat up, the cargo capacity drops to 7.1 cubic feet in the hatchback, so care must be taken in choosing the right body style for your needs.
Whether you should choose the Aveo over its competitors is a more complicated decision. In terms of its engine power, ride and handling and available features, the Aveo is as good, or better, than most of its current competitors. The differences might be subtle during a brief test-drive, but over time such minor advantages could prove to be the difference between a car you like and a car you merely tolerate.
If the Aveo has a weak spot to consider, it would be its warranty. With only three years or 36,000 miles of bumper-to-bumper coverage and five years or 60,000 of drivetrain coverage, the Aveo doesn't quite match its competition. Both the Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio offer 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper coverage and 10 years or 100,000 miles of drivetrain protection. These are perks you hope to never have to use, but it's always nice to know that the protection is there.
Buying a car for less than $15,000 is fraught with tough decisions, and the introduction of the Aveo doesn't make that choice much easier. Its overall level of competence and clean design make it an appealing vehicle, but its less comprehensive warranty requires a slightly bigger leap of faith. Take it and you're not apt to be disappointed. Go the other direction and you'll get a good vehicle there, too like we said, it's a decision that won't be easy.
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