Entering the compact-car market as a new or updated model for 2007 is, well, not new. With the Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, Toyota Yaris and a newly redesigned Hyundai Accent already on sale, the entry of the 2007 Chevrolet Aveo into this highly competitive segment seems like old news. And in this case, old news isn't such good news for General Motors.
GM's goal for the 2007 Aveo is to maintain its dominant position in the marketplace. Aveo climbed to the top of the market-share hill shortly after inception two-and-a-half years ago and stood confidently looking down at minimal opposition until this year. But with the Accent, Fit, Versa and Yaris charging uphill with bayonets affixed, the Aveo's improvements might not be enough to hold the high ground.
Looks aren't everything
As in years past, Chevrolet still offers both sedan and hatchback (Aveo5) models, each with two trim levels. A base price of $14,015 for the four-door LT hovers around the middle of the pack in its class. With options, our four-door LT test car was priced just above that at $14,775.
The '07 Aveo four-door is a better-looking car than its predecessor, and its cosmetic differences make up the bulk of what's new for this year. Changes include new rear taillights, front headlights and a redesigned hood. The V-shaped hood creates style lines that direct the eye toward a Chevy bowtie mounted on the grille. It's a design focused on brand awareness. A clever idea, because under the surface the Aveo is actually the product of GM's Korean subsidiary Daewoo, which calls it the Gentra.
The stance of the car remains much the same, although exterior proportions are minimally longer, wider and taller than before. The overall dimensions are actually so close to those of the previous model that it would not be going out on a limb to call them unchanged. It is still the big-little car the public expects.
It's what's on the inside that counts
Interior design is what really differentiates the Aveo from the competition. The two-tone chrome and carbon-fiber accents give the appearance of luxury and are pleasing to the eye. Fit and finish is good and the overall quality of materials is impressive for a car in this price range.
Most controls function in a logical manner and meet expectations, although cupholder placement is poor for a car meant to be a daily commuter. Two extend from the dash at knee level and are asking for trouble when it comes to long-legged front passengers. A third is positioned at the back of the center console and is so shallow, it may be easier to just pour the drink on the floor and cut out the middle man.
The Aveo LT offers features found on most other subcompacts in the market: A/C, tilt steering wheel, front armrest (driver only), hooks on the headrest for grocery bags, power windows and a 60/40 folding rear seat, to name a few. Some additional features of the LT are common in more expensive models but not so much in the compact segment. A six-way adjustable driver seat with lumbar support is optional, as are steering-wheel-mounted cruise and radio controls, dual power and heated side mirrors, power sunroof and a radio antenna integrated into the rear window. A radio input jack for iPods and MP3 players is a must-have in this market and comes standard.
The Aveo's standard cloth seats are reasonably comfortable, and although driver legroom is limited for 6-footers, it's the headroom that makes this car feel big on the inside. Theater-style seating in the rear offers a view for smaller passengers but legs again become cramped when trying to fit adults. A slightly larger trunk for '07 means 12.4 cubic feet of storage space that, combined with fold-down rear seats, offers significant storage space for large items.
Headroom galore, legroom needs more
Standard safety features include a high-strength steel frame around the passenger compartment, seatbelt pre-tensioners, dual-stage front airbags and side airbags. The most noticeable feature absent from this list: ABS brakes.
It is astonishing to see anything built in the 2007 model year that does not come standard with ABS. The omission of this $400 option from our test car became glaringly obvious when we tested its 60-0-mph braking distance. For perspective, previous testing recorded an average stopping distance of 126 feet for Accent, Fit, Versa and Yaris, each with ABS. Our non-ABS Aveo stopped in a disappointing 150 feet, although we would expect a more competitive result were our test car ABS-equipped.
The Aveo's 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder engine remains unchanged from 2006 and still delivers the yawn-inspiring 103 horsepower and 107 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels. But fuel economy is the name of the game for subcompacts, not performance. EPA numbers prepared us for fuel mileage returns of 26 city/34 highway, and our best single tank of highway driving was right up there at 29 mpg. After two weeks of driving in all situations, our total was a less impressive 24 mpg.
A five-speed manual is standard but our tester arrived with the optional four-speed automatic transmission. The $850 automatic has a push-button "Hold Control" feature designed to hold high gears and minimize traction loss on slick roads — in essence, limiting torque to the wheels.
In acceleration testing our LT took 11.9 seconds to go from zero to 60 and completed the quarter-mile in 18.7 seconds at 72.5 mph. This ranks it as slowest in the class of '07 subcompacts we've tested. A slalom speed of 63.5 mph ranks equally low among its peers, while its 0.77g on the skid pad is average for the 15-inch wheels so common in this segment.
On the defensive
On sale in more than 140 countries, GM is counting on the Aveo to maintain the volume-seller position it's held since inception, but it's not going to be easy in the U.S. market. The onslaught of highly creative and youth-oriented marketing from the competition is flooding the media to promote the quality of its products. They're collectively looking at GM's market share with only two things on their mind: "Divide and conquer."
And GM has left the door of opportunity wide open. Although an improvement over the old Aveo, the new version is just too light on performance and style to successfully fight off the invaders.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.