The Chevrolet Aveo is GM's smallest, least expensive car. Aside from its price, what's most attractive about Aveo is its surprisingly handsome interior, at least on the up-level Aveo 2LT. The 2010 Chevrolet Aveo comes with an updated 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 108 horsepower, which is adequate for such an affordable car. Transmission choices are either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic.
Aveo is available as a four-door sedan or a versatile five-door hatchback called the Aveo5. We prefer the Aveo5 five-door hatchback for its ability to haul stuff.
The Aveo sedan was extensively updated for 2007 and the hatchback received the same treatment for 2009. The changes were made so the Aveo could better compete with a wave of new subcompacts, namely the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa, and Hyundai Accent. The Aveo's basic architecture and mechanical underpinnings date to 2004.
Aveo was designed to offer sensible, day-to-day transportation. Its ride is tuned more for comfort than sporty driving, and this is where it differs from the frisky Honda Fit. But many of us spend much of our time commuting through heavy, stop-and-go traffic and don't expect an economy car to deliver nimble handling.
The Aveo features the third generation of GM's 1.6-liter Ecotec engine, which gains two horsepower for 2010 for a total of 108 hp. With the manual transmission, Aveo is EPA-estimated to deliver 27 mpg in the city and 35 on the highway. That compares well with the Hyundai Accent (26/35 mpg) and Nissan Versa (27/33). The Honda Fit (28/35) and Toyota Yaris (29/36) are more efficient, but the Aveo competes with a lower purchase price.
We found the Aveo an enjoyable car to spend time with, particularly the Aveo 2LT with its nice cloth or leatherette upholstery. The climate and audio controls are easy to use, the driver's seat adjusts for height, and the car drives well. The negatives include a lack of power, somewhat sloppy handling and a sometimes loud interior.
Other minor changes for 2010 include a standard rear spoiler on the Aveo5 2LT and lower numeric fourth and fifth gear ratios for the manual transmission to improve highway fuel economy.
Chevrolet Aveo LS ($11,965); Aveo5 LS ($11,965); Aveo 1LT ($14,100); Aveo5 1LT ($14,100); Aveo 2LT ($15,365); Aveo5 2LT ($15,365)
The Chevy Aveo sedan and hatchback are about the same length as the Toyota Yaris sedan and hatchback, though almost a foot shorter than the Honda Fit, which is only offered as a hatchback. The re-styling for 2007 and 2009 gave the Aveo a more aerodynamic shape, one of the benefits of which has been to reduce wind noise at highway speeds.
Up front, a thick, bright horizontal grille bar emblazoned with a gold bowtie leaves no doubt that Aveo sedan is a Chevy. The lower fascia is nicely detailed, and the fog lights well integrated. Moving around to the side, a crisp bevel just below the window line and a parallel bulge between the wheel arches combine to camouflage the Aveo's tall, stubby profile, sort of like a person wearing appropriately directed stripes. The sedan's blacked-out window frames look heavy handed, however, especially with bright colors, and the rear of the roof line appears bulbous. Around back, a bright band between fashionably complex tail lamps echoes the theme of the grille.
But like many cars, the Aveo sedan has a look that tries to find wide acceptability by not offending anybody. But in its attempt to be neither too boring nor too radical, it lacks personality.
The Aveo5 shares surprisingly little sheet metal with the sedan, and it has more personality. At just 154.3 inches in overall length, the Aveo5 is a significant 15 inches shorter than the sedan. The grille is much bolder than the sedan's and it dips down all the way to the bottom of the lower fascia. It is flanked by a pair of air intakes that also house the fog lights. The sedan, with its smaller grille, adds a center lower air intake that the hatchback doesn't have. The front fender bulges around the wheels are less crisply defined, and the character line bisects the front doors and dips down on the rear doors. Another character line/wheel bulge picks up midway along the rear doors and extends to the taillights. The car seems to end rather abruptly, just behind the rear wheels. This impression is greatly heightened by a rear-end profile that's more station-wagon vertical than hatchback sleek, and by the almost comically abbreviated quarter windows just behind the rear doors. While the rear end may look a bit odd, the front end is much more attractive than the old hatchback and the current sedan.
While the Aveo5 looks as tall as a bus, it is only 0.1 taller than the sedan. It is also 1.2 inches narrower than the sedan, with 0.8 inches less rear track (the distance between the rear tires).
The big surprise in the interior of our Chevrolet Aveo 2LT sedan test car was the handsomeness of the Charcoal Deluxe seat fabric, which shames the manufacturers of some more expensive vehicles. The Aveo5 2LT we drove also had an attractive interior with faux wood trim on the dashboard and leatherette trim on the seats. The attractive looks combine with a tidy and sensible layout to minimize Aveo's economy-car status.
The Aveo's basic controls, such as the climate system and stereo, are easy to use and within close reach. The layout is quite simple, so drivers won't be distracted looking for buttons. All radios come with an auxiliary jack for iPods and other MP3 players. The dash is all hard plastic, but that's to be expected in this class. The instrument panel features black-faced gauges with white numbers and watch-like dials. A driver information center is located between the gauges. A digital clock sits on top of the dash at the base of the windshield.
The driver's seat is height adjustable, even in the base model, a nice feature for drivers short and tall. The front seat bottom cushion is a bit short for drivers with long legs, cutting some occupants a little short on thigh support. Visibility all around is unrestricted. Small items storage can be found in trays in front and behind the shifter, a pop-out bin the size of an ashtray in the dash, and in door pockets. A dual cup holder pops out of the center stack.
Rear legroom in the Aveo is better than that in the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris. We found it's possible to carry four tall adults (6-footers) for a short distance without anybody being traumatized, as long as there's cooperation from the people in the front seats, that is. Despite its slimmer dimensions, the Aveo5 hatchback has about the same rear seat space as the sedan. In fact, it has 0.2 inch more headroom.
The trunk is rated at 12.4 cubic feet for the Aveo sedan. That's competitive in a segment like this, and the back seat folds down if the priority becomes carrying stuff instead of people.
The Aveo5 hatchback has 15.0 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats. It comes standard with a rear cargo cover to hide packages from prying eyes. The rear seat folds flat to open up 37.4 cubic feet of cargo room, less than the 42.0 cubic feet the Aveo5 had before it was reworked for 2009. The rear cargo floor is not flat, though, as there is a step from the rear floor to the folded seats. If you'll be using the cargo compartment more than the back seat, the Aveo5 makes a lot of sense.
The Aveo works well around town and for commuting. Its 108 horsepower is a few less than what's served up by the Fit, which also weighs slightly less than the Aveo, increasing its advantage.
However, the four-speed automatic in the Aveos we tested was fairly quick to respond and the acceleration was adequate. The Aveo would be a bad choice for a tight pass on a two-lane road, but with a little thought and planning there shouldn't be any problems merging onto a busy freeway, even with a passenger.
We've always been more impressed with the Chevrolet Aveo's ride than its handling. The Aveo irons out most bumps with ease. Sharper bumps rarely affect passenger comfort. Like many front-wheel-drive cars, the Aveo feels nose heavy when driven hard, and it doesn't offer the responsive handling found in the Honda Fit. Try and go fast through a moderately tight turn and the Aveo's body leans quite a bit. That's part of the price to pay for a comfortable ride, particularly on a broken surface. It is also the Aveo's way of reminding the driver that it wasn't designed to be a sporty car.
The steering has a light feel and it's a bit numb, but not annoyingly so. It's about par for the course for an economy car, though much less direct than in the Fit. We found that the brakes felt natural, but the use of rear drums is old technology. ABS is optional and we highly recommend it.
The noise and vibration from the 1.6 liter engine is nicely controlled for a four-cylinder engine. The exception is when the driver slams the accelerator pedal to the floor and holds it there. Then things get a noisy, especially at the higher engine speeds. Road noise is also rather intrusive, as sharp bumps create audible banging noises. You can also really hear the rain plunk on the roof in a storm, evidence that Chevrolet hasn't used much sound deadener.
The Chevrolet Aveo isn't as nimble as the Honda Fit and it won't hold its resale value as well. However, it offers a more attractive price, a pleasant interior for the class, a comfortable ride, fuel efficiency and a useful hatchback body style that provides cargo utility. Bottom line, the Aveo is good, basic transportation.
Christopher Jensen contributed to this report to NewCarTestDrive.com from New England; John F. Katz reported from Pennsylvania; Kirk Bell reported from Chicago.