The Chevrolet Aveo is GM's smallest, least expensive car. Aside from its price, what's most attractive about the Chevy Aveo is its surprisingly handsome interior, at least on the up-level 2LT. Its 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine is rated at 106 horsepower, which we found adequate. 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.
The 2009 Aveo gets a new, more efficient engine. The Aveo5 hatchback gets extensive revisions for 2009, with new exterior styling and a revised interior. The Aveo sedan received these updates for 2007. Their basic architecture and mechanical underpinnings date to 2004.
Aveo is a subcompact that competes with the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa, and Hyundai Accent. Aveo was designed to offer sensible, day-to-day transportation. Its ride is tuned more for comfort than sporty driving. Comfort is important when commuting through heavy, stop-and-go traffic and the Aveo won't spill your coffee on the way to work.
The Aveo gets the third generation of GM's 1.6-liter Ecotec engine for 2009. The addition of variable valve timing increases horsepower by 3 to 106 and helps improve fuel economy. Aveo is EPA-estimated to deliver 27/34 mpg City/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 costs less and it's unlikely you can make up the price difference in fuel economy.
We found the Aveo an enjoyable car to spend time with, particularly the Aveo 2LT with its nice upholstery, cloth or leatherette. The climate and audio controls are easy to use, the driver's seat adjusts for height, and the car drives well. Some of the other cars in this class offer more power, sharper handling, and a quieter ride, but we never felt like we were missing out on something when we were in this car. We prefer the Aveo5 five-door hatchback for its ability to haul stuff.
For 2009, in addition to the changes to the engine and exterior and interior of the Aveo5, the Aveo gets a revised lineup mix, and several new and revised features. OnStar assistance and an auxiliary input jack are now standard, XM satellite radio is available, and the radio controls are changed. The driver information center adds an outside temperature display and a fuel economy/driving range function. New Charcoal leatherette seating is offered and it is available with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.
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 (introduced on 2009 Aveo5 and 2007 Aveo) resulted in a more aerodynamic shape. This reduces wind noise at highway speeds and improves fuel economy.
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 down 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.
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, on the other hand, has personality all right, and the 2009 changes make it look better. The Aveo5 shares surprisingly little sheet metal with the sedan. At just 154.3 inches in overall length, the Aveo5 is a significant 15 inches shorter than the sedan. The Aveo5 grille is much bolder than the sedan's grille 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.
While the Aveo sedan has a smaller grille with a lower air intake below it, the Aveo5 hatchback's larger grille eliminates the need for an additional air intake. The hatchback's front fender bulges around the wheels are less crisply defined, and the character line that runs from wheel to wheel on the sedan, bisects the front doors and dips down on the hatchback's rear doors. The hatchback has another character line and wheel bulge that picks up midway along the rear doors and extends to the taillights. The Aveo5 seems to end rather abruptly, just behind the rear wheels. This impression is 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.
Interestingly, 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, 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.
Basic controls, such as the climate system and stereo, are easy to use and within close reach. The layout is 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. For 2009, it adds more features, including an outside temperature display and average fuel economy and miles to empty readouts. 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 cupholder also pops out of the center stack.
The Aveo has an advantage in rear legroom over the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris. We found it's possible to carry four tall adults (six-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.
Cargo space in the Aveo5 hatchback is 15.0 cubic feet 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. 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.
We found the 106-horsepower Aveo delivered adequate acceleration. The four-speed automatic we tested was fairly quick to respond and the acceleration was adequate. The Honda Fit has more power and weighs less, however, and the Aveo requires more space to complete a pass on a two-lane road. But 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 deadening material.
The Chevrolet Aveo works well around town and for commuting. It offers an attractive price, a pleasant interior, a comfortable ride, and fuel efficiency. We found the Aveo5 hatchback particularly useful for its cargo utility and it's styling has more personality. 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.