The reason for the Chevrolet Aveo is easy to explain, whereas understanding the complexities of its parentage takes rather longer. In short, Aveo is Chevrolet’s US market offering for people who want a brand new car and have very little money to spend. It is unashamedly basic in just about every regard, as well as being one of the most diminutive cars on sale in the USA, after you have considered the Smart. The basic pedigree of the car goes back to the “T200” project at Daewoo, in South Korea, which was first manifest as a rather neat Giugiaro styled five door hatchback that the world came to know as the Daewoo Kalos. When production started in early 2002, the five door hatchback was joined by a three door version and a slightly dumpy four door saloon. Compared with previous Daewoo products, the Kalos was seen as a massive step forward and it received quite positive reviews. Daewoo themselves, though, had been in something of an imperilled financial state even before the Kalos was launched and had been rescued by General Motors, who now saw the potential to use the Kalos as the basis for a set of offerings around the world, duly adapted for local markets and bearing local badges. Thus, a plethora of new names for the same basic design appeared, including the Holden Barina in Australia, the Pontiac Wave in Mexico and in America, the Chevrolet Aveo. A comprehensive makeover of the “T200” saw the launch of what was known as a “T250” generation, which actually happened in 2005 in Korea, where the car was renamed the Gentra. There were significant changes to the exterior and interior styling, more sound deadening and a new dashboard. The saloon version of this model was duly Americanised and appeared in the USA late in 2006 as a 2007 model, still badged Aveo. Surprisingly, the equivalent 5 door model did not reach the US market until 2009, which was a couple of years after the European cars Frankfurt 2007 launch, when they had appeared bearing Chevrolet Aveo badges. Confused? Maybe the concept of the truly world car is not quite with us.
History lesson over, time to reflect on the American market Aveo Sedan that I have been testing for a day. The idea to swap the Dodge Charger for one of these may look like pure stupidity, but there was reasoning behind it. I noted that Hertz at Denver airport had a huge number of these cars, and as my final day in the Denver area was one where I did not plan to travel very far, I figured that the best way – or maybe the least painful way – of assessing the bottom end of the new car market was to take the car for one day and not a lot of miles. It is tempting to tease at this point, and suggest that you will have to go to the end of the test to learn of my conclusions, but if you just read on, it will become pretty apparent with every paragraph and almost every sentence what I thought.
As I set off down the Pena Boulevard away from the airport, it took about as long it does to accelerate to freeway speed – in the Aveo that is actually quite a long time! – to conclude that I had made a huge mistake. It was the noise that alarmed me. Not so much engine noise, though you get that, and lots of it when you take the Aveo up into the hills and the engine has to work hard, but the din of road noise. Truly this was among the worst I have experienced in any car for quite a long time. What I later discovered is that it is very sensitive to the road surface. On recently redone smooth tarmac, the noise drops to almost negligible, but on most surfaces it was boomy and, well, frankly, unacceptable.
My ears having had a night’s sleep in which to recover, I set off the next morning to try to gain a more detailed assessment. In the daylight, this was when I could see the visual comedy that is the interior. In an effort to ensure that the car is not castigated for being all one colour – doubtless grey – Chevrolet had fitted this Victory Red car with a dashboard that is a mix of beige, black and the most unpleasant collection of nasty fake wood strips on the dash and the doors. Truly revolting. It would look a lot better without the fake wood, for sure. Look past this, and it is not actually that bad. Fit and finish for such a cheap car is pretty reasonable, and whilst it is pretty basic, the essentials are all there, and are easy to use. There are four instruments in a cowled dial, and the graphics are simple and unfussy. Column stalks that are better than the standard issue GM ones of a few years ago do the lights, wipers and indicators, and there is a good quality GM audio system and rotary dials for the air conditioning. There are even wheel mounted controls for cruise control. There are pop out cup holders just behind the transmission selector.
This is a small car, so you would not expect there to be lots of space in it, but provided the front seat passengers make some compromise of how far back they sit, a couple of adults could easily fit in the rear seats. Push the front seats well back, though, and leg room is rather limited. Whether the car could climb hills at all when laden with 4 people and their luggage is a question to which I do not have the answer. The front seats looks like they were designed for the less than full of build, but they were comfortable, and were trimmed in a velour like cloth. Adjustment fore and aft and of the backrest rake is all manual, but it allowed me to achieve a good driving position. There is a moderate sized boot, which is opened either by the key, a remote button on the key fob or a release button on the driver’s door. Capacity can be extended by folding down the rear seat backrests, though the opening through the rear bulkhead is not that large. Inside the cabin, oddments space is limited to a drop down glove box, some small door bins and small lipped area in front of the gearlever.
There are no engine choices for the US market Aveo. All cars come with a 1.6 litre engine, which develops 108 bhp. The test car featured the 4 speed automatic transmission that is an optional extra. Whilst I can see why an urban driver of the Aveo – and let’s be honest, given the comments about the noise levels, urban is the only place you would want regularly to be taking this car – might want the ease of driving of an automatic, it does not help to make the car any more spritely. The engine itself is quite smooth and refined, and whatever noise it does make is drowned out by road noise apart from when I took it on the canyon roads up above Boulder. These proved a real challenge, as if you leave the transmission to its own devices, on moderate gradients, the car simply gets slower and slower, as it holds onto a high gear perhaps longer than it should. Indeed, there were times when I thought I could get out and race the Aveo to the top of the hill and I would win. Face it with a really steep climb, and it will drop down all the way to second or even bottom and than work very hard, and very noisily almost up to the red line before changing up. On the freeway, few of these limitations were apparent, and the Aveo was readily able to keep up with the traffic flows, though of course you probably would not to be there in the first place in this car. I cannot readily comment on economy, as the test car did not have quite a full tank, according to the gauge, when I collected it, but I would be surprised if the hill climbing efforts helped improve the figures much. Fortunately, the other dynamics are nowhere near as challenging. The steering is light but has some feel, and the handling is quite tidy, as you would expect on a small front wheel drive car. Luckily, the brakes seemed not have a problem with the steep descents, though there was quite a strong smell of hot brake fluid at one point. There is a pull up handbrake between the seats. The roads between Denver and Boulder are pretty smooth, so the suspension had less to prove as regards ride quality than if, say, I had tested the car in los Angeles. I did not find evidence of a problem. One real asset of the Aveo, of course, is that it is highly manoeuverable, and with a relatively large glass area, has good all round visibility.
Although the Aveo is a cheap car, and it is not exactly over-endowed with fripperies, it is not quite as stripped out as you might fear. In this LT model, which is one above the entry level LS, you get remote central locking, all round electric windows, air conditioning, cruise control, a decent GM audio unit and tinted glass. There are a few places where you can see evidence of cost-cutting. The inside of the boot is the best example, where although the boot lid itself is lined, if you look under the rear parcel shelf you can see there is no trim, just painted metal and holes. The surfaces you can see are generally well presented, though.
During the day, I began to see that not all is bad about the Aveo. However, I could never recommend one to anyone who wanted a car for any freeway travel, ever. You would have to be very keen indeed on buying a brand new car to hot-foot off to your Chevrolet showroom for one of these, as a nearly new car from the next class above, a Civic or Focus or even a Cobalt, would be just so much nicer. I can also suggest in the strongest possible terms to anyone looking to book that cheap rental car for their US vacation that they spend an extra couple of dollars a day and book a more expensive rental car, from at least the Compact category (Group B). Your holiday travel will be so much nicer if you do.