Pros: Better interior styling, Fair gas mileage, Base price
Cons: Amenities quickly raise base price, no curtain air bags, ABS only optional, handling, acceleration.
When GM introduced the Aveo in 2004, it fell short of the "American Revolution" that Chevy so frequently boasted in their commercials. The Aveo's engine was gutless, it received unimpressive EPA fuel economy estimates, and offered interior quality that made its competition feel like bonafied luxury cars in comparison. Though the Aveo5 wasn't impressive by any means, it sold well and thus has survived to see its second generation. The Aveo Sedan was completely redesigned last year, and the Aveo5 (as tested) gets its complete redesign for '09. GM is apparently so confidant with the new Aveo that it is also being sold by GM's Pontiac division this year: dubbed as the "G3." Though the Aveo5 pretty much ruled the tiny hatchback market back in 2004, there has since been a huge influx of quality small hatchbacks introduced by Honda, Nissan, and Toyota: can the new Aveo5 still compete?
For 2009 the Korean derived Chevrolet Aveo5 is available in three trim level designations: the LS, LT1, and the top-of-the line LT2. Though the Aveo can be had in a 4-door sedan variant, the Aveo5 is a 5-door hatchback that competes with cars like the Scion xD, Nissan Versa 1.8 S, Honda Fit, Kia Rio5, and Hyundai Accent hatchback.
All Aveo's come with the same power plant: a standard 1.6 liter DOHC 4-cylinder that has been reworked this year with variable valve timing to make 106-horsepower: a modest 3 more ponies than last year's engine. Curiously this new engine makes less torque this year at 105 lbs.-ft. @ 3,000 RPM. The Aveo's power plant can be teamed with either a standard 5-speed manual gearbox (equipped) or a 4-speed automatic that goes for a whopping $950: $100 more than what Honda charges for its more advanced 5-speed automatic with paddle shifters.
Though the 2009 Aveo5 gets dressed in all-new sheet metal for 2009, the redesign is much more of an evolution than a revolution. There are some key aesthetic differences this year, though. The rear-end gets slightly re-worked with a swatch of honeycomb mesh across the rear bumper and restyled tail lights that help add some character that was largely absent from the rear-end of last year's Aveo hatchback. Up front is where the Aveo gets its most dramatic visual overhaul. The Aveo5 boats a bolder and more aggressive front fascia with a tall Audi-esque mesh grille and wraparound head lamps in favor of the dated rectangular headlights found on the '08 models. Despite its rather pretentious front-end, the Aveo5 at least can't be accused of being bland this year. From a profile perspective the new Aveo5 looks nearly identical to the outgoing models, save for the addition of faux air appliques integrated into the front fenders. I have never been a fan of fake air vents and this styling tactic fails miserably at making the Aveo look more sporty and begs the question- does an economy car with 106 horsepower really need side air vents or worse "pretend" air vents? Overall, I do prefer the design of the new Aveo5 to its predecessors, but the poindexter faux air vents have got to go.
Performance: Aveo5 LT1 5-speed manual
While some subcompact in this class provide peppy acceleration despite their meek horsepower numbers, e.g. the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa 1.8, the Aveo5's 1.6-liter engine feels every bit as weak as its lowly output of 106 horsepower would normally suggest. Although horsepower is up by 3 this year, those 3 extra ponies are quickly soaked up by the Aveo5's nearly 200 lb. weight gain this year; the Aveo certainly doesn't feel any more powerful than the outgoing models. The Aveo5 does provide adequate acceleration for zipping from stop light to stop light, however those who dare venture out of town in this car will be sorely disappointed with the inability of the Aveo's powertrain to launch this car into fast paced traffic with confidence. This being the case, selecting the appropriate gear and keeping engine revs near the peak of the Aveo's powerband is an absolute necessity for getting up to highway speeds safely: there simply is no surplus of power for mistakes.
Engine refinement: 1/10
No car in this class provides whisper quiet operation, however most car manufactures have improved the power trains in their subcompacts over the past decade as to make engine operation more audibly tolerable. GM apparently didn't get the memo that economy cars don't have to sound like lawnmowers, as the new Aveo's 4-cylinder is still harsh, even for this class. At idle the Aveo's 4-cylinder is quiet enough, however the moment the throttle is pushed the Aveo's 4-banger emits a buzzy engine note that is quick to magnify as engine revs climb. Even when accelerating lightly and keeping revs below 4,000 RPM, the Aveo's engine sounds like it's working much harder than it is.
One of my biggest gripes with the previous generation Aveo5 was its sloppy 5-speed manual gearbox. The Aveo's gearing was horrible, the clutch made a weird squeaking noise (despite being a brand new car), and the throws of the shifter were too long for my taste. Unfortunately the redesign of the Aveo5 doesn't bring a vast improvement to its 5-speed manual gearbox. While I am happy to report that my 2009 Aveo5's clutch didn't squeak as it did in the previous generation, I still found the throws of the shifter to be too long and rubbery, the gearing to be wonky, and overall was a chore to operate. While I didn't get to drive the Aveo with its optional automatic transmission, I couldn't help but wonder if the optional automatic would have been a better choice for this car.
When it comes to handling, the Aveo behaves much like the small economy car that is. Keep the Aveo at or below the posted recommended speeds through sharp turns and it doesn't feel terribly unstable, however if you try to tackle a turn aggressively the Aveo is quick to communicate its distaste for twisty roads via tire squeal, heavy body roll, and plenty of understeer... I suspect the main fly in the ointment here is the Aveo's stock tires. Chevy equips the Aveo5 with miniscule 14" wheels wrapped in skinny 185/60 all-season tires that reach their limits to adhesion far too easily. On a positive note, I thought the Aveo's steering provided good feedback without the highly artificial feel of some of its competition. It should also be noted that unlike some of its competitors that come standard with the safety of ABS brakes, i.e. the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris, ABS is still a $440 option in the Aveo5. While I thought the Aveo did an adequate job coming to a stop from high speeds, the addition of ABS is a safety feature that should not have been omitted as standard equipment.
On the Highway: 6/10
The Aveo does, however earn a couple brownie points for its ability to cruise down the highway without being too punishing. The ride quality of the new model is better than the previous generation, exhibiting a compliant ride that doesn't fuss over small road imperfections. There also seems to be less wind and road noise on the highway than what I remember there being in the outgoing models: putting the Aveo on par with the highway cruising qualities of its competitors, i.e. the Honda Fit. Engine buzz, however is still an issue. I imagine most consumers who keep their speeds below 65 MPH will not have an issue with engine noise, however at speeds above 65 MPH the relative serenity of the Aveo's cabin quickly deteriorates: a consequence of its relatively low 5th gear ratio, no doubt.
Though the new Aveo has a relatively low top gear ratio, a feature that usually benefits economy cars by allowing for easier access to the limited amount of power available from their tiny engines, the Aveo5 is an exception. Despite its low 5th gear, the Aveo's engine was unwilling to launch this car up any of the major inclines I put it up against without the need to downshift into 4th. Even small hills required a downshift into lower gears to maintain speed. Shifting into 4th gear wouldn't have been such big deal (most cars in this class do require a downshift to accelerate up inclines) but the Aveo's engine becomes fussy in lower gears at highway speeds, making trips over mountain terrain an eardrum busting experience.
The compromises you will have make with the Aveo's performance, or lack thereof, is only slightly rewarded at the gas pumps. At 27-MPG city/34-MPG highway the Aveo gets about same MPG as cars like the more powerful Honda Fit and the larger Toyota Corolla and Honda Civic. The Aveo falls short, however, of the MPG estimates set by the EPA for some of its competitors, i.e. the Toyota Yaris. This being the case, if economy is the sole purpose for choosing an Aveo5, there are more powerful, roomier, and refined cars out there that don't offer nearly as much sacrifice in the name of good fuel economy.
Interior Styling: 9/10
The 2009 Aveo may look outwardly similar to its predecessor, but its interior has been dramatically restyled for 2009. I like the styling of the Aveo's new interior, as its not flashy and provides a tasteful amount of tantalum accents to entertain the eye without the distracting overdose commonly found in economy cars, i.e. the Scion xD. For those who like fake wood (me, not being one of those people), the LT2 models can be even be had with faux wood trim this year. Though it goes without saying that the Aveo's interior doesn't appear, in any respect, to be a luxury vehicle, the styling is a welcomed improvement over its ill styled predecessors.
While the Aveo's interior is easier on the eyes this year, interior quality still ranks about as close to the bottom of the pork barrel as you can get. Even for this class, the Aveo's interior surfaces feel blatantly cheap with no soft materials to break up the endless sea of hard plastics used for the door peelings and dash surfaces. There is also exposed screws in the doors and the fabrics used for both the seats and carpeting feel lower grade than the fabrics in the Aveo5's competitors.
Once upon a time cars in this class were lucky to get a standard AM/FM radio as standard equipment or better yet, AC. Now-a-days, even economy cars have a certain amount of standard equipment that is expected from them. The Aveo5, however, seems to take a more 1980s stance on standard equipment. Unlike the Fit and Scion xD which already offer a healthy amount of standard equipment, you only get the very basics in the Aveo5. The Base Aveo5, for example, receives two 12 volt power outlets, an ashtray, roll your own windows, push your own locks, manual rear-view mirrors, and an AM/FM stereo with 4 speakers (no CD player), front and side air bags (curtain air bags are not available), Onstar (with 1 year-subscription), a clock, and your basic gauges like a tachometer and speedometer. Upgrade to the LT1 (as tested) and you still have to deal with roll-your own windows/locks/mirrors, but you get upgraded with a AC with filter, an upgraded sound system with 6-speakers, and a host of available options that can't be had on the Base model. For those who want to get the most amenities with their Avoe5, going with the LT2 will be the best route to go, which upgrades the Aveo with power windows, locks, and a host of other equipment and options, i.e the option of synthetic leather seating surfaces. For a complete list of standard amenities for each trim level, you may want to visit Chevy's website.
If the auto industry gave an award for worst seats in class, the Aveo would win that award by a landslide. Even on short trips the Aveo's seats proved to be uncomfortable, providing very little in the way of shoulder and thigh support. Cushioning also falls below the adequacy threshold, making trips longer than a couple minutes downright punishing. The cloth that these seats are wrapped in also feel cheap and rough against the skin. With GM being closely under the eyes of the quality control police, I would expect much better than this. On a positive note, the Aveo's seats do provide 6-way seat adjustments, which make fining a good driving position a little bit easier than some cars in this class with less versatile seating. Sadly, however, the Aveo's steering wheel doesn't telescope like the steering columns in some of its competitors: a feature that would have made finding a good driving position that much easier.
People Room/Storage: 6/10
Though the Aveo isn't the roomiest vehicle in this class, it should offer enough head and legroom up front as to satisfy most adult sizes. The rear of the cabin isn't quite as generous. Although rear headroom remains good, the Aveo doesn't offer much in the way of legroom or elbowroom: I certainly wouldn't try forcing a more than 2 small adults in the rear of this cabin, at least not for more than a few blocks. Stowage space ranks about average. The hatch, with the rear seats in their upright position, offers just a small space for items, perhaps one week worth of groceries. These seats do fold down- but even then storage space isn't the Aveo's forte as it is with the Scion xD, Honda Fit, and Nissan Versa. If you plan on hauling around more than just a couple grocery bags, I highly suggest checking out said competitors.
The base price for the Aveo5 LS starts out just shy of $12,000 this year, however with that price you don't get AC, a CD player, or any of the major amenities that most consumers expect to find in car made in the 21st century. At $14,100 the midlevel LT1 trim provides most of the necessary amenities i.e. AC and a CD player, however it still falls short of offering the generous standard equipment found in the base Honda Fit and Scion xD, of which are within $500 of the Aveo LT1's 14,100 price tag. That being the case, the LT1's $14,100 sticker price may look attractive, but you simply don't get as well of an equipped vehicle as you would by paying slightly more for one of its Japanese competitors. If there is one area where the Aveo excels, it would be its standard warranty. While the Aveo comes with just an adequate 3-year/36,000 mile bumper to bumper warranty GM extends the Aveo's powertrain coverage to 5 years/100,000 miles, which is one of the best in this class, with the exception of warranties allotted for the Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio.
Final Verdict: 3/10
While the Aveo5 has improved for 2009, it still falls flat on its face when compared to its comparably priced competitors. The Fit, for example offers higher quality, more standard amenities, better safety features, and an overall better package for not much more doe, ditto that for the Scion xD and Nissan Versa. Even the Accent and the Rio provide better packages. Overall, the Aveo is one of those cars that does nothing extremely well: unable to boast any specific standout attribute other than its bargain basement base price. If you are on the market for an inexpensive hatchback, there are much better vehicles within the $1,000 dollar mark of the Aveo5.
Thanks for reading!