Chevrolet’s Aveo has the makings of comic gold. It’s the cheapest car sold in America. It’s from GM, ever the stooge to straight men Honda and Toyota. And get this: despite being the first vehicle to feature in Chevy’s ubiquitous “An American Revolution” campaign, the Aveo is built in… wait for it… Bupyong, South Korea. Ba-dum ching!
From where else would the Aveo hail? Daewoo is responsible for its design, manufacture, and export (under such varied monikers as the Suzuki Swift+ and Holden Barina). Chevy’s sole Aveo contribution: the bow-tie badge. But let’s give The General some credit. While Ford and DCX have ignored the fast-growing subcompact segment, ol’ Number Two has been building Aveos since 2004. Well, sort of.
For 2007, Daew—er, Chevy has updated its punch line on wheels. That’s the good news. The bad news: this mid-cycle love applies only to the Aveo sedan; the Aveo5 hatchback stands pat until 2008. The bad news for GM: the half-revitalized Aveo line faces no fewer than five all-new rivals from Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Nissan and Toyota.
Yes, it’s survival of the Fittest in the increasingly cutthroat subcompact class, and the Chevrolet Aveo isn’t looking so good. Literally. Most of the ’07 refresh consists of styling tweaks, and none of them addresses the Aveo’s awkward-puppy proportions or tall-‘n’-tippy stance. The Chevywoo’s oversized, vaguely bovine new “face” is in keeping with current small-car fashion. The vintage-2002 “Altezza” taillights aren’t.
The Aveo’s redecorated interior is more impressive. Compared with the coal-bin cabins of previous Aveos (and the current hatch), the ’07 offers big-car digs. Perforated leatherette upholstery, chrome-ringed vents and switchgear, and not-horrendously-faux wood trim grace the range-topping ($13,450) LT. Plastics are of the low-gloss variety, done up in a soothing black-and-tan blend. The driver’s seat adjusts for height; an iPod jack adorns the radio.
While the veneer of quality is initially convincing, it’s only skin-deep. Carelessly-placed knees and elbows excite flexy crackles in the Aveo’s trim. The sun visors meet the headliner with a tinny “clang.” Moreover, the Aveo’s sit-up, legs-tucked driving position and fishbowl view out ensure that Aveo drivers feel as dorky as they look.
Which brings us to the act of driving the Aveo. Normally, I’m of the mindset that econocars deserve a break (not to say a free ride) in this department. Their raison d’etre is conservation, not titillation. But the Aveo’s gas mileage is, frankly, terrible for such a wee little beastie. On the ever-optimistic EPA scale, automatic Aveos score 26/34 mpg. That’s the same as the decidedly un-funny Mazda 3i and Honda Accord EX.
But hey, if the Aveo is the thirstiest of all subcompacts, at least it’s the slowest! No, there’s none of the threatening “zing” of a Honda or Toyota’s four banger here; just a labored groan as the Aveo’s 1.6-liter, 103-hp mill drudges its way up the tach. An oversensitive throttle does its best to mask this paucity of punch, and adds a certain kamikaze flair to stop-and-go freeway driving.
If you’re thinking that the Aveo’s standard five-speed manual transmission might help boost its pep and economy, you’d be kinda sorta correct. That version’s EPA estimates are 27/37 mpg, the same as a mildly funny Ford Focus’. Unfortunately, it’s also The Worst Manual Transmission Extant. The Aveo’s spindly shift lever moves with long, doughy, rubbery throws, hanging up easily in a wide H-pattern. Clutch feel is limp. Truck ‘boxes provide better feedback
There’s less to say about the Aveo’s handling, which is soft and secure in standard operating mode. Steering feel, however, remains a notable weakness. Daewoo responded to criticism of the original Aveo’s numb, vague, and darty helm by making the classic beancounter’s boo-boo of mistaking more effort for better feel. So, for ’07, we get steering that’s numb, vague, darty AND arthritically stiff in the turns.
Need another reason not to buy an Aveo? The mushy brake pedal may be an adept coffee slosher, but it’s less-skilled at the meaningful business of retardation.
Given the Aveo’s lowly station in life, this review may seem like a cheap shot at cheap wheels. It ain’t. This reviewer holds a firm respect for– and bizarre fascination with– basic, sensible, well-conceived, inexpensive transportation pods for John Q. Public. And subcompacts are no longer the domain of the desperate. Petrochemical paranoia is driving consumers who can afford big to think small. The threshold of acceptability is soaring.
It’s such a strong trend that Aveos sales are up despite the fact that the model doesn’t offer one competitive advantage over its rivals— not mileage, sportiness nor versatility. With better buzzboxes priced within a shifter’s throw of this Korean expatriate, there’s only one reason for anyone to buy a Chevrolet Aveo: to make other small car dealers and owners shake their heads in disbelief.