“But, but,” I sputtered, gesticulating in a fashion I hoped was somewhere between acceptably friendly and usefully threatening, “when I reserved online, I specifically chose a Chevrolet Cobalt or similar.” “This is similar,” the smiling woman behind the counter assured me. “It’s very similar. It is also a Chevrolet, and it is the only intermediate we have left.” “Listen, lady,” I said, trying desperately to not sound like a crazy person, “the 1977 Cutlass Supreme Brougham was an intermediate. This is a tin box from Korea.” Despite its obvious absurdity, it was the last even vaguely rational thing I said. Bottom line: they were out of cars here at the Asheville airport. This was what they had left. Although I eventually received a four dollar and twenty-one cent credit to my account, there was no changing the fact that I would have to drive an automatic-transmission Aveo through the Great Smoky Mountains. Oh well. At least I could perform a top-speed test.
More than thirty years ago, General Motors responded to the flood of competent, cheerful imported small cars by introducing the Chevrolet Chevette. The Chevette was far from a perfect vehicle—perhaps no modern subcompact has been farther from the ideal—but it was designed by American GM personnel, from a European GM platform and built in the United States. It represented an honest attempt by GM to compete in the market. It should have been the first of many such efforts.
Instead, the Chevette was more or less replaced by the Sprint, a rebadged three-cylinder Suzuki. GM told us it was just temporary until the bright, shining day when GM would strike back with an all-American small car. Ha. More than twenty years later, we’re still waiting. Cruze much? We shall see. In the meantime, GM’s subcontracted the job to an even lower-cost producer, their Korean partner Daewoo. How pathetic is that? Let’s put it in perspective. Honda’s knocked out seven generations of Civics since GM sold a new American-made entry-level car.
It’s tempting, therefore, simply to pan the Aveo because it represents one of the most crass, cynical decisions ever taken by the company that was once America’s greatest automaker. That would never do here on TTAC. So instead I’ll review the car on its own merits, which are negligible.
Our tester stickered for $16,185. Forget about the used cars you could buy for that money. Within a thousand bucks up or down, we have everything from the underrated Ford Focus to the aforementioned Honda Civic, to say nothing of the VW Rabbit. All of those are real cars, which is to say they can climb hills.
The Aveo does not climb hills. Through the Smoky Mountains, it frequently reached for second gear in its woeful automatic transmission. In an ultimately unsuccessful effort to maintain the speed limit on steep grades, I pasted pedal to metal. Unfortunately, it did little to limit the time spent inside. While not unpleasant to observe, the Aveo’s front seats are proscribed by the Geneva Convention.
Though the Aveo couldn’t hold seventy up a hill, we were certain that it would be possible to break the magic “ton” downhill. At the crest of a long five percent grade, I gripped the wheel and asked the engine room for maximum thrust. Down we flew . . . eighty . . . eighty-five . . . ninety . . . The doors shook in their rubber moldings. The ChevyWoo’s nose began to wander alarmingly across the road surface, forcing me to correct at high speed like Raikkonnen coming out of the tunnel at Monaco. As the speedometer passed ninety-five, a low moaning noise gained terrifying resonance in the cabin. Things looked good for triple-digit street speed, but a rather gentle curve at the bottom of the long hill interrupted the party.
A quarter-turn of steering produced plenty of noise but no appreciable variance in heading, forcing me to left-foot kick the brake and then to induce some further oscillation with a sharp shake of the wheel. Finally, the squealing Aveo, now on the safe side of eighty-five, nosed into the turn. It was, without a doubt, the most terrifying moment I’ve experienced at even vaguely legal highway speeds in a long time.
Okay, so the Aveo doesn’t go, turn, or stop. Did you think it would? I didn’t. Again, I did expect that the Chevy would offer some solid value and rewarding features for the money. The Aveo doesn’t even offer more features than the similarly priced competition. Our tester had no cruise control, no power windows, no power locks.
Time for the good news: we averaged around thirty-five miles per gallon on a long, hill-infested trip, and nothing broke or wobbled loose. That’s it. It’s impossible to care about this car, but don’t worry. GM shares your disinterest.