By on July 30, 2012

Back in April, Sajeev and Steve found some time to reply to my letter where I posed the impossible question. As gearheads, we all want something fun, fast, efficient, and cheap (well, most of us want cheap). Much like a traction circle, all these needs are in competition and in order to make good on one you need to sacrifice another. The ultimate gearhead car, unfortunately, does not exist and it never will.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t good, affordable vehicles out there which are fun to drive while ticking most of the boxes. And, this time, I actually followed the advice of someone else and couldn’t be happier.

For a number of weeks, my girlfriend and I scoured the classifieds, made calls, and generated lists of cars we wanted to check out. Initially, a Mazda Protege5 seemed to fit the bill. The interiors are still great to look at to this day, the engines torquey and fun, and the Protege5 is halfway between a proper wagon and a hatchback. She had laid down the law saying she wouldn’t be caught driving a wagon, so for me this was a solid win.

Once we started looking around to see what Protege5s were available, we were promptly disappointed. All were in various states of disrepair, from simple electronic accessories being broken to full on rust infestation and everything in between, the east coast climate was claiming Protege5s at a steady, rapid rate. Our dream econobox choice turned out not to be a valid choice at all.

After a few Mazdisasters, a personal friend of mine invited us to one of Canada’s largest GM dealerships to check out their used inventory. This particular dealership doesn’t keep any wholesale stock sitting around, so the price of entry is relatively steep on the used lot. “Just show me the cheapest cars you have,” I said, hoping there would be some unloved goldmine hidden behind the service bays, waiting for a new owner to care for and cherish her.

“Well, our most affordable option on the lot is a 2006 Chevy Aveo 5-door hatchback,” replied my friend who is relatively new to the car hawking business.

At this point, my internal monologue was unleashing a series of expletives cursing the Aveo’s existence, but on the outside I am telling my girlfriend to take it for a drive, hoping she will come to the realization the Aveo is the automotive equivalent of a polished turd. Even worse, this is someone else’s former polished turd.

I drove the first half of the predefined test route, bemoaned the underpowered 1.6L four-pot smushed together with the lazy 4-speed automatic, and tried to think happier thoughts,  such as getting repeatedly kicked in the groin by someone with a size 15 shoe. I felt dirty, like I had done something completely forbidden and totally frowned upon if anyone found out. I’d driven an Aveo.

Shortly, it was time for us to switch seats and for my significant other to take over for the rest of the journey back to the dealership. Though she didn’t show love or heaping praise for the Korean tin can, she didn’t hate it either. I found this strange. The engine to her was adequately powerful, amenities were few but simple and easy to use, and the steering was fairly light in her hands. On arrival back to the dealership she uttered three words which could have laid waste to my automotive reputation: “I like it.”

If I hadn’t have been there, I am sure the Aveo would have been sold that day.

Over the course of the next couple of hours, the salesperson and my girlfriend exchanged text messages about the red little Chevy while I frantically went dealership to dealership looking for an affordable alternative. And, out of nowhere, an oasis appeared. At a used car dealership sat a vehicle suggested by TTAC’s own Steve Lang, a 2008 Saturn Astra 5-door hatchback with a proper manual transmission.

Two years newer, slightly more mileage, and a hell of a lot more car than the Aveo, the Astra was priced slightly above our budget . When my girlfriend saw the price displayed on the other side of the windshield she winced at the thought of paying more than our budgeted allotment, but I was determined to show her this was the better choice.

The Astra was a victim of being in North America wearing the wrong badge at the wrong time. Saturn was about to get cut from the team and with the economic crisis commencing nobody wanted to pay the premium Saturn dealers were asking for the European built hatch. Fortunately for us, prices for Saturns have tanked since then and the parts and service network still exists. We took the Belgian C-car for a drive around the neighbourhood, my girlfriend fell in love with the car, and the rest is automotive history I can be proud of.

If there is a lesson in this, other than listening to your two knowledgeable TTAC suggestion machines, it’s there is always a better option to “settling”. Nobody deserves to drive an Aveo.

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62 Comments on “The Time My Girlfriend Almost Bought An Aveo...”


  • avatar
    gearhead77

    +1 to no one deserves to drive an Aveo. At least, those who appreciate what we drive.

  • avatar
    marjanmm

    There was a sedan version of this car mainly for eastern European markets, not sure why it was not offered in US where they prefer sedans – especially back then several years ago.
    It was not even that bad looking considering sedans derived from compact hatchbacks tend to be very ugly.

    There must have been a reason, GM could not have been simply irrational.

    • 0 avatar
      Mark Stevenson

      Are you referring to the Astra or the Aveo? Because we certainly had Aveo sedans here in the Great White North.

      • 0 avatar
        BunkerMan

        Sure we did. There are a few pre-2007 facelift sedans for sale on Kijiji here in New Brunswick. There are lots of the newer style ones on there too.

        I think most people have just blocked them out of their memories.

      • 0 avatar
        MrWhopee

        Some brave (or foolish) taxi companies down here used Aveo sedans as their fleet vehicle. No word on how they stacked up. One of these days I’m going to hop into one and ask the driver how that works for them. They’re hard to find though, a very small minority.

      • 0 avatar
        marjanmm

        Opel Astra sedan, google it, you will be surprised.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      The sedan version of the Opel Astra was the Chevy Cobalt, massively decontented to suit the budgets of Chevy’s bottom-feeder clientele.

      • 0 avatar
        tuffjuff

        Speaking of the Cobalt, I had a guy (Eminem wanna-be) road-rage on me today in one. I saw what he drove, and had a fun chuckle.

      • 0 avatar
        Sinistermisterman

        He was probably enraged because he was driving a Cobalt. I made exactly that mistake (yes I’m a bottom feeder) by thinking “Oh look, a cheap car that isn’t an Aveo,” and 18 months later I CAN’T STAND THE THING. It’s a cheap, gutless, numb driving experience, and I’m all up for ditching the damn thing, but Mrs Sinister doesn’t like the idea of blowing even more money on yet another car.

      • 0 avatar
        AoLetsGo

        The 2 door 5 speed manual is not a bad car for the dirt cheap price it sold for. I bought one for my son to drive the remote wilderness of Michigan’s UP to get to Tech. The peace of mind having something new and relaiabe more than balances out something used and flashy. When he graduates with an engineering degree in a year he can trade it in for what ever he wants on his dime.

      • 0 avatar
        Sinistermisterman

        I guess hassle free, warranty covered motoring has been a plus, especially as I’ve had to take the damn thing back to the dealer 5 times for various issues… just it doesn’t float my boat. The more I read the articles here, the more I appreciate that no matter how good a deal a car seems, if you feel no connection with it at all, don’t buy it.
        Before I test drove the Cobalt, I test drove a Mazda 2, which was a HOOT (I’m from the UK originally, so I love quick handling small cars), but it was going to cost $5k more than the Cobalt… so I cheaped out, and 18 months I’m regretting not buying a snot green Mazda 2. Oh well, you live and learn.

      • 0 avatar
        tuffjuff

        I owned an ’06 Cobalt back in 2006. Back then, it wasn’t that bad. It was a stripper coupe, certainly not a bad car, especially for the $14,200 I paid for it, at the time. Halfway through the year 2012, though… :P

        This 19 year old Eminem reject certainly was quite the d**che though, so I had to make fun of his car. Anybody who tries purposefully running into another vehicle deserves bad things.

      • 0 avatar
        dolorean

        “This 19 year old Eminem reject certainly was quite the d**che though, so I had to make fun of his car. Anybody who tries purposefully running into another vehicle deserves bad things.”

        Wouldn’t you if you were last runner up in an Eminem look alike contest and you were driving your Mom’s Cobalt on the way to the clinic to find out why it burns when he pees?

  • avatar
    TireIrony

    Not that the Astra isn’t a good deal, but I wonder, had you started with the Astra’s budget, what else would you have found?

    • 0 avatar
      Mark Stevenson

      We got the Astra for about $3000 under the average selling price for other Astras in the area and only $600 more than the Aveo taxes in. Just lucked out on a good deal.

      • 0 avatar
        dolorean

        Looks like from the picture you uploaded that you got the Astra XR with the 17″ premium wheels, nice leather interior, heated seats, and the uber-fantastic panoramic sunroof! Nice purchase and a bargain if you got it for what I think you did for it.

        I’ve just gone past 75K miles on my ’08 Astra XR 5 dr that I owned since new and plan on driving it til its tires run off.

      • 0 avatar
        Mark Stevenson

        I just used what we had in the image library. We bought a Astra XE with a couple options. No pano roof or anything like that. We just wanted something simple but still comfortable and fun to chuck around.

    • 0 avatar
      tuffjuff

      I was gonna say – I can’t see a Saturn Astra being a car with huge resale value (which is GREAT news for somebody buying one used). They were confusingly unloved when they were new (all I know is, at the time it was the only attractive ‘American’ hatch, and you could add things like heated cloth seats, which in the segment seemed incredibly rare) and I would be surprised if they’re at all loved now that they’re used.

      For hatch owners, our market here in America is surprisingly small. I hope it gets bigger.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Nice story.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    They’d have sold more Astras if they’d called it the “Chevy Cobalt MAXX” or something. Charging more for the 5-door version is commonplace now.

    • 0 avatar
      TireIrony

      They would have had to make the front end Chevy ugly. And since the Malibu Maxx was a failure (sigh), they’d need to use something like Cobalt Five… or in a desperate nod to social media, Cobalt +1.

  • avatar
    grzydj

    Honestly, this Saturn isn’t that wise of a purchase either. Parts are not easy to come by, and when they are available they tend to be expensive.

    Glad you like the car.

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean

      True and not true. Yes parts can be hard to find, but not impossible, and yes, they do tend to be pricey; however, they are good to excellant in quality and do not need replacing very often. For example, in five years I’ve gone through one battery. The only one to be found for the Astra here in Iowa is $130 installed. Expensive, but lasts five or more years so not so much.

      Incidentally, parts have been much more easy to come by (such as the oil filter) now that the Sonic 1.8L is available in the States.

      • 0 avatar
        grzydj

        Body panels for low volume vehicles like this are like unicorn tears. It’s another orphaned brand from GM with very little OEM support and even less aftermarket. There’s just no money to be made producing such low volume items for such a rare car.

        A battery is a poor example of a replacement part, since it is a universal sized battery and can be found anywhere. Electronic components, aforementioned body panels, interior trim and the like are virtually non-existent.

      • 0 avatar
        dolorean

        Got it covered. Parts come from Europe and Canada is also an option. Not an major issue. Opel replacement parts for US link below.

        mailto:joachimvinson@earthlink.net

      • 0 avatar
        grzydj

        That’s a lot of footwork for a car that isn’t all that great, but I admire your dedication.

      • 0 avatar
        TonyJZX

        astras are fine cars when they are working however they are the devil when they are not

        electrical gremlins seem to be common especially ECU based

        they do drive fine and by quite a margin better than the Asians but that is neither here nor there in its class

      • 0 avatar
        snakebit

        Just priced an Interstate battery for my 325iS, and wholesale was $150, and BMW wanted $230 net. If the freight weren’t so high for a battery, never mind that it can’t go air ’cause it’s considered hazmat, I’d order one from Iowa.

        As for the Astra, good show, I know she’ll and you’ll be happy with it. The Aveo is sort of the Bic lighter of cars, when it’s out of fuel, kick it to the curb.

  • avatar
    brettc

    I actually suggested a new Aveo to my wife in 2004 when she needed a new car because at the time I think it was one of the cheapest new cars available. She said she wasn’t going to drive one because it looked cheap. Ended up buying a 2000 VW Jetta TDI because she liked the looks of it and it’s not a tin can. We still have that car, 8 years later. I doubt we’d still have the Aveo if we bought one in 2004.

  • avatar
    Beerboy12

    The Aveo had very poor crash safety results. The Astra’s engineering is way better so pay a bit more for maintenance for that and peace of mind. Good choice I say!

  • avatar
    dcdriver

    In that Harold and Kumar movie, Neil Patrick Harris’ Chevy Aveo sedan played a somewhat prominent role. Good product placement?

  • avatar
    18726543

    My brother was in the market for a car about a year-and-a-half ago. I told him to check out the Astra but having only one model year and pretty modest sales over the model year, he eventually gave up looking and picked up a used Toyota Matrix instead. He wound up really loving the “bed liner” covering the cargo and back-of-the-back seats in the Matrix anyway since he’s always throwing sports and photography gear in there. An ’08 Matrix will run you more than an ’08 Astra but if you can find one with reasonable mileage it is a better deal.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Now that the Aveo is no longer sold in America, what (if anything) in your opinion, has taken its place?

    • 0 avatar
      ott

      The Better-by-a-million Sonic.

    • 0 avatar
      Freddy M

      Nissan Sentra? Not necessarily because of its quality or engineering, but because of how utterly boring it is.

      Either that or a Smart For Two.

      • 0 avatar
        dolorean

        “Spark, Fiesta, Sonic, Versa” all good cars. Not much fun to drive and most are pretty spartan for today’s age, but still pretty reliable forms of transportation.

        For biggest POS sold now, Dodge Avenger and Nitro looms large. The Hyundai Accent is a perennial non-favorite as is the Smart FourTwo. The Tato Nano and Ford Ka would definitely lead the pack if they were sold here in the States.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        +1 for the Picard reference.

      • 0 avatar
        Wheeljack

        The Nitro is no longer being sold, and the Avenger is actually much better after the upgrades it and the 200 received a few years back. I work with a guy who has one with leather and reasonable amount of equipment and it’s pretty nice inside – lots of soft touch materials and reasonably pleasant shapes.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    2 Navy Chiefs land at DC’s Reagan airport. 2 seabags, 2 garment bags, 2 laptop brief cases, and 2 brief cases. SATO had reserved us an Aveo. The back seat was full of luggage. Competent car on city streets. Scary car on parkways and interstates in the DC area. Swore that next time I’d stop by the travel office and get a free upgrade coupon.

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean

      You poor bastard. I had the same issue going to Baltimore landing at BWI. SATO had lovingly reserved a very base lead colored Cobalt LS. We were terrifically pleased to fall into the Way-back Machine flying back in time to the days of roll-down windows, two speaker stereo, aluminum circle rings around the black steel wheels, and complete lack of intermittent wipers or power locks. Was so slow in the winter weather that I enraged a French race driver who cursed me shouting, “What is this sheeetbox? A Morris Minor, er, Chevy Cobalt?”

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I think that for what they sold for, Aveos are not THAT bad. You can’t expect to pay less than $10K new for a car and get something that is actually good. I’ve had a couple of the sedans as rentals, and they are certainly (very) basic urban transportation. My ex-roommate owned a hatchback for 4-5 years and had no problems with it other than the wheel covers falling off. No fun, but hardly the worst car to ever wear a Chevy badge. I would take the hatch over ANY Cavalier they ever made.

    • 0 avatar
      ranwhenparked

      The 1st gen Versa stickered for under $10k, and while still not something you would buy if you could afford something better, it was still a heck of a lot nicer than an Aveo. Actually, you might argue it was better in some respects than the 2nd gen Versa.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        It doesn’t matter what either car stickered for, reality is that an Aveo with air conditioning was THOUSANDS less than a Versa with A/C. Even in Maine, in these Globally-warmed times I would not tolerate a new car without A/C. I believe my roomate paid <$9K for hers brand new – hatch with A/C, 5spd. And like I said, while in no way a delightful car it gave her no problems in 4-5 years and nearly 100K miles of utterly neglectful ownership. Those $10K Versas are a seriously mythical beast, and given they had no A/C, no radio, and no passenger side mirror, rightly so. And I don't believe there was a Versa hatch anywhere near as cheap as the stripper sedan.

  • avatar
    jonat

    It could be worse. I once had a girlfriend who drove a Yugo, and I drove it one day to the dealer when I was buying my first Saab. The salespeople there never let me forget it.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Orphan car, 5-speed, and from the better part of the EU.

    Good job!

    I’ve been busy as can be today. Coming back home to read this is a nice pick me up for the 95+ degree / 90+ humidity grind that is buying cars in Georgia.

    Feel free to email me folks whenever you like folks. I get back to everyone eventually steve . lang @ thetruthaboutcars . com .

  • avatar
    zeus01

    Jeez, I dunno. The Aveo is indeed a horrid little car, and history is full of naive young girls who went ahead and bought “cute” little cars, only to find that the dealer who sold them the junkheap is now their pimp, at least in the got-you-over-the-barrel-in-the-auto-repair-bay sense of the term.

    But Saturn? This kinda conjures up the following analogy:

    THE TIME MY BUDDY ALMOST ENDED UP IN BED WITH SQUEAKY FROMME

    Poor bastard. Ralphie was a nice enough guy, well-meaning and considerate. But having been single and lonely for longer than most, he was all too willing to lower his sights. How bad was it? In the new Webster’s dictionary under the word “desperate” is a picture of him. In color.

    So when he stumbled onto one Lynette (aka: Squeaky) Fromme, the former Manson Family nutbar bats#it-crazy desciple from hell in aisle six at the local Walmart his eyes glazed over, his grin spread from ear to ear, his heart raced and that sock stuffed down the front of his pants was no longer necessary. Eeew.

    She returned his leer, babbled something about destiny and was in the process of programming her phone number and naked pics into his cell phone.

    That’s when I turned the corner and found them. Quickly sizing up the situation I excused Ralph and me, led him out of the cutlery section, leaving Squeaky standing there dumbfounded.

    “Ralphie, you can do way better than this. Follow me and I’ll introduce you to someone less dangerous and more attractive. Let’s just keep walking down these aisles and see who else is available for you.”

    Three rows later we found her, and for the second time in ten minutes Ralphie again fell in love— or something. And this new girl returned the favor.

    So who was this new girl? Jessica Alba? Uh, no. Shania Twain? Wrong again. Give up? Okay, I’ll tell you: Courtney Love. I think I’m going to be sick.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Yes, uh what? My mom’s finally selling my 96 Saturn I gave here. 1 battery, 1 clutch cable, 4 tires, 4 struts, and scheduled maintenance were all it’s needed in 16 years. A cheap beastie bought for appliance duty.

  • avatar
    DownEaster

    Maybe in another 30 years, the people will look back on the Aveo with the same fondness as they look at old Chevettes today. Many people had one and they were tough basic cars. They got you from Point A to Point B, sometimes by the skin of your teeth!

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      Anecdotal evidence suggests that although the driving dynamics were bad, the Chevette was like a cockroach in that, despite the abuse heaped upon them, they were generally impossible to kill.

      I doubt the Aveo would be up to the same level of abuse as the Chevette. The Aveo seems substantially more fragile and closer to the original Hyundai Excel in that regard.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        The bar for the Chevette was really low thanks to the Vega, Monza and Pinto. Pretty much any American car that made it to 100,000 miles without needing a head gasket was considered brilliant. They didn’t last long by modern standards. As a kid I was somewhat interested in them because I got a toy one with a functioning hatchback when they first came out. A couple years later I stopped seeing the ones with the round headlights like the ones on my toy. Not long after that the ones with the small tail lights were gone. The only reason Chevettes had a lasting presence on the road is because they were still making them a dozen years after they were introduced.

    • 0 avatar
      Mark Stevenson

      My very early years were spent in the red cloth seats of a Chevette. Unfortunately, ours was a lemon and eventually taken off the road by a Hyundai Pony piloted by a 16 year old drunk driver.

      Total loss of two cars: $300.

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Mister: I knew Chevette, and Aveo is NO Chevette!

  • avatar
    dwight

    I almost bought an Astra but the insurance was more than a Golf, so I bought the Golf — in Canada we had the MK4 golf up to 2010 so I bought one of those. But the Astra is an underrated car. What I didn’t like about the Astra was the econo biased auto transmission. You really had to slam down the gas to get the engine to rev for passing and such. But other than that, a great car, easy car to drive and a roomy hatchback.


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