Review: 2009 Chevrolet Aveo Sedan 1LT

Jack Baruth
by Jack Baruth

“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.

Jack Baruth
Jack Baruth

More by Jack Baruth

Join the conversation
2 of 100 comments
  • Bikerboyrr Bikerboyrr on May 29, 2010

    I actually plunked down money to own one of these, and I've got to say it's not that bad. The deal was really good; the car is fully loaded, with automatic. Once broken in you can easily speed up on the freeway. Mine goes 80 with ease, doesn't rattle or have wind noise. Even the paint has less orange peel than my Mercedes. Yes, it's softly sprung but that's a benefit because our area has lots of potholes and grooved pavement. And the bottom line is that the drive off the lot depreciation on the Benz equals the total cost of the Aveo.

  • Dean Swiatek Dean Swiatek on Jan 25, 2011

    I had one as a loaner. It was awful! Pros: The interior room is drastically better than larger compact cars like the Focus, Civic, Mazda 3 and Corolla. The trunk isn't much smaller either. The rear defroster works (so my hands won't get cold when I have to get out and push). Cons: Either you floor it, or it doesn't move, no idea if the brakes will work, driving over 35mph is absolutely a terrifying experience, the front defroster blows more in the driver's face than on the front windshield, the door locks, when locked are so low in the car you need really long nails or a tool to open them. And you can buy a 1987 Chevrolet Celebrity that is rusted out and it will last longer and still be a much nicer car, despite all the rust. Oh, and I clocked the gas mileage to only 20mpg too. Nothing works in this car as advertised. Most cars in this price range are just as bad. If you are completely uneducated, insist on buying new, and won't move up to at least a Civic or something then I would recommend a Versa which is probably the only acceptable car of the Yugo-priced compacts.

  • Geozinger Put in the veggie garden (Western Michigan, we still can get frost this late in the year) finished the remainder of the landscaping updates and hand washed both my beater Pontiac and the Town and Country! Going to the beach today...
  • Rochester I wouldn't obsess over the rate of change, it's happening whether we want it or not.
  • EBFlex At the summer property putting boats in the water, leveling boat lifts, cleaning the lots for summer, etc. Typical cabin stuff in the most beautiful place on the planet
  • Lou_BC I've I spent the past few days in what we refer to as "the lower mainland". I see Tesla's everywhere and virtually every other brand of EV. I was in downtown Vancouver along side a Rivian R1T. A Rivian R1S came off as side street and was following it. I saw one other R1S. 18% of new vehicles in BC are EV'S. It tends to match what I saw out my windshield. I only saw 2 fullsized pickups. One was a cool '91 3/4 ton regular cab. I ran across 2 Tacoma's. Not many Jeeps. There were plenty of Porches, Mercedes, and BMW's. I saw 2 Aston Martin DBX707's. It's been fun car watching other than the stress of driving in big city urban traffic. I'd rather dodge 146,000 pound 9 axle logging trucks on one lane roads.
  • IBx1 Never got the appeal of these; it looks like there was a Soviet mandate to create a car with two doors and a roof that could be configured in different ways.