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The Chevrolet Aveo is Chevy's smallest, least expensive car. Aside from its price, what's most attractive about Aveo is its surprisingly handsome interior, at least on the up-level LT. Its 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine is rated at 103 horsepower, which is adequate. Transmission choices are either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. Aveo is available as a four-door sedan or a versatile five-door hatchback called the Aveo5.
The Aveo was extensively updated for 2007 to better compete with a wave of new subcompacts, namely the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa, and Hyundai Accent. Aveo's basic architecture and mechanical underpinnings date to 2004, and there are no significant changes for 2008.
Aveo was designed to offer sensible, day-to-day transportation. Its ride is tuned more for comfort than sporty driving, and this is where it differs from the frisky Honda Fit. But many of us spend more time commuting through heavy, stop-and-go traffic than challenging the Nurburgring circuit.
Aveo is EPA-estimated to deliver 24 mpg in the city and 34 on the highway. That's compares well with the Hyundai Accent (27/32 mpg), Nissan Versa (26/31). The Honda Fit (28/34) and Toyota Yaris (29/36) are more efficient but when it comes to purchase price look for better deals on the Aveo.
We found the Aveo to be an enjoyable car to spend time with, particularly the LT with its nice cloth upholstery. The climate and audio controls are easy to use and the driver's seat adjusts for height and it drives well. We like the Aveo5 five-door hatchback for its ability to haul stuff.
The Chevy Aveo is about the same length as the Toyota Yaris, almost a foot shorter than the Honda Fit. The re-styling for 2008 gave the Aveo a more aerodynamic shape, one of the benefits of which has been to reduce wind noise at highway speeds.
Up front, a thick, bright horizontal grille bar emblazoned with a gold bowtie leaves no doubt that Aveo is a Chevy. The lower fascia is nicely detailed, and the fog lights well integrated. Moving around to the side, a crisp bevel just below the window line and a parallel bulge down between the wheel arches combine to camouflage the Aveo's tall, stubby profile, sort of like a person wearing appropriately directed stripes. The sedan's blacked-out window frames look heavy handed, however, especially with bright colors. Around back, a bright band between fashionably complex tail lamps echoes the theme of the grille.
But like many cars, the Aveo sedan has a look that tries to find wide acceptability by not offending anybody. But in its attempt to be neither too boring nor too radical, it lacks personality.
The same cannot be said of the Aveo5, which shares surprisingly little sheet metal with the sedan. It has personality all right, but it's not the kind everyone will like. At just 152.7 inches in overall length, the Aveo5 is a significant 17 inches shorter than the sedan, and despite some fairly ambitious, curvy sculpturing in the doors and rear quarters (contrasting with the crisp feel of the sedan), it all seems to end rather abruptly, just behind the rear wheels. This impression is greatly heightened by a rear-end profile that's more station-wagon vertical than hatchback sleek, and by the almost comically abbreviated quarter windows just behind the rear doors. About the best Chevy can hope is that the resulting rubber-duck ugliness appeals to grownups still missing their favorite tub toy.
Interestingly, while the Aveo5 looks as tall as a bus, it actually measures 0.4 inches lower than the sedan. It is also 1.6 inches narrower, with 0.8 inches less rear track (the distance between the rear tires.)
The big surprise in the interior of our Chevrolet Aveo LT test car was the handsomeness of the Charcoal Deluxe seat fabric, which shames the manufacturers of some more expensive vehicles. That combines with a tidy and sensible layout to minimize Aveo's economy-car status.
The Aveo's basic controls, such as climate and stereo, are simple and easy to use. All radios come with an auxiliary jack for iPods and other MP3 players.
The driver's seat is height adjustable, even in the Special Value model, a nice feature for drivers short and tall. The front seat bottom cushion is a bit short for drivers with long legs, cutting some occupants a little short on thigh support.
Rear legroom is an advantage the Aveo has over the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris. We found it's possible to carry four tall adults (six-footers) for a short distance without anybody being traumatized, as long as there's cooperation from the people in the front seats, that is.
Despite its slimmer dimensions, the Aveo5 hatchback surrenders just 0.1 inch each in rear headroom and hiproom to the sedan; otherwise its passenger-carrying credentials are identical.
The trunk is rated at 12.4 cubic feet for the Aveo sedan. That's competitive in a segment like this, and the back seat folds down if the priority becomes carrying stuff instead of people.
The Aveo5 hatchback has just 7.0 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, but that expands to a wagon-like 42.0 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. If you'll be using the cargo compartment more than the back seat, the Aveo5 makes a lot of sense.
The Aveo works well around town and for commuting. Its 103 horsepower is a few less than what's served up by the Yaris or Fit, each of which also weigh slightly less than the Aveo, increasing their advantage.
However, the four-speed automatic on the Aveo we tested was fairly quick to respond and the acceleration was adequate. The Aveo would be a bad choice for a tight pass on a two-lane road, but with a little thought and planning there shouldn't be any problems merging onto a busy freeway, even with a passenger.
We've always been more impressed with the Chevrolet Aveo's ride than its handling. A thicker front sway bar, stiffer front springs, tighter front shocks, and re-tuned bushings, improved the handling beginning with the 2007 model. Like many front-wheel-drive cars, the Aveo feels nose heavy when driven hard, and it doesn't offer the responsive handling found in the Honda Fit. Try and go fast through a moderately tight turn and the Aveo's body leans quite a bit. That's part of the price for a more comfortable ride, particularly on a broken surface. It is also the Aveo's way of reminding the driver that it wasn't designed to be a sports sedan.
The noise and vibration from the 1.6 liter engine is nicely controlled, for a four-cylinder engine. The exception is when the driver slams the accelerator pedal to the floor and holds it there. Then things get a bit noisy at the higher engine speeds.
The Chevrolet Aveo offers attractive pricing and a pleasant interior.
Christopher Jensen contributed to this report to NewCarTestDrive.com from New England; John F. Katz reported on the Aveo5 hatchback from Pennsylvania.
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