[In many ways Jalopnik is like a fraternity and as one of our newest members of the fraternal order also happens to be our youngest, we're
giving our college-enrolled "new guy" a task to complete before he graduates that's as simple as A-to-Z. Or to spell it out — 26 auto reviews corresponding in alphabetical order, and upon completion, we'll allow him to "graduate." Follow along at our special Tingwall tag as he goes from Aveo to Z06 and from auto journalist childhood to manhood. —Ed.] It's too easy to think of Chevrolet's Aveo subcompact as a toy. The diminutive size, stubby front end and a price that suggests you can buy one at Wal-Mart will leave almost all auto enthusiasts with few expectations. Get behind the wheel of an Aveo, and you can quickly confirm some of the most common stereotypes: things can get a bit crowded and it's as far away from fast as my East Lansing, MI apartment is from the birthplace of this re-badged Daewoo. But at the same time, the baby Chevy will also surprise you with touches that reassure you as long as you're not an enthusiast - owning a $14,000 car doesn't make you a second-class citizen.
First impressions of the Aveo will leave you shrugging your shoulders. There's nothing wrong with the Aveo's exterior styling. But at the same time, there's nothing right about it either. It's all too familiar, simple and unemotional - not unlike a refrigerator. Showing off your new car loses excitement as the whole package looks like it came from a late '90s family
sedan. Inside, materials and fit are exceptional - far above the subcompact class - but again the Aveo runs short on style and it isn't free of quirks.
Passengers will awkwardly fidget their left arm as they complain that Chevy only gave an armrest to the driver. The seats are entirely mediocre, without lateral support or any serious cushion. And at 6'3" my ideal driving position required my right knee to be permanently mashed against the dashboard. It's possible to dislodge the knee and find a position that allows more leg room, but it comes with an awkwardly long reach to the steering wheel. Despite my personal issues fitting in the Aveo, it does a fine job swallowing up four people, providing decent legroom in the back even with a lanky goon like myself in the driver's seat.
The Aveo's real selling point is value. The base model starts at a sub-$10,000 watermark, and the top-level LT model starts at $14,365 and is equipped so that you don't need to check any option boxes to get the essentials like power windows, locks and mirrors. At just under $17,000, our tester wasn't what you'd call a stunning bargain, but it was well-equipped with luxuries like faux leather seating ($250), a sunroof ($725), steering wheel audio controls ($75) and the automatic transmission that adds almost $1,000 on its own. The Chevrolet does beat out similarly equipped rivals like the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Scion xD and Nissan Versa, but typically just by a few hundred dollars.
And then there's driving it. Acceleration from the 1.6-liter engine is adequate, providing just enough power to keep you from cursing the Aveo as slow. But the 103-horsepower engine also requires a fair amount of pedal-push to keep it accelerating at a respectable pace, putting a damper on that whole fuel-economy thing. Rush the Aveo through a turn and you'll find there's plenty of body roll. Steering is morbid, with little feedback and no on-center feel. Worst of all, its erratic behavior is difficult to adapt to, sometimes turning minor adjustments into sharp jerks. Ride quality stands on the opposite end of the spectrum, soaking up bumps for a smooth and comfortable ride that gives the car surprising confidence at high speeds. Of course, Chevrolet isn't touting the Aveo as a performance vehicle. It's an affordable commuter's car, and in that context the driving experience does what it should, with the exception of the sloppy steering.
Chevrolet has certainly hit their target and has exceeded expectations in a few areas for a car that's easy on the wallet and still plenty livable. But in the process they've left the car devoid of style and character that set it apart from the crowd. From the exterior design to driving dynamics, the Aveo lacks the seduction that will leave you wanting more.
Photo Credit: Sherry Kraft