Chevrolet Aveo5 2LT – the high end of entry level

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

In these challenging economic times many people are seeking the least expensive cars to own and operate, at least for their daily commute.

If driving cheap brings too many compromises - a total lack of amenities, a dangerous lack of performance, a reputation for shoddy build quality - then people may lean toward driving a bit more expensive.

But what we’ve found over the past few years is that most everything now sold in the U.S. can be purchased with a reasonable amount of creature comforts, good warranties and decent drivability.

And what we’ve learned just recently from popular automotive website is that there’s a lot more to inexpensive transportation than gas mileage and purchase price.

Edmunds has put together a list of the most inexpensive vehicles to own based on cost to drive per mile. And, perhaps hard to believe at first blush, the top 10 list is devoid of hybrids. The high purchase price of gas-electric models has pushed them down the list.

Unlike a list released in June by a popular consumer magazine that factors in only purchase price and gas mileage, Edmunds “True Cost to Own” includes numerous vehicle ownership costs consisting of depreciation, financing, taxes, fees, insurance premiums, fuel costs, maintenance, and repairs over a five-year ownership period. The study was based on gas prices of $4.06 per gallon.

“When consumers think about cars that will save them money, hybrids are typically top of mind because of their fuel efficiency,” says Jesse Toprak, executive director of industry analysis for Edmunds. “But when you take a look at the real-world costs of car ownership, you realize that many subcompact and compact cars are actually a much better value proposition.”

Figuring gas at $4.06 a gallon (yes we know the price of a gallon of regular is now below $3, at least for the moment) the national average when Edmunds did the study in June, the standard model of the popular Toyota Prius hybrid had an operating cost of 50 cents a mile. It finished 33rd among all vehicles.

The least expensive car to drive according to Edmunds is the Chevrolet Aveo (base model) at 42 cents a mile. Edmunds says that would save consumers $1,200 over a five-year period compared to the Prius owner.

In fairness we must point out that the Hyundai Accent, Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris and the base DX model of the Honda Civic finished a close second through fifth respectively in the Edmunds’ study.

This leads us to a closer look at the mildly redesigned 2009 Aveo5 2LT hatchback (the high-end Aveo model), which we found to be a very likable little car in its sixth year of existence, especially if running errands, picking up Dick and Jane from school or commuting to and from work are its assigned tasks.

The Aveo is built in South Korea by Daewoo a company that General Motors picked up several years ago at a fire sale. The Aveo is sold in Europe and Asia under the name Kalos.

Don’t let the Daewoo name fool you. Unlike the original Daewoo products, the Aveo is a solid, well-designed little car with excellent interior materials.

It has maintained annual sales of between 55 and 70 thousand. And it has found more than 30,000 sales through the first six months of 2008 as a growing number of customers look for fuel efficiency.

General Motors has made continual improvements to the little car through its six years of existence and it was the hatchback’s turn in 2009 to get a new exterior look and an upgraded interior. The sedan was substantially upgraded for the 2007 model year.

The main exterior change, and we think it significant, was replacing a wimpy little grille with a bold, prominent rendition of the Malibu-inspired front end.

The new Chevy look with a large lower screen (think Volkswagen/Audi) gives the little car a more muscular stance from the front.

The overall lines remain much the same, but we think that the high-roofed hatchback looks as appealing as, for instance, the Honda Fit and the Suzuki Reno.

The interior has also been restyled and we applaud Chevy for its craftsmanship and use of good-looking materials in the dashboard and center stack. The textures look good and there is no plastic feel anywhere inside. The seams fit neatly.

The optional leatherette seats ($375) in our test car looked nice and had a nice texture.

Interior space is surprisingly generous considering the car’s diminutive 97-inch wheelbase and 154-inch length. With the rear seats folded the hatchback can carry 42 cubic feet of cargo.

Some of the issues we had with the original 2004 hatch were clunky switchgear and light, tinny-sounding doors. Those have been addressed. This time around, the switchgear seemed more upscale and the doors shut with a solid thunk.

Chevrolet says it has improved performance as well as gas mileage for 2009.

Horsepower is up three to 106 while torque remains the same. But the headline news is that gas mileage has been improved from 2008 listings of 23 mpg city and 32 highway with the four-speed automatic to 25/34 for 2009. Manual shift models have improved from 24/34 to 27/34.

The Aveo is powered by a 1.6-liter Ecotec four-cylinder with variable valve timing. Chevy says technologies such as electronic throttle control and an electrically controlled thermostat help to maximize performance and aid in fuel efficiency.

The Aveo is sprightly around town and if you can get used to putting your foot hard into the accelerator, merges and passing can be accomplished with little or no drama. Let’s face it, excellent gas mileage seldom comes without some performance compromises.

The Aveo comes in two styles, sedan and hatchback, with three trim levels in each style starting at $12,120. Only the cash-starved customers should consider the base trim level.

We recommend moving up to get such features as power windows, air conditioning, keyless entry and cruise control. The mid-level 1LT starts at $14,255 and the top level 2LT begins at $15,520.

Note that an automatic transmission is a $925 option on all trim levels. We think antilock brakes should be standard equipment on all cars, but you must check the options list to get them for $440 on the Aveo.

Our top line Aveo5 2LT model stickered for $17,250 with the automatic, antilock brakes and upgraded seats added to the base 2LT price. This also begs the question whether there should be a $5,000 jump between the starting price and the top end of a B-segment car, especially without performance enhancements?

If you give credence to Edmunds’ “True Cost to Own” study, don’t pass up the chance to test drive an Aveo. You will be pleasantly surprised at how well it stands up to the Hondas and Toyotas of the world.

And one more thing, all Aveo models come with General Motors’ five-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Base price: $12,120; as driven, $17,260
Engine: 1.6-liter 4 cylinder
Horsepower: 106 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 107 foot pounds @ 3,800 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 97.6 inches
Length: 154.3 inches
Curb weight: 2,546 pounds
Turning circle: 33 feet
Luggage capacity: 7.1 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 42 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 12 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 34 mpg highway, 25 city
0-60: 10.5 seconds (estimated)
Also consider: Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa, Suzuki Reno

The Good
• One of the least expensive cars to drive.
• Improved gas mileage
• Well-crafted dashboard

The Bad
• Performance just on the edge of acceptable

The Ugly
• Antilock brakes are optional on all trim levels
• Is the high-end of entry level too pricey?