Chevy Aveo – a new choice for the budget minded

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Take heart, our newly minted high school graduate. If you want new, you can get new, and you can land a very serviceable car to carry you through four years of college for around 12 grand.

Of course, you can also purchase a good used car, probably with a few more amenities, for the same price. But new is new and you get that new car warranty as well.

You are in luck because there’s a good selection in a very competitive sub-compact entry-level segment. There’s the Suzuki Aerio, Kia Rio, Hyundai Accent and the Toyota Echo. Also a very viable choice is the new Scion xA from Toyota.
You might also add some slightly bigger vehicles to your shopping list such as the Mitsubishi Lancer, Ford Focus and Chevy Cavalier. They all can be purchased in about the same price range, and in the case of the Cavalier with deeper discounts than most.

After we looked at those cars, we grabbed a test drive in the all-new 2004 Chevrolet Aveo. Chevy says it can be purchased for $9,995. But you will have to forego a lot of stuff for that bargain basement price.

Move up just a bit, say to around $12,000, and you can land a good little car with some features you want and some features you need such as air conditioning, a stereo with CD/MP3 player, tilt wheel, rear window defogger and 60-40 split-folding rear seat.

Edge up to about 14 grand and you can really get with the program adding power windows and locks, keyless entry, automatic transmission and antilock brakes.

The good news this summer is that Chevrolet has a $1,000 rebate on the Aveo and it’s possible at most dealers to get even more off the list price.

The Aveo (pronounced ah-vay-oh) is General Motors’ new entry-level subcompact, a replacement for the departed Suzuki-built Metro.

The Aveo, like the Kia and Hyundai, is built in South Korea. It is part of the new GM Daewoo Auto Technology Company. GM picked up the pieces of a bankrupt Daewoo in a fire sale in 2002. The Aveo is sold in Europe and Asia under the name Kalos.

Don’t let the Daewoo pedigree fool you. The Aveo is a solid, well-designed little car with excellent interior materials.

This little get-about comes in two body styles, four-door sedan and five-door hatchback, and in three time levels, Special Value, Base and LS.

The hatchback, our test vehicle for a week, is small on the outside. In fact, it’s just a little more than 12 feet long. That’s diminutive when compared even to a mid-sized sedan that stretches out close to 16 feet. Its 152.7-inch length is shorter than any of the competitors.  It’s also narrower than the others and taller than all but the xA and the Aerio.

The Aveo sedan is more than a foot longer than the hatchback and includes a rather spacious 11.6 cubic-foot trunk.

Despite its small size, the Aveo is well packaged. The hatchback we tested had 42 cubic feet of storage space with the rear seatbacks folded down. There’s just 7.2 cubic feet with seats up, but they fold down in a 60-40 configuration to accommodate a third passenger and more cargo storage.

Although the sedan is probably more stylish to many eyes, we prefer the hatch because of the storage utility. The high roofline makes it possible to slide in tallish boxes or pack it to the gills with hunting, fishing or most kinds of sports equipment.

The high roofline gives the car an airy feeling. Headroom is excellent, both front and back, and legroom in back is adequate.

Small cars have always intrigued us. They are so easy to toss around and they are wonderfully maneuverable in the tightest of parking lot situations. The Aveo, which is propelled by a 1.6-liter inline four generating 103-horsepower and 107 pound-feet of torque, is agile around town even with the 4-speed automatic.

Like so many small cars with small engines, it will jump off the line. The problem comes at higher speeds when the engine runs out of steam, especially in passing and merging situations. We found that the Aveo can stay ahead of traffic, but you must be willing to make liberal use of the accelerator pedal.

Figure in the cost of the car and its prodigious fuel mileage – 26-mpg city and
34-mpg highway with the automatic and performance becomes considerably more acceptable.

The Aveo is no more a sports sedan than it is a speedster. It handles nicely on the highway, but it will lean heavily into the corners if the driver becomes too frisky.
Surprisingly good interior fit and finish and a relatively high quality of materials are standout attributes of the Aveo. The cloth seat fabrics have a good feel. The center stack is bordered by strips of dimpled plastic, a step up from the plain hard plastic used in many entry-level cars. And there’s a separate clock that doesn’t have to share time with the radio readout as in so many more expensive GM vehicles.

The inexpensive nature of the car does show through in some places.  Some of the switchgear we found clunky. And we had a hard time inserting the key into the ignition. It was like putting the wrong key in a lock. Some WD40 might have solved that problem.

The doors are light and shut with a tinny sound. But that’s inherent in an inexpensive car.

One really delightful aspect of the Aveo is the engaging chirp emitted when locking the car with the keyfob; reminds us of a BMW or Lexus.

And of course another delightful aspect is price. Our LS trim level came with a base price of $12,585 and included such amenities as air conditioning, tilt wheel, keyless entry, power windows and doorlocks, carpeted floor mats, rear window defogger and AM/FM stereo with CD/MP3 player.

Our test vehicle added an automatic transmission, $850; antilock brakes, $400; and rear spoiler, $225. That brought the bottom line to $14,060.

Although the Aveo was originally listed with the standard GM 3-year, 36,000-mile warranty, our test car came with an additional 5-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty. That’s more in line with the long-term warranties offered by Kia and Hyundai.

The new Aveo is definitely a step above the Metro it replaces. And it offers serious competition for the likes of the other Korean and Japanese contenders.

There are a lot of choices in the entry-level sub-compact segment and certainly the Aveo is a real contender to become a graduate’s, or anyone’s for that matter, automotive object of affection if you just have to have new on a budget.