Thanks to the recent jump in gas prices, small sedans and hatchbacks priced from $10,000 to $15,000 have seen their popularity soar. Honda, Toyota and Nissan already are in this segment, but U.S. automakers have lagged. Ford and Chrysler have hinted at future contenders, but GM is currently the only Detroit automaker with an entry-level car.
Chevrolet also markets a companion hatchback, now called the Aveo5. The 2007 Aveo5 model is carried over from last year's design, but this review focuses on the sedan.
The Aveo comes in basic LS and well-equipped LT trim levels, both available with a manual or an automatic transmission. Last year's sub-$10,000 Special Value sedan is gone, and the least expensive Aveo now starts around $12,000. I drove an automatic Aveo LT.
Exterior & Styling
While the previous car sported styling by Italdesign-Giugiaro, the 2007 Aveo comes from GM's in-house mold. From a distance, its large headlights and cross-bar grille could be mistaken for a Chevy Cobalt, and the chrome-striped rear looks like a shrunken Malibu with Ford Fusion taillights. It's a clean, reasonably fresh design, but it's not as distinctive as before.
Riding on a 97.6-inch wheelbase, the Aveo is about 170 inches long — three inches longer than its predecessor. Width and height increase 1.6 and 0.4 inches, respectively. Here's how the Aveo stacks up against competing four-doors:
|Small Sedans Compared|
|2007 Chevrolet Aveo||2007 Nissan Versa*||2007 Toyota Yaris||2007 Hyundai Accent||2006 Kia Rio|
|Trunk volume (cu. ft.)||12.4||13.8||12.9||12.4||11.9|
|Cabin volume (cu. ft.)||90.7||94.3||87.1||92.2||92.2|
|EPA gas mileage (city/hwy, mpg)**||26/34||30/36||34/39||28/37||29/38|
|Price range***||$11,950 to $16,545||n/a||$11,925 to $17,130||$12,565 to $14,915||$10,770 to $14,880|
*Versa sedan not available until January 2007.
**With automatic transmission.
***Range measures base price to approximate fully optioned model, excluding destination charge.
Shoppers might also consider an entry-level hatchback. All the Aveo competitors above include a hatchback variant, and others— like the Honda Fit and Suzuki Reno — come only as hatchbacks.
Ride & Handling
Like many of its competitors, the Aveo has an independent front suspension and semi-independent rear. The front setup has a stabilizer bar. Chevy says the suspension has been tuned for sportier handling, with tighter damping in the front shock absorbers. Fourteen-inch steel wheels are standard, while 15-inch alloys are optional. Even with the latter, I wouldn't call the ride sporty — it's rather noisy, and there is still pronounced body roll in hard corners.
Steering feedback is moderate, and turn-in is unimpressive. At low speeds, the steering wheel offers rather low assist, requiring noticeably more effort in parking lots and neighborhoods than the larger Chevrolet Cobalt.
Going & Stopping
Drivetrains have been carried over from the 2006 models, which means all Aveos pack a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. It generates 103 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 107 pounds-feet of torque at 3,400 rpm, and it pairs with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Accelerator response is immediate, keeping the Aveo from feeling underpowered around town. Pushed hard, the engine sounds harsh and buzzy, especially as revs ascend. (The Honda Fit proves that not every flyweight engine need exhibit these characteristics.)
The automatic transmission shifts smoothly at lower speeds, but on the highway it fights to stay in fourth gear, resisting kickdown far too long. A Hold button near the gearshift drops the transmission down to third, and it's often the easiest way to get better passing performance. The Hold button can also restrict the car to second or first gear.
Front disc and rear drum brakes are standard, and ABS is optional; four-wheel-disc brakes aren't available. I found the pedal to lack linearity, feeling mushy at first and grabby midway through.
Despite its small exterior dimensions, the Aveo's cabin has an open feel to it. A high seating position and broad windshield make for a good view out front, while the large rear window and short backseat headrests maximize rear visibility. I'm 5 feet, 11 inches tall, and I found enough headroom plus an inch left over when I adjusted the driver's seat to maximum height. (Sun lovers, beware: Moonroofs often rob around an inch of headroom, and my car did not include the optional one.)
My test car came with imitation leather seats, simulated wood trim and metallic accents, clearly an effort to move the Aveo upscale. In many places, it succeeds. The wood-grain pieces aren't too shiny, and the two-tone dashboard is textured to avoid the cheap plastic look of an entry-level car. Flush-fitted stereo controls and chrome-ringed air vents add a premium touch.
It doesn't take long, though, for the Aveo's economy roots to emerge. The front seatbacks are narrow and thinly padded, and I couldn't find a comfortable position all week. Wafer-like sun visors snap cheaply into the headliner, itself a rough surface. And even with all the options boxes checked, there's no power door lock switch — instead, the driver's lock directs the other three with an electromechanical chirp that's sure to annoy passengers.
The backs of the front seats are soft, offering the equivalent of knee cutouts for increased backseat legroom. As is the case in most small sedans, headroom in back is tight. Outboard positions have ample lateral room, though there's no middle armrest. A modest center hump intrudes on the center passenger's foot room. Curiously, the center backrest has the most padding of all three positions — an unlikely benefit of not having a center armrest. The outboard seats are still more comfortable, but the center seat is better than most.
Cabin storage is better suited for smaller items. There is no center console container, and the door pockets aren't particularly large. The glove box is about the size I expect for a compact car.
The interior is reasonably quiet in stop-and-go traffic. Engine noise at highway speeds remains low, but wind and road noise do not.
Led by Korean automakers, the entry-level segment has become increasingly well-equipped, frequently including a comprehensive list of safety features. Here's how the Aveo compares:
|2007 Aveo||2007 Versa||2007 Yaris||2007 Accent||2006 Rio|
|Side curtain airbags||n/a||Standard||Optional||Standard||Standard|
|Head restraints/total seats||4/5||4/5||5/5||5/5||4/5|
|Manufacturer data; applies to sedan body style for each car.|
Although the Aveo's side-impact airbags extend upward to protect front occupants' heads, they don't afford rear occupants the protection side curtain airbags do. Optional antilock brakes cost $400, substantially more than ABS in the Versa ($250) or Yaris ($300). (Both Hyundai and Kia bundle ABS into pricier option packages.)
The Aveo includes head restraints for front and outboard rear passengers. Front restraints can be tilted forward, a feature that could mitigate whiplash if used properly. The rear restraints adjusted high enough to protect my noggin, but there's no center one.
Child-seat provisions include two lower child-seat anchors in each outboard rear seat. On the backseat shelf, all three positions have clearly marked top tethers.
As of this writing, neither the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety nor the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has crash tested the 2007 Aveo.
The Aveo's trunk holds 12.4 cubic feet of cargo, 7 percent more than the 2006 Aveo's. The dimensions are comparable to most small sedans; the Nissan Versa is a notable exception, with a trunk that holds nearly 14 cubic feet. A standard 60/40-split, folding rear seat accommodates longer items, though there's a substantial step up between the trunk floor and the folded seatbacks.
Last year, the Aveo was a steal at just $9,350 for the Special Value sedan. For 2007, the Special Value isn't offered, so buyers will have to shell out $11,950 for the Aveo LS. (For buyers willing to live with the previous design, the Aveo5 hatchback still comes in Special Value trim.)
The extra $2,600 adds air conditioning, floormats, driver's seat lumbar adjustment and an iPod/MP3-player-compatible stereo. Updated sheet metal notwithstanding, I'm not sure it's worth the extra scratch.
For around $13,500, the Aveo LT adds power accessories and remote entry, cruise control, a CD player and alloy wheels. Fog lamps, ABS and a moonroof are optional, as are some uncommon items for a car in this class — faux leather seats, steering-wheel audio controls and a six-CD changer. A fully loaded Aveo costs about $16,500.
Aveo in the Market
In the entry-level segment, there's a lot that keeps the Aveo from being truly competitive. With the loss of the Special Value trim, it's no longer a bargain, and given the drivetrain similarities, the extra features don't justify the new price. Crucial safety items like side curtain airbags are missing. While some interior elements look surprisingly upscale, the driving experience leaves no question this is an economy car. Worse yet, gas mileage is beat by all major competitors — and some of them feel noticeably quicker.
Take away the nifty options and new styling, and the Aveo has improved little from the first-generation car. The competition, meanwhile, has improved and grown a great deal. For $12,000 — or more, if shiny wheels or power windows strike your fancy — there are better alternatives.
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