First Drive: 2009 Chevrolet Aveo5

The redesigned Chevrolet Aveo5 shows how far entry-level cars have come in the past 10 years. Compared to cars then, or even the previous-generation Aveo5, the new model is an improvement. Unfortunately, compared with the best of its competition — the Nissan Versa and Honda Fit — it doesn’t shine so brightly.

I recently tested a variety of Aveo5s, some of which were loaded with luxury goodies, some of which were not. It made for a fun day of trying them all out and seeing how they differed.

In a nutshell, as you’d expect, the more you pay, the more you get. Things like better interior coverings, a sunroof, power locks and the like creep in as the price goes up. What surprised me the most, though, was that the steering was extremely light on lower-end 1LT models – almost disconcertingly so. I find small cars to be twitchy under the best of circumstances, and a light steering wheel only makes that worse. The upper-trim 2LT levels seemed to have less power-steering boost and felt more composed.

Ditto the manual transmissions. The lowest trim level I got in had a shifter that felt like it would come off in my hand if I shifted it too hard. (Would it actually come off? I doubt it, but it’s one of those ‘perceived quality’ issues that carmakers have from time to time.) Higher trims had a more secure shifter.

With the automatic transmission, the car reminds you that you’re driving a small car with a small engine. It’s not fun, and it must be said that the Honda Fit is fun to drive with an automatic, so I’m not buying any excuses that small cars and automatic transmissions don’t mix. The automatic needs work.

Speaking of the competition, to my taste the Fit has the best interior in this class, followed by the Versa. The Aveo5 is getting there — it’s much better than the previous model – but it’s just not equal to the best. Mostly it was a matter of things like a goofy display in the center of the dash, some weird plastic choices and, yes, the rubber shifter. It all adds up.

Finally, I tested the cars in an area that had a fair bit of rough, potholed roads, and I was grateful for that. It really helps you test a car in real-world conditions, and the Aveo5 did OK.

Make no mistake, this is not a Chevrolet Malibu, Saturn Astra or other uplevel car. You’ll feel and hear the bumps, but they’re acceptable for an entry-level vehicle. I’d need to drive the Aveo5, Fit and Versa on the same roads to really be sure, but I think if the roads are rough, the Versa is the best, the Aveo5 is second and the Fit is third in terms of comfort. For sportiness, well, that’s another matter, as the Fit wins hands down.

I think the best way to sum up the Aveo5 is to say it is what it is. It’s an entry-level car that tries hard and gets some things right, but, unfortunately, the competition is a bit further down the road.

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