When I say the Chevrolet Aveo is arguably the worst car sold in America, it's bound to annoy Aveo customers, but bear with me: It's also a car I could cheerfully live with on a daily basis.
This is more a comment on how good cars are right now than any shortcomings in the Aveo: It has no glaring problems, no substantial oversights. It is well beyond the bare minimum required to be competent, safe transportation.
The Aveo is built in Korea by Daewoo, the manufacturer that tried and failed to establish a beachhead in the American market with its own brand. General Motors bailed out Daewoo, the manufacturer, but not Daewoo, the brand -- the cars are still sold here, but under a different label. Besides the Aveo, Daewoo also builds the Suzuki Forenza and Reno, and used to build the now-discontinued Suzuki Verona.
Quality-wise, Daewoo is, I'd submit, about where Hyundai was six years ago, where Kia was three years ago.
The Aveo tested here was the LS model, a midrange sedan that is less deluxe than the LT, more deluxe than the little base Aveo5 hatchback. The hatchback starts at $9,995 and is advertised as the lowest-priced car in America, appealing only if you don't like air conditioning.
The LS sedan, base price $12,010, really isn't that stripped down: You get air conditioning, an AM/FM stereo, power steering, decent 14-inch radials, a tilt steering column, a rear-window defroster, floor mats, a clock and a remote fuel-door release. Front and side air bags are standard. Rear seat room isn't that bad, and trunk space is more than adequate. The test car had only two options: a four-speed automatic transmission ($925) and an upgraded stereo with a CD player ($325).
The test car had wind-up windows, which is fine with me: Power windows are one of the single leading sources of problems on vehicles, and I've fixed more than my share. I've never had a problem with a wind-up window.
The Aveo feels as if it's about one generation away from fixing most of my complaints. The headliner, for instance, feels as if it's made from opossum fur. The cupholder in the center console is almost back in the rear seats, while there's plenty of room to put one up front. The front bucket seats are covered with fabric so thin you can feel the ridges in the foam underneath. Switches and controls have a less than substantial feel to them: Daewoo has yet to learn that it's important to spend an extra few bucks on those items and surfaces that you touch regularly.
All those complaints are minor. The important stuff -- engine, transmission, steering, brakes, the aforementioned air conditioning -- works just fine.
That said, Daewoo remains a little behind in the powertrain department. The 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine has 103 horsepower and is EPA rated at 26 miles per gallon city, 34 mpg highway. The base 1.8-liter engine in the Honda Civic has 140 horsepower, and is EPA-rated at 30 mpg city, 40 mpg highway. Even so, the Aveo's engine feels stronger than it is, and the automatic transmission is willing to downshift when you ask it to. There's plenty of power to pass.
The most pleasant surprise was how well the Aveo LS rode and handled: The ride is fine on all but the roughest roads, and the little car was plenty competent on tight turns, with less body roll than I remembered from the last Aveo I drove.
The Chevrolet Aveo LS is an honest little car that's worth what it's selling for. There are better cars, but this one isn't bad at all.