2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 LS
2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 LS. Click image to enlarge

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2009 Chevrolet Aveo5, by Greg Wilson
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2009 Chevrolet Aveo

Oshawa, Ontario – There’s no question that two-thirds of the Detroit Big Three got caught with their pants down when gas prices headed toward the stratosphere earlier this year. Ford’s Fiesta is still to come, and the Dodge Hornet idea buzzed around for a while before ultimately going nowhere – only General Motors has an entry in the subcompact segment, the Chevrolet Aveo and its twin Pontiac Wave, previously a Canadian-only model that has now added G3 to its name in preparation for its launch in the U.S.

Along with a third sibling, sold as the Suzuki Swift+, the Aveo/Wave is built in Korea by GM’s subsidiary GMDAT (General Motors Daewoo Automobile Technology). It’s the only model left from Daewoo’s initial three-car offering in 2004 which also included the Optra and Epica.

The Aveo comes in two bodystyles: a four-door sedan or a four-door hatchback called the Aveo5 (since the company counts the hatch as a door). Both come in base LS trim at $13,770, or as the LT, at $16,270. The MSRP pricing is the same for both sedan and hatchback. But show up with cash, and GM has a special offer that will bring down the hatchback’s price to $9,995.

2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 LS
2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 LS
2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 LS. Click image to enlarge

Along with a styling update on the hatchback, giving it the corporate twin-grille face first seen on the Malibu, all models benefit from the addition of variable valve timing to the 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine. Horsepower is now 106, up from 103 in 2008; torque winds down a bit, now at 105 from 107. But the big difference is in fuel economy: previously rated at a rather dismal 9.0 L/100 km in the city and 6.2 in the highway for the four-speed automatic, my autobox tester’s official published rate was 8.2 and 5.8. In combined, cold-weather driving, I averaged 8.1 L/100 km.

My tester was the LS model, which really is base: manual remote mirrors, wind-up windows, and 14-inch steel wheels, although it did include floor mats, a CD/MP3 stereo with auxiliary jack, and a manual driver’s seat height adjuster. My car included the four-speed automatic in place of a five-speed manual, for $1,050; other options included air conditioning, at $1,150, a rather hefty $395 for OnStar, and a “Security Package” that added anti-lock brakes and seat side airbags for $960. Curtain airbags aren’t available, a curious omission given that for most of its competitors, six airbags are either standard or optional. It’s also odd that side airbags and OnStar are standard equipment on U.S. models.

Should you move up to the LT, the air conditioning and OnStar are included, along with power locks with keyless entry, heated power mirrors, cruise control and power windows, none of which can be added to the LS. The bags-n-brakes package can be added to both models, along with optional 15-inch alloy wheels and XM satellite radio. The LT can also be optioned with a Team Canada Edition package, which adds the 15-inch rims, spoiler, XM satellite, premium six-speaker sound system, leather-wrapped wheel with audio controls, and iPod cable.

I didn’t mind not having power windows; I actually prefer wind-up glass in a subcompact, just for the simplicity, but I have been spoiled by power locks. It’s easy enough to reach across this little car to pop open the driver’s door, but I was less than thrilled when I had to put my bag of groceries down in the snow to insert the key into the liftgate lock. How quickly we forget the pre-electronic days.

The best way to describe the Aveo is that it’s basic transportation that does what it’s supposed to do. The engine can feel tapped-out on steep climbs or when asked for passing power at highway speeds, but it’s more than enough for scooting around town. It’s growly, but not annoyingly loud; there’s torque-steer, but it’s manageable. As with much of the competition, the steering is direct, and while there’s a fair bit of body lean on turns, this isn’t meant to be a sports car.

2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 LS
2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 LS
2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 LS
2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 LS
2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 LS. Click image to enlarge

The turning radius is small, making it easy to park. And the ride is surprisingly smooth, given the short wheelbase and the tiny tires; you feel hard bumps, but the suspension doesn’t crash and bang over them.

Inside, everything is hard plastic, as is to be expected, but it all fits together very well. The simple dash includes an easy-to-read cluster, a digital clock on top of the dash panel, and easy-to-turn climate dials that control the car’s blast-furnace heater. The vents are easily opened, closed and spun. Small items go into the generous door pockets, glovebox or an open cubby in the centre console. But for some reason, Aveo’s engineers are completely incapable of designing a cupholder. In the last generation, the drink would block the heater dials. This time around, the cupholders slide out from low on the centre stack, right in front of the shifter. Once opened, they block the aforementioned cubby, and at best they’ll only grasp a small cup. Most drivers will end up using the single open holder at the back of the console, which is meant for the rear-seat passengers.

The seats are firm, but they’re fine for short hauls; when they were moved about halfway on their tracks, two adults in the rear seats had enough legroom. The sedan’s trunk, rated at 350 litres, dwarfs the hatchback’s cargo space, rated at 200 litres; up against the measuring tape, the cargo floor is 60 cm long. The 60/40 split rear seat folds, opening it to a length of 115 cm (or an official total of 1,190 litres), but there’s a catch: namely, the seat cushion, which presents an obstacle as you’re trying to slide longer cargo in. With the seat folded, it creates a 19-cm-tall riser, so that longer items must be carried on an angle.

When compared to others in its segment, the Aveo’s cash-only price is definitely a draw for those who simply want something that will go from A to B for the least amount of money. It’s up against the cash-only $9,995 Hyundai Accent, but that model is only a two-door; the four-door Accent Sedan carries a slightly higher cash-only offer of $10,695.

But if you want a bit more than that, you’ll need to look at what you get for the money. Assuming that many buyers will want to add air conditioning, ABS and the extra airbags, which brings the Aveo5 to $15,880, outfitting the competition with these items means you’ll pay more for the Toyota Yaris, Kia Rio and the Hyundai Accent sedan. However, the packages or trim lines necessary to add these items (and it’s six bags to the Aveo’s four) also include other features missing on the base Chevrolet, such as power windows, keyless entry and cruise control, so you’ll need to decide how much those extras are worth to you.

2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 LS
2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 LS. Click image to enlarge

Also up for serious consideration is the Honda Fit, which has a 117-horsepower engine and the sharpest handling in the segment. It comes standard with ABS and six airbags, as well as power mirrors, power windows and its multi-position, cargo-friendly rear seat. When its optional a/c is added in, it’s only $400 more than Aveo5. And when the 122-horsepower Nissan Versa hatchback is optioned with ABS and a/c, then in addition to its standard six airbags, it also includes keyless entry, power windows, heated mirrors and super-comfortable seats, for $182 less than Aveo5, and its base stick-shift is a six-speed to the Aveo5’s five-cog gearbox.

All of that points up to the newfound importance of this segment, which these days is casting a far larger shadow than the cars’ diminutive footprint would suggest. For every enthusiast willing to pay large for the fun of carving corners, there’s a whole freeway full of people who just want something that’ll get them to work for the least amount of money possible. For them, the Aveo is a choice that needs to be considered carefully, measured against the competition, and test-driven to see if it fills the bill.

Pricing: 2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 LS

Base price: $13,770
Options: $ 3,830 (4-speed automatic transmission, $1,050; air conditioning, $1,150; Security Package of front seat side airbags and anti-lock brakes, $960; OnStar with one year Safe & Sound plan, $395; XM satellite radio with three months’ free service, $260; front license plate bracket, $15)

A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,125
Price as tested: $18,825
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

  • Specifications: 2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 LS

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