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

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By Chris Chase; photos by Greg Wilson

Years ago, I asked a guy I know why he chose to buy a brand-new Daewoo Lanos. “Because it was cheap,” was his answer.

That was how this Korean company hoped to break into the competitive North American new car market: by selling its cars for less than established brands could. It didn’t work, and by 2002 (about four years after the company’s 1999 debut here), Daewoo’s operations on this continent were out of money and out of business.

The 2004 model year would mark a return to North America for Daewoo, now GM Daewoo Auto Technology Company (GM DAT) partly owned by General Motors, Suzuki and SAIC. GM began importing the cars under its Chevrolet and Pontiac brands, and Suzuki also imported some cars.

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

The smallest of these cars was sold as the Chevrolet Aveo (and as the Pontiac Wave and the Canada-only Suzuki Swift+); the Aveo arrived at GM dealers for the 2004 model year.

The Aveo was sold in both four-door hatchback and sedan bodystyles, both powered by a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine making 103 horsepower; the standard transmission choice was a five-speed manual, and a four-speed automatic was the option.

In 2007, sedan versions of the Aveo got new styling and a tweaked suspension, plus some changes to the standard features and options lists. (Hatchback models wouldn’t get the updated styling until 2009, when both sedans and hatches also got a new, more efficient engine.)

2010 models got a two horsepower increase, to 108, and standard front-seat side airbags. Changes for 2011 were in trim and option packages.

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

Fuel consumption, while decent in the grand scheme, was a letdown compared to other small cars. The 2005 Aveo/Wave/Swift’s ratings of 8.8/6.1 L/100 km (city/highway, with manual transmission) were only slight better than those for a Ford Focus (9.2/6.2), about equal to those for a Hyundai Elantra (8.8/6.3), and were notably worse than the Honda’ Civic’s ratings of 7.5/5.7. In the subcompact class at the time, only the Kia Rio’s 9.3/6.9 L/100 km ratings were worse, while the Toyota Echo was the thriftiest subcompact, rated at 6.7/5.2.

Reliability has been sub-par, especially in early cars, and even newer models appear to be far from trouble-free. Consumer Reports gives these cars a worse-then-average used vehicle rating, pointing out a number of potential trouble spots. Consumer Reports lists the 2004-2005 Aveo on its list of “used cars to avoid.”

Two problems I was able to find evidence of online had to do with the 1.6-litre engine’s valve train. One was for valves that don’t “seat” properly, meaning that they don’t close completely, which prevents the engine from generating the compression it needs to run properly. This was covered, at least in the U.S., by a technical service bulletin issued by GM. Read about this issue in a thread at Topix.com.

Next up, is the issue of frequent timing belt failures, in some cases, before the manufacturer’s recommended replacement interval of 60,000 miles (about 96,000 km).

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