Leap Frog: Chevrolet Aveo (2005)
WARP BACK TO THE EARLY NINETIES, and you’ll come to an era when small cars were anything but fun. They were literally at the bottom of the automotive food chain—nothing more than just a box on wheels, serving as a college dude’s first ride. They were cramped, crashy, poorly built and austere—in bare metal sort of way. But, they were cheap to buy and more importantly, cheaper to maintain. It can cross the Sahara Desert in a single tank of petrol and their spark plugs were as cheap as buying cotton buds at a corner drug store. And that’s what Mr. College cared about. Forget Lamborghinis, Ferraris and Porsches, they’re just bedroom poster material. During a time when he’s balancing grades as much as his accounts, cheap is important and everything else was second. That was until the rise of the funky super mini.
Thank Toyota for that one. In 1999, they debuted the Echo (Yaris in Europe, Vitz in Japan)—a car that was as fun to drive as it was to own. It was fun to drive, cute to the eye and yet, it maintained a high level of practicality, economy and value for money. It was as safe as the Camry, but the small one could do 400 kilometers on a single tank and could do 14 km/L on a good day. More importantly, the Echo served as the bench mark for other super minis that followed. In this new era, the college driver didn’t just want a cheap asking price. He wants something funky, different and cute with a hint of sports car flare. Of course, any company in search of global domination simply can’t ignore this market, and guess who’s just entered into the act: Chevrolet.
From the company that brought to you the Camaro and Corvette comes this interesting little number called ‘Aveo’. Though the name closely resembles a baby care product, this isn’t a child’s toy. Erase the retina-burning green paint job and you’ll see this as a sedate thing. Supposedly designed by Italian designer Giugario, the Aveo is as boring and predictable as an oven toaster. It may have those interesting lights, fender flares and rear crease, but it isn’t going to stand out of the college parking lot. Folks from Giugario merely lifted elements straight from a super mini design book—from the early nineties. Perhaps the only way to quip interest in the Aveo is either you look like Tom Cruise or you Heidi Klum sitting next to you.
As boring as Calculus it maybe on the outside, the Aveo delights with an interesting cabin. Again, although most design elements feel as they were lifted straight from other super minis (dimpled plastics, anyone?), the Aveo has great space, good ergonomics and is excellently finished. The driving position is just about right with a nice steering angle (despite the fixed wheel) and good pedal reach. The seats are equally fantastic, at least for my body frame, although a wee bit more bum support would be appreciated for long-distance drives. All buttons are within easy reach and are easily understood even with tactile feel. The biggest joy here though, is the easy to use JVC audio system. Unlike other so-called ‘modern’ stereos with microscopic controls, the JVC can be operated instinctively even without the need for the manual. Sadly, Usher and Black-Eyed Peas sound trapped in a deep well with the Aveo’s tinny speakers. Also, it’s hard to stuff mobile phones, i-Pods and other loose gadgets because of its lack of cubby holes and utility trays, though it does have a dual-level, his and hers glove box.
So while the Aveo’s design merits a mere ‘D’ on the report card, the chassis people deserve a commendable ‘B’. For a car with a mere 2480 mm wheelbase, the Aveo is smooth over ruts and humps—more so than its Japanese rivals. The ride is rarely crashy and damping is actually quite good. It’s also quiet despite running on economy-biased Kumho rubbers. Of course, tuning the Aveo for the A to B city block means a huge compromise (and a barely passing score) on the highway run. The tall body alone makes it susceptible to crosswinds, while the submarine hatch steering response won’t exactly help things. The softly sprung suspension means that it starts to leap all over the place at 100 and it begs to slow down at 120 km/h. Take heed of the “Objects in the Mirror…” warning on the side mirrors too—they pessimistically magnify passing traffic and hamper overtaking maneuvers with large blind spots.
The Aveo’s poor highway touring ability means that it’s surely built for the city. Well, granted that the suspension’s soft and the comfort’s great, it should make for a good traffic companion. However, its engine tells another story. Though the four-speed automatic is smooth, the gearing is far too tall causing the Aveo is puff out of power by 80 km/h. An invisible barrier prevents further progress beyond 120 km/h. The huff-and-puff of the transmission isn’t helped by the gruff and underpowered 1.5-liter Ecotec engine. Its 200 cc additional capacity may spell good bang for the buck performance, but with a power rating comparable to smaller engines, the Aveo straddles along with a mere 83 horsepower and 128 Nm of torque. Lack of power aside, the combination of a larger displacement engine and tall gearing don’t bode well for fuel economy. And guess what, it doesn’t. In the week that I had the Aveo, we filled it up four times with an average mileage of 7.98 km/L—figures similar to a Honda Accord V6!
At this point, it’s clear that I’m no big fan of the Aveo. I simply don’t like the frog-like looks, the garnish green point, the boomy engine and the disappointing transmission. So could I absolutely think of it as a college boy’s first car? As mentioned earlier, the super mini formula must always include ‘cheap to maintain’—in fact, it should be a main consideration, otherwise you’d be better off with a base sports compact. Despite the Aveo’s thirst for unleaded, it does come with a comprehensive bumper to bumper, three-year warranty that includes parts (even consumables like oil) and labor. This means that after the P 595,000.00 that you plop down for this car, you don’t have to spend on anything else but petrol and the occasional car wash. This sways everyone (me include) to give the Aveo a serious consideration. But, in the end, it leaves me in the cold.
The Aveo may be well-built and cheap to maintain, but if you’re looking for good driving dynamics and a refined drive train, this car fails—miserably. There are far better choices out there that are just as well-built but can give an equally exciting experience behind the wheel. Or, if a super mini really isn’t to your taste (like me), you’d do just what any sensible college student would do: ask for hand-me-downs. And look at me—six years on I’m still very much in love with my 1991 Mitsubishi Galant GTi.
By Ulysses Ang | Photos By Ulysses Ang