- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 1, 2007

Despite all the bashing it has endured, General Motors still has the ability to surprise.

There likely are quite a few surprises in the general’s ammunition belt, but a good starting shot is at the bottom, with the 2007 Chevrolet Aveo.

It’s an entry-level subcompact, the base model of which has a price tag that is five bucks less than $10,000. It’s not Detroit iron because it’s built in Bupyong, South Korea.

But in the version tested here, the LT sedan with a $15,420 price tag, including options, it’s a car that could satisfy legions of American buyers without any embarrassment.

The Aveo is part of a clutch of new economy cars vying for customers who want a decent car with a low price tag and good fuel economy in an era of uncertain fuel prices. Competitors include the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa, Ford Focus and Hyundai Accent.

Like others of its ilk in this era of SUV/crossover, sit-up-high vehicles, the Aveo has a look that is stubby, skinny and tall. In fact, it is the tallest car in the Chevrolet lineup — more than two inches taller than the Chevy Cobalt, a half-inch taller than the Impala, and nearly four inches taller than the Monte Carlo.

But the proportions work well, and the Aveo sedan has a handsome look about it, with a bold Chevrolet grille and big, white-outlined taillights out back.

A hatchback version also is offered, but American buyers continue their love affair with notchback sedans that have traditional trunks.

On the Aveo, the trunk is the only feature that has a cheap economy look. Though it is well-shaped and offers 12 cubic feet of cargo space, it is roughly finished.

It is out of character with the rest of the interior, which has a quality look. Though it certainly will not compete with luxury cars, or even the better midsize family sedans, it makes the best of what it’s got.

On the LT test sedan, the fake wood trim was nicely polished and tastefully applied, and it fitted well with the vinyl trim on the instrument panel and doors, which had nice matching textures.

The upholstery was called leatherette. A $250 option, it actually was a perforated vinyl. But most people would be hard-pressed to distinguish it from real leather, and it was reasonably comfortable in wintry and semi-wintry climates.

As might be expected in a subcompact economy car, the Aveo has modest power. The engine is a 103-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder that can propel the 2,542-pound Aveo to 60 mph in about 11 seconds. That’s not going to win many drag races, but it’s plenty to keep up with anything threatening you in most circumstances.

The engine gets its power to the front wheels through either a five-speed manual gearbox or, as on the test car, a four-speed automatic transmission that shifts smoothly and unobtrusively. It could use an extra ratio or two, but works well enough.

Surprisingly, there’s little protest or engine buzz, as you might expect on a basic economy car. Throughout the rev range, the engine noise is mostly muted, and the Aveo cruises quietly on the highway with not much wind or road noise.

The handling is acceptable for the uses to which the Aveo will be put, and the ride is supple and not punishing. Pushing the Aveo hard in corners produces the expected result of feeling out of shape. It’s no sports sedan.

For buyers who value safety, the test car came with side air bags but not the optional antilock brakes. Hard braking produced a lot of tire and brake smoke, but the stops were at least controlled. However, any buyer should consider the $400 antilock brake option.

Interior comfort is not the best, but certainly adequate. In addition to the normal fore-and-aft and seatback rake, the driver’s seat has manual adjustments for seat height and lumbar support. It also features a right-side armrest.

Out back, there’s plenty of head and knee room for passengers, as long as they don’t exceed about 5 feet 9 inches tall. Anything bigger risks heads encountering headliner on bumpy terrain. The center position is marginal.

The tested Aveo LT came with a load of equipment that belied its status as an economy car. Among the features: air conditioning, a stereo with CD changer and a port for IPods and MP3 players, a tilt (but not telescoping) steering wheel, remote locking with an alarm system, 15-inch aluminum wheels, fog lights, remote steering-wheel radio controls, cruise control, vanity mirrors and fold-down rear seatbacks.

A few small items betrayed the economy orientation of the Aveo: The power windows did not have an express-down feature, the windshield wipers sounded clunky, and the door-lock remote control had only two buttons. One locked and unlocked all doors, and the other popped the trunk. Some people puzzled by multiple-function remotes might even appreciate the simplicity.

Overall, the Aveo was far from being a stripper, and deserves consideration for shoppers interested in basic transportation.

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