- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2004

It’s the second smallest new car on the market, longer than a pint-sized Mini Cooper by just 10 inches.

But Chevrolet’s new Aveo (pronounced Ah-VAY-oh) five-door hatchback looms large for budget-strapped buyers.

Starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $9,995, which makes the Aveo the lowest-priced new car available. The slightly longer sedan version of Aveo starts at $9,995, too.

The previous lowest-priced auto was the Kia Rio, which starts at $10,280 for a 2004 sedan.

Other Aveo competitors include the 2004 Scion xA five-door hatchback, which starts at $12,965, and the 2004 Suzuki Aerio SX five-door hatchback, which has a starting price of $15,499.

The Mini Cooper, also a five-door hatchback, starts at $16,999 and targets more affluent buyers.

The debut of the Aveo gives Chevrolet two offerings in the small-car segment for the first time in years.

Chevrolet officials said the Aveo is designed to help attract first-time buyers who might otherwise go to low-priced South Korea-based competitors, such as Kia.

Note the Aveo is built in South Korea, too, and comes to Chevrolet after parent company General Motors Corp. bought some of the assets of the failed Daewoo car company. Sold in Europe and Asia under the name Kalos, the Aveo’s compact size makes it a good fit in those areas of the world where small cars are popular.

From bumper to bumper, the five-door hatchback, which was the test car, is just 12.7 feet long, which isn’t even two-thirds the length of a Dodge Ram Quad Cab pickup truck.

The Aveo also is one of the narrower cars on the market, with a width of 65.8 inches. The diminutive Mini is 66.5 inches wide, and Suzuki’s Aerio is 67.7 inches wide.

But where the Mini is a retro-styled model that’s designed to scoot and hug the road, the Aveo is taller and plainer and comes across as a utilitarian city car. The 103-horsepower, 1.6-liter, double-overhead cam four-cylinder that’s in both hatchback and sedan starts the car off from a stop with zip.

But the vehicle can lose steam on mountain climbs and during highway passing maneuvers.

The test car had a five-speed manual transmission with a tall gearshift stalk.

Maximum torque in the 2,300-pound car is 107 foot-pounds at 3,600 rpm.

I noticed each time I opened the Aveo’s doors just how light they felt. Fuel economy isn’t as high as expected. The five-door Aveo with manual transmission is rated at 27 miles a gallon in city driving and 35 mpg on the highway.

Passengers readily hear the Aveo engine working, and road noise comes through, too.

But the Aveo’s nimble handling is noteworthy. I didn’t have to back all the way out of diagonal parking spots. I’d just get out halfway, turn the steering wheel, and I often could clear the car next to me and move into the driving lane without any further fuss. The turning circle of the Aveo is 30.2 feet. Steering is power rack-and-pinion, with a light, almost unnervingly quick response.

Passengers feel a lot of road bumps as they travel in the Aveo. Speed bumps at low speed can be jolting. The front suspension uses MacPherson struts and coil springs, while a torsion beam axle works at the rear.

Gauges and controls are functional and well-laid-out. I liked that the four round air vents on the dashboard could be adjusted to move air in almost any direction.

But the round door handles inside didn’t provide a great grip, and I jammed my fingernails using them.

The Aveo’s seats, which were covered by a nice, gray fabric in the test car, position passengers in a rather upright posture. As a result, legs angle downward, not straight out across the floor, and legroom is commendable.

Indeed, with the driver seat up for someone my size — 5 feet 4 — to drive, there was a good amount of rear legroom for the person behind.

But there are only two head restraints back there, and it’s a tight fit for three adults. I had to coordinate my hips and my head as I got inside the Aveo’s back seat.

The combination of slightly sloping roofline and the high position of the seat cushion caused me to bump my head a couple times.

Once inside, though, I found decent headroom, which is about the same as in the Mini. Note the rear seatback reclines, but only to one position.

The Aveo’s ceiling material is more upscale than I expected. But passengers can notice areas where it’s obvious the Aveo is a low-priced car. For example, the backs of the fold-down rear seats are bare black metal and can easily be scratched when cargo is slid onto them.

The console area between the Aveo’s two front seats has storage for small items, but there’s no cover to keep the items from view and, on the test Aveo, the 14-inch tires were on wheels with basic plastic wheel covers.

Still, cargo space is a maximum 42 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down. When the Aveo’s rear seats aren’t folded, there’s 7.2 cubic feet of cargo space behind them.

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