A car for these times

2009, Chevrolet, Aveo5

Chevrolet deserves some credit for offering the only subcompact from the Detroit 3 automakers. And while that entry, the Chevy Aveo, is no superstar, it is solid, affordable transportation that deserves a look in these tough economic times. The Aveo comes in sedan and five-door hatchback configurations.

We drove the latter, known as the Aveo5.

Driving the Aveo won't send chills down your spine, unless it's kind of a breezy day and you roll all the windows down. The noise level from the engine, a 1.6-liter four-cylinder, is pretty high. Plus, that engine is somewhat weak. But the car's suspension and handling are good enough to give you the kind of ease of driveability that you would expect from a subcompact. The engine makes 107 horsepower and 111 pounds-feet of torque.

Manual and automatic transmissions are available; we had the five-speed manual. It shifted easily, but its ratios were too broad and probably contributed to it not doing as well on fuel economy as we would have liked. The EPA numbers for the Aveo5 are 27 mpg city and 34 highway. In a mix of city and highway driving, we got about 26 mpg. Buyers in this segment generally have fuel economy as a key concern, and in that regard, the Aveo falls a little short of its competitor, the Toyota Yaris.

Plus, Aveo has to overcome the quality perception issue; Toyota's quality record is seen as being far superior to that of Chevrolet. Additionally, we've test driven the Yaris and another competitor, the Honda Fit, and can say that the engines of both are stronger than that of the Aveo. But give Chevy credit for the Aveo's design. For a small economy car, it actually has a few nice styling touches.

Check out the exterior gills at the base of the A-pillar. That's a nice little design addition that gives the Aveo just a bit of bling. On the inside, there is some very nice wood trim that you certainly wouldn't expect to see in a car in this price range. A few metallic accents also give the Aveo a bit more upscaleness than would be expected.

The seating is comfortable, with plenty of headroom and adequate legroom. The AM/FM stereo is OK, but you'll have to crank it up pretty loudly sometimes to overcome that engine noise.

The folding 60/40-split rear seat gives you 42 cubic feet of cargo space.

The Aveo is made by Daewoo, a General Motors subsidiary in South Korea.

A recent study by Edmunds.com, a consumer automotive Web site, found that the Aveo is the least-expensive vehicle to operate. Edmunds said the Aveo has a per-mile operating cost of 42.7 cents, or $6,405 a year (based on 15,000 miles and a fuel price of $4.06 a gallon). So who is this car aimed at?

Well, as we stated, gas mileage is a key concern for buyers in this segment, so those looking to make infrequent visits to the pump would be prime targets. Also, the Aveo is a great commuter car, so you could see someone who owns an SUV but doesn't want to drive it 25 miles to work every day buying one of these to carry them to the job. Also, since it is an affordable car, those on a budget would be looking at the Aveo. That would include college students.

In fact, Chevy is making a special point of targeting college students with its marketing for the Aveo. The brand has recently relaunched a "Livin' Large" ad campaign, using a "College Cab" that takes video footage of students in the Aveo5 in a short ride. GM, which first began its "&Livin' Large" ad campaign in 2006, hopes to spread its Aveo message with viral marketing.

Students who land on the video will be able to share the footage with friends. Also, there will be a contest for students in which they can win a new Aveo. Chevy aims to build customer loyalty by targeting college students.

Get 'em at this age, the thinking goes, and when they're ready to move up to cars costing $20,000-$30,000, they're more likely to stay in your family of brands.

That may or may not work, but for now, the Aveo is a good car for these times.

By Rob Douthit

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Images of the 2009, Chevrolet Aveo5

2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 front view
2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 front view
2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 interior
2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 interior
2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 dash
2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 dash
2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 rear shot
2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 rear shot