CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Traffic on the I-485 beltway around Charlotte moves at a quick clip as we maintain the pace in a new and improved iteration of itsy-bitsy Aveo, that made-in-Korea economy car which wears the bow-tie badge of Chevrolet from General Motors.
Chevy's smallest vehicle fits in the subcompact class and conforms as a family-friendly four-door notchback sedan (Aveo) or a cargo-hauling five-door hatchback (Aveo5).
The two vary at the tail, where Aveo the sedan shows an arched roof concluding at a brief trunk ledge while Aveo5 the hatch has the roof extending to the lip of a back door before sloping down through a liftgate to the body-colored wrap of a tail bumper.
Both Aveo and Aveo5 contain a passenger compartment with room for five riders plus more personal space than the pint-size appearance indicates.
Both vehicles ride on a rigid front-wheel-drive (RWD) platform with sleek skin dressing the external package in the manner of small European city cars and the editions of 2009 present fresh front-end styling with a new grille inspired by Chevy's Malibu.
Both demonstrate spry manners on a curvy road and deliver a smooth and stable ride quality because they stock responsive suspension and steering mechanisms.
And both pack a new 1.6-liter four-cylinder Ecotec engine which feels downright zippy when running the stoplight derby on suburban streets.
But Aveo the sedan and Aveo5 the hatch look best on the bottom line in a measure of the manufacturer's price points because these vehicles essentially amount to cheap sets of wheels which can travel 34 miles or so on only one gallon of regular unleaded (87 octane) gasoline.
The sedan Aveo LS edition or the hatchback Aveo5 LS shows a window sticker figure dipping just below $12,000.
Upgrade to the 1LT trim for either car and the MSRP climbs to a fraction over $14,000, or pick the 2LT top edition for $15,000 or so.
Considering the average transaction price for a new vehicle in the United States is nearly $30,000, the MSRP for even the top 2LT trim amounts to only half that figure.
Still, Aveo and Aveo5 provide some nice assets including more standard equipment on 2009 issues -- new leatherette seat upholstery and variable intermittent windshield wipers, a more powerful 95-amp alternator under the hood, new wheels and a spoiler kit for Aveo5, OnStar telecommunications on all models and a choice of three fresh exterior paint colors (Black Granite Metallic, Blue Moon and Tahiti Green).
We also note some cabin improvements for quietness in terms of reducing noise, vibration and harshness (NVH). More external NVH seems locked outside, the result of wrapping the passenger compartment with substantial sound-deadening materials.
Both sedan and hatch have a similar cabin layout -- two bucket seats up front and a back bench to squeeze up to three aboard -- plus a flexible rear cargo area.
The rear seatback splits and folds down in two sections and for Aveo5 the entire seat flips forward to a vertical position after folding down the seatback sections.
That action in the hatchback creates a flat-floored cargo bay accessible from either the two rear side doors or the tail-side liftgate.
It also expands the cargo capacity to 42 cubic feet.
The sedan's conventional trunk now nets 12.4 cubic feet of stow space, although folding down the split seatback also expands trunk room into the backseat area of the cabin.
Aveo in any trim edition stocks firm and comfy seats.
Front buckets are bolstered to fit the body and adjust in six ways, with manual lumbar adjustment added to the driver seat and the front passenger seat fully reclining.
Between the front seats, a floor console houses the transmission's shift lever and a stow box.
Forward of the console in the center of the dashboard is a cluster of controls for audio and climate systems. Dials are large and round and easy to turn.
Gauges in the instrument panel ahead of the driver are also round and large and include a speedometer and tachometer with easy-to-read white-on-black graphics.
Only one four-cylinder engine is available to motivate the vehicles, but it's a more sophisticated plant than previously supplied and delivers good fuel economy scores.
The engine displaces 1.6 liters off an iron block with aluminum cylinder heads, twin cams on top and four valves in each cylinder plus new VVT (variable valve timing).
Power numbers run to 106 hp at 6400 rpm with 106 lb-ft of torque at 3800 rpm.
Standard is a nice-to-shift five-speed manual transmission but Aveo also offers a smooth four-speed automatic transaxle by Aisin as a stand-alone option priced at $925 for 1LT and 2LT trims.
Fuel economy figures tally to 27 mpg city and 34 mpg highway with a manual transmission for either Aveo or Aveo5, or 25/34 mpg city/highway with the automatic shifter.
The suspension consists of MacPherson struts up front tied to coil springs and a 17-mm stabilizer bar, while in the rear there's a semi-independent torsion beam axle with coil springs.
Power steering through a rack and pinion arrangement produces quick responses for turning with good feedback to the driver. And that wheelbase length of barely eight feet long helps Aveo and Aveo5 achieve a turning circle of 33 feet so both cars maneuver easily in tight spots like a crowded parking lot.
Brakes in dual diagonal circuit bring ventilated discs in front and self-adjusting rear drums.
A four-sensor ABS (anti-lock brake system) with EBD (electronic brakeforce distribution) lists for $440 extra.
Aveo's price-leader LS edition stocks frontal air bags and side-impact air bags, the driver's seat with manual height adjuster and manual lumbar controller, a tilting steering wheel, variable intermittent wipers and a rear window defogger, interior fuel door and trunk releases plus a stereo AM-FM audio kit with auxiliary input jack.
The 1LT gets more gear, such as air conditioning and a six-speaker premium sound system with CD/MP3 player, and the 2LT trim adds power controls for windows and locks and mirrors, a remote keyless entry device, cruise control and audio tabs mounted on the steering wheel, XM satellite radio service, foglamps and 15-inch wheels.