By most accepted measures, the Chevrolet Aveo is not a remarkable car. It is, however, an important one in opening up new markets for the American giant.
Solidly built and attractively styled, it’s a decent car, albeit one that inherits a good deal of its engineering from its Kalos predecessor.
The bait and switch tactic is an established manufacturer ruse for getting journalists behind the wheels of their less exciting models and is alive and well in 2008. Invited to drive the latest Corvette at Circuit Paul Ricard, those who signed up actually found themselves spending considerably more seat time behind the wheel of the rather more upstanding Chevrolet Aveo. Normally this would prove somewhat annoying, but it didn’t take too long to figure out that the Aveo was by far the more important car. Here’s why. Although the Corvette is an aspirational halo model, the Aveo earns the corn that allows GM to go racing Corvettes in FIA GT events around the world. It sells massively in Eastern Europe and looks set to improve its performance further west. Put simply, it’s the most important model that Chevrolet makes and one that we couldn’t ignore for the sake of a few tyre smoking laps at Paul Ricard.
After driving 430bhp worth of ‘Vette, it would be easy to find 84bhp worth of Chevrolet Aveo rather underwhelming. The 1.2-litre version sampled first is the entry-level model and these normally act as a decent barometer of a car’s basic worth. If you’ve ever driven a Chevrolet Kalos, there won’t be too many surprises here. The driving position is very similar, the handling and ride feel much the same and the steering is still rather light. While this means that it’s not the most tactile car to bully along a Provencal hill route, it means it’s great in the city. The 1.2-litre will get to 60mph in 12.8 seconds and run on to a top speed of 106 mph. If this isn’t enough, go for the 1.4-litre lump with 100bhp. This is usefully quicker, topping out at 109mph and hitting 60 in 11 9 seconds.
The 1.4-litre is a notably more complex engine, with four valves per cylinder and DCVP (Double Continuous Variable Cam Phase) that helps to boost torque at lower revs and power at higher engine speeds. Visibility out of the Aveo is very good, although larger drivers may find that the dashboard moulding intrudes on legroom a little. Both engines are decent units but the added motorway refinement of the 1.4-litre powerplant would swing the balance for us.
"The Aveo campaigns on the basis of solid value for money."
As makeovers go, the Aveo is one of the cleverest we’ve seen. In profile it doesn’t look too much different to the Kalos, the five-door car’s rather odd drooping swage line being instantly familiar. Move round to the front and the impression is utterly different. The Kalos’ rather unhappy looking face has been replaced with something a whole lot bolder. The upswept headlamps and enormous double grille are punctuated by a serious Chevy cross logo. It’s got about twice as much attitude as any other small car you could care to mention. The three-door model is even smarter, with the flanks being sculpted to incorporate pronounced flared rear wheel arches. At the back, there’s one of the neatest rear lights clusters around.
The interior lacks the self-assurance of the exterior and, rather inevitably in this corner of the market, feels somewhat built down to a price. The same can be said of the Aveo’s key rivals though and Chevrolet has specified and trimmed the interior wisely, giving it a sensible equipment count, fairly decent materials and as much space and versatility as the design constraints allow. It’s not the biggest car in its sector, but the compact torsion beam rear suspension means that there’s plenty of useable room in the back.
With two engines and three and five door body styles to choose from, Aveo customers also benefit from a decent level of standard kit. "Plenty of car and equipment for a fair price" is part of Chevrolet’s corporate philosophy and the entry-level Aveo adheres to that maxim with driver and passenger airbags, an MP3-compatible CD stereo and wipers with intermittent facility. Plusher trim levels add tinted glass and electric front windows. Options include 15-inch aluminium wheels, leather trim for the steering wheel and gear knob, an onboard computer, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and automatic climate control.
The Aveo’s biggest markets to date have been Spain and the Ukraine, followed by Russia. Italy is in fourth place, followed by Germany. More than 90 per cent of these sales go to the five-door car and statistics show that in Western Europe, the Aveo is usually a second car whereas in Central and Eastern Europe it’s usually the family’s sole vehicle.
The Aveo campaigns on the basis of solid value for money, so it’s no great surprise to hear that prices start from just over £7,500 and that running costs are screwed tightly down. It might surprise you that there’s no diesel model, given that the GM group has some great diesel engines at its disposal, but it would be tough to make the additional cost of a diesel version worthwhile to the typically hard-headed Aveo customer. As it stands, the 1.2-litre model will return 51.4mpg which is good and emit 132g/km of carbon dioxide which is not quite so stellar. The 1.4-litre variant, on the other hand, sups at a rate of 44.9mpg with CO2 emissions of 140g/km.
Depreciation is likely to be around the class average. Buyers recognise good value when they see it and the Chevrolet badge carries a little more brand equity than many other budget brands, but by the same token the Aveo, despite its bold styling, remains an evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, step forward. After all, the underpinnings date back to the introduction of the Kalos model back in 2002, so this is by no means a state of the art platform. Three years or so down the road, that’s going to be reflected in the used valuations. One consolation is very cheap insurance with all Aveo models falling in the group 4 bracket.
Strip away the marketing flim-flam, the clever artifice of the stylists and the relentlessly on-message branding and the Chevrolet Aveo is, at heart, a mild evolution of the old Kalos model. While this might seem a little underwhelming, it gives the car a number of key advantages. The first is that it was only the Kalos’ bloodhound styling that really prevented it being a top drawer product. Now that’s fixed, the Aveo has a far better chance. The second reason is that precisely because it is fundamentally rather old, it will prove even more profitable for Chevrolet. The costs for this car have largely long been sunk and enable the Aveo to be priced aggressively, especially in the key eastern European markets.
Does any of this make it a relevant car to British buyers? If you’re at all style-conscious, there are probably smarter options but not at these prices. As a compromise between budget, ability and badge equity, the Aveo more than makes a case for itself.