With fuel economy becoming increasingly important to the average consumer, manufactures are scrambling to get smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles into their fleets without sacrificing the beloved cargo and passenger capacity that made SUVs and crossovers so popular in the first place. The answer? Hatchbacks, of course.
The Chevrolet Aveo stands as the sole domestic competitor in the compact hatchback segment, while the Honda Fit is a relative newcomer but has become quite an icon for the segment. Recently, we had the opportunity to put the 2009 Aveo5 and 2008 Fit up against one another in real world driving situations, and the results we came up with may surprise (and even offend) some readers.
For 2009, the Aveo5 received a full redesign to better compete with the Fit and other compact hatchbacks such as the Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa and Scion xD. The result is a car that is a vast improvement over its predecessor and better equipped to take on its Japanese competition. Yes, the Aveo5 itself is a Korean-built car based off the Daewoo Kalos, but with a bowtie in the grille, the Aveo became the sole domestic compact hatchback when it was introduced in 2004. Honda's Fit, called the Honda Jazz in most markets, has been in existence in its current form since 2001 abroad but had to wait until the 2007 model year to reach our shores.
At first glance, both cars use a quirky, wedge-shaped design that is both functional and attractive. The Honda Fit we tested came as a Sport model, so the ground effects, 15-inch alloy wheels and decklid spoiler helped give it slightly better visual appeal. The Milano Red paint scheme didn't hurt either compared to the Aveo5's Tidewater Blue Metallic (comparisons to Lavender and Periwinkle weren't uncommon). Adding to the Fit's sporty exterior, are the body-colored headlights similar to what's found on the latest Chevrolet Corvette and Ferrari 355. Chevrolet did manage to make the large grille, inspired by the 2008 Chevrolet Malibu, look good on the small Aveo5, although the chrome fender vents looked like a cheesy, last-minute decision.
The whole point of buying a compact hatchback in the first place is to see a return in fuel economy, and both cars deliver. With its 106-horsepower DOHC I-4, the 2009 Chevy Aveo5 gets an estimated 25 miles per gallon city and 34 mpg highway. The 2008 Honda Fit Sport uses a 109-horsepower, 1.5-liter SOHC I-4 with VTEC to get an estimated 27 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway. Not only did both cars hit their marks for fuel economy, but with their petite fuel tanks, fill-ups were relatively cheap, too.
On paper, the Fit seemed to have an advantage with its five-speed automatic transmission, but we soon found out that in daily driving, the Aveo5's four-speed automatic was better behaved. In the city, the Fit never seemed to find the right gear, while highway driving saw many unnecessary downshifts. Our Honda Fit Sport also included steering wheel-mounted shifter paddles, which seemed about as necessary and purposeful as the Chevy's fender vents.
Inside, both cars provide an atmosphere that is inviting and feels much larger than the cars actually are. The Fit may hold a slight advantage when it comes to ergonomics and layout, however, with a smoother, more straightforward design. The instrument panel sits low and allows for small quarter windows at the base of the A-pillars to provide more light and a more spacious feeling. The integrated cupholders and sporty three-spoke steering wheel are easy to overlook, but are very appreciated. The Aveo5's instrument panel is upright and uses swaths of faux brushed aluminum that help to prevent the dash, steering wheel and shifter and door panels from becoming a wide expanse of hard grey plastic. The digital clock mounted top of the dash was a thoughtful and useful detail.
The Aveo5 has a clear advantage over the Fit when it comes to comfort especially on long hauls. After an hour or so, the Fit's seats start getting a little uncomfortable, and to make matters even worse, there is no center armrest. One unusual design aspect hampered comfort was the placement of the Fit's fuel tank under the front seats. On highway trips with the cruise engaged, it's nice to have a place to rest your legs for a moment - the intrusive humps near the transmission tunnel prevent that possibility.
Chevrolet's offering did have some of its own quirks, but, thankfully, it offered an armrest for the driver. Our main gripe about the Chevy's cabin was the lack of a main door lock switch and/or automatic door locks. Other than the key fob, the only way to lock or unlock all of the doors with power was to pull up or depress the door lock plunger, which proved to be rather aggravating. Also, the pop out cupholders provided little support for larger beverages.
One major advantage the Aveo5 has is the luxurious convenience of OnStar, and like all Chevrolet vehicles, the first year of service is on the house. While OnStar may not be a replacement for navigation systems, it is definitely a welcomed device on a sub-$14,000 economy car.
Both cars managed to provide surprising amounts of headroom and legroom. With the front seats all the way back, the Fit and Aveo5 provided adequate legroom even for taller passengers. With the seats folded flat, the Fit and Aveo5 hold their fair share of cargo (41.9 and 42.0 cubic feet, respectively). Due to its tall roof and low load floor, the Fit holds a considerable cargo advantage with the rear seat in place (21.3 versus 7.1). The Fit's rear seats have a unique design that lets them fold completely flat, or fold the seat bottoms up to allow for very tall items to fit in between the front and back seats.
When it comes to safety, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) scored both cars pretty well. Although both cars come standard with tire pressure monitoring systems (TPMS), they also both experienced the erroneous illumination of the low tire pressure warning light. The only faults we could find about either car's design when it came to safety, was the Fit's 3-star side-impact crash score for rear-seat passengers and the Chevrolet's lack of standard anti-lock brakes (ABS).
In base trim, the Honda Fit comes in at just under $14,000 with a $13,950 MSRP, while the Aveo5 stands as one of the most inexpensive new cars on the market with a $11,460 MSRP, but trim levels and accessories bumped our test cars' prices considerably. The Sport package on the Honda Fit raised the base price to $16,070, but came handsomely equipped with power windows, keyless entry, cruise control, AM/FM/CD stereo with auxiliary jack and automatic transmission for a $16,705 as-tested price. The Chevrolet Aveo5 we tested came in the mid-level 1LT package and added the Power and Convenience Package (power door locks, keyless entry and power windows), automatic transmission, cruise control and anti-lock brakes (ABS) for an as-tested price of $16,295.
In our opinion, the 2009 Aveo5 is the better choice between the two cars, which should be expected against a car that is eight years more technologically advanced. The real test for the new Aveo5 will be the all-new 2009 Honda Fit, which hits showrooms later this month.