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Test Drive: 2009 Chevrolet Aveo5

The GM revival has yet to reach the Aveo

by Autobytel Staff
November 10, 2008


  • Clean and simple interior
  • Comfortable ride for a small car
  • Only American-nameplate subcompact
  • Noisy, unsatisfying powertrain
  • Poor cargo utilization
  • Heavy-handed front end styling

Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, Toyota Yaris

The 2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 had the potential to give Chevy a distinct advantage over its domestic rivals Ford and Chrysler. After all, neither of those companies has a cheap subcompact on its lots, and likely won't for a good year or two. But as gas prices rise, small fuel sippers like the 2009 Chevy Aveo become increasingly attractive to shoppers.

At least, in theory.


The reality is that the little Korean-built 2009 Chevy Aveo is subpar in most respects to the big three of the subcompact world – the Honda Fit, Nissan Versa and Toyota Yaris – and not even better than the remainder of the crowd. It is noisy, uncomfortable, slow, largely unpleasant to drive and not particularly well thought-out compared to its competition. Yes, it gets good gas mileage, but the days when that was the sole selling point of a car are long gone, even in the bargain-basement segment. There are a couple of bright spots – it has an inoffensive interior and comfortable ride – but these do little to justify its purchase over those much better vehicles.

Powering the 2009 Chevy Aveo5 is a 1.6-liter four-cylinder that churns out 103 horsepower and 107 lb.-ft. of torque. Even with the low bar set by the subcompact fuel-sipper class, that's not a lot: The Honda Fit puts out 117 hp, the Nissan Versa boasts 122 hp, and the Suzuki SX4 is a relative Muscle car with 143 hp from its 2.0-liter engine. In our test car, the wheezy little four-banger was connected to a five-speed manual transmission, managing 26.4 mpg during its time with us.


When cold, the 2009 Chevy Aveo's engine computer is deathly afraid of detonation (knocks and pings), so it retards timing dramatically until it's warmed up. The upshot is that this already pokey powerplant is hobbled further, making pulling into traffic a worrisome exercise. Put your foot down and the engine revs slowly, the car barely chugging along. Our advice is to let the engine warm up a bit before tackling thoroughfares. Once warmed up and making full power, you'll still be disappointed by the noisy, rough and unrefined engine. From the first turn of the key to the time you finally shut it off, there is almost nothing pleasurable about the engine. The transmission isn't much better. It's afflicted with an identity crisis, as in it's hard to identify exactly which gear you're about to put it in. If it had enough power to leave it in gear that'd be fine, but since you need to constantly row the gears to get anywhere in any reasonable amount of time, it's a serious hindrance. Throw in the poor clutch engagement and the transmission's tendency to crunch into gear occasionally, and we have to recommend the automatic, even though it saps additional power from the already gutless engine.

One of the bright spots in the 2009 Chevy Aveo is the ride quality, which is pretty good. Like most small cars, the Aveo's short wheelbase makes it bounce too much over freeway expansion joints and the like. However, the soft spring settings and good shock absorbers help smooth out even that common problem better than we expected. By comparison, many of the 2009 Chevy Aveo's competitors feel downright jittery.


There is no question that this car's suspension is tuned for ride comfort though, as the first attempt at a reasonably quick corner sets it to leaning hard, tires squealing. We're not surprised, of course, and most drivers will never flog their Aveo at all anyhow. Besides, it's not like it has any unsafe tendencies: The front end breaks away, and even sawing at the wheel or other ham-fisted maneuvers don't loosen the rear.

The brakes prove perfectly adequate in the day-to-day world of commuting in which the 2009 Chevy Aveo will be thrust, but no more than adequate. Same with the steering, which has a more linear feel than we remember from previous Aveos, but still is lifeless and numb.

The 2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 received styling updates to bring it more in line with the new corporate face of Chevrolet. However, the twin-grille look that we like on the Chevy Malibu and new Chevy Traverse looks forced and weird on this little car. The headlights sweep up into the bodywork uncomfortably, the fender vents behind the rear wheels are laughably corny, the hubcaps have fake plastic bolts, and the rest of the car is just bland and boring. As one editor noted, the front end stands out for all the wrong reasons.


Interior styling is a slightly different matter. The design is bland, but inoffensive and simple, unlike the busy interiors of some of the Aveo's competitors. Chevrolet has even attempted a bit of style and upscale feel, giving the 2009 Chevy Aveo a two-tone tan-and-black theme with fake wood trim. It's a nice attempt, and clearly whoever is screwing these parts together on the assembly line deserves a raise, since they were all put together quite well. Our test car had air conditioning, a halfway-decent audio system, power windows and door locks, but manual outside mirrors. However, the tons of hard plastic, occasional shiny bit, odd contrasts between black and tan and the atrociously orange wood trim shatter any illusion of civility quickly.

Yet we don't expect high style inside a $14,000 subcompact. We do, however, expect flexibility, and even here the little Aveo disappoints. The cargo area behind the rear seats is decently sized. However, if you need to expand the cargo room, yo


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