General Motors's first attempt to compete on a heads-up basis with entry-level Asian econoboxes involved a partnership with Suzuki. The progeny of this corporate marriage was a little runt called the Metro, which was retired five years ago. Now, GM is trying again, only this time, it's hooked up with a Korean rather than a Japanese manufacturer. The Aveo is the car formerly known and marketed elsewhere in the world as the Daewoo Kalos. It was adopted by the Chevrolet family as a 2004 model after Daewoo Motor America ceased selling cars in the United States. (Ironically, other Daewoo models are sold in the States as Suzukis.) The Aveo is among the cheapest cars sold in America, with bare-bones examples--known technically as SVMs, or Special Value Models--starting at less than $10,000. This segment of the market is the basement of the automotive world, where compromises in space, creature comforts, safety, and general refinement come with the territory. But by the standards of the class, the Aveo is stylish and friendly, and it will wipe away the acrid taste left in consumers' mouths by the unloved, unlamented Metro. It's configured as a four-door sedan and five-door hatchback, each available in SVM, LS, and LT trim levels.
Exterior design is the Aveo's most distinctive feature, especially in hatchback form. The styling is the work of Giorgetto Giugiaro's renowned Italdesign studio, which gives the car instant credibility in the looks department. Riding high on a narrow track, it shares the tall-boy stance of the Toyota Echo and Suzuki Aerio while sporting a much lower weirdness quotient. Despite the gold bowtie--an American icon--mounted prominently on the grille, it's easy to imagine the Aveo scooting playfully through the narrow, twisty streets of Europe. With a mere 2,348 pounds riding on four comically small 185/60R14 tires, it doesn't look quite as at home here in the land of sport/utes and full-size pickups. But the hatchback exudes spunk, and even the conventional sedan has a smidgen of attitude. In either form, the Aveo benefits from its large, airy greenhouse and could even be considered as hipper than its dowdy rivals, the Hyundai Accent and Kia Rio.
The exterior styling is what everybody notices first, naturally, but interior design is the most winning feature of the five-passenger Aveo. The big news is that the cockpit feels surprisingly roomy and far larger than the exterior dimensions would seem to suggest. The tall proportions of the car provide ample headroom. Rear legroom could be better--an almost universal lament--but there's a decent 11.7 cubic-foot trunk in the sedan, and the rear seat of the hatchback folds flat and flips forward to form a cavernous 42 cubic-foot storage compartment. The driver sits up high in a well-bolstered, height-adjustable seat and scans the tasteful twin-pod instrument panel--which includes a tachometer--through a tilt steering wheel. New seat fabrics are offered for 2006, and adjustable headrests have supplanted fixed-angle units. Although hard plastics abound, they're a cut above the expected industrial-grade materials, and they even fit together well. Given the price point, the Aveo doesn't coddle with high-line amenities, but the bare essentials are well presented. The SVM comes with four tires, an engine, and not much else. Air conditioning is standard in the LS, and the LT features power windows and locks, a keyless remote, and a CD/MP3 player.