Review: 2006 Chevrolet Aveo

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The good news is that the Aveo earned top marks in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration frontal impact tests. All Aveos are equipped with driver and passenger airbags, and for 2006, side-impact airbags are now standard on all body styles and trims. Stopping power is provided by vented disc brakes at the front and drums at the rear. ABS is optional. Given the price-sensitivity of this market, there may be a temptation to save money by omitting ABS, but it is a valuable safety feature on all vehicles. Remember, the laws of Newtonian physics still apply, and when driving around in a car that weighs one-third as much as the monstrous Ford Excursion, you need all the accident-avoidance help you can get.

All Aveos are powered by 1.6-liter inline-fours with an aluminum head. This double overhead-cam engine--the Opel-developed derivative of the domestic Ecotec--generates 103 horsepower, but only when it's wound up like rubber band in a model airplane to 6,000 rpm. A variable-geometry intake system allows 107 lb-ft of torque to be developed at a more useful 3,600 rpm. This blesses the Aveo with marginally better performance than most of its $10K rivals, though acceleration is still no better than adequate. Manual transmissions are usually the best option to take full advantage of anemic engines, but the Aveo is fitted with a peculiarly coarse five-speed unit featuring long throws, rubbery feel, and oddly spaced gearing. The optional four-speed automatic is as slushy as hour-old sherbet and is slow to kick down when a downshift is necessary, but at least it's less work than the manual.

The Aveo provides basic transportation. Period. It's designed to get from Point A to Point B as cheaply as possible, and fun isn't part of the equation. That said, Chevrolet at least went to the trouble to retune the simple suspension for 2006--MacPherson struts at the front and torsion bars at the rear--for a supple ride that glides over expansion joints and road imperfections. The quite-limited handling from last year has been improved for '06, though it doesn't possess the dynamic acumen of the $13K-$15K compacts--and that's only fair given the car's price. For everyday driving, the Aveo is satisfyingly quiet, thanks to an intake resonator, dual-muffler exhaust, and other sound deadening material. There's a touch of torque-steer, but it's hardly a deal-breaker.

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