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Chevrolet Aveo

After countless attempts to sell misbegotten small cars, Chevrolet finally has stumbled onto something. The new Aveo ("ah-VAY-o") is the automotive equivalent of the nickel cigar. With a starting price of $9995, this Korean-built bow-tie baby is every high-schooler's alternative to a hand-me-down Buick Regal.

The Aveo rides high, as a Chrysler PT Cruiser does, and it seats five. Italdesign styled the wart-free exterior. Fourteen-inch wheels and tires help avoid the shopping-cart look. Take your pick between a dead-conventional four-door and the short but chic five-door with a fold-and-flip back seat. Motivation comes from a free-revving 1.6-liter four-cylinder. Interior trim fits snugly and is finished with interesting textures.

A rubber-isolated front cross member takes the edge off potholes and expansion joints. Steering response is quick and friction-free; the dampers don't play dead when a frisky driver is at the wheel. Still, the Aveo won't be confused with a Mini Cooper. Its shift lever is long enough for school-bus duty, and its throttle hangs open during every gearchange.

But give Chevy credit for leaping back into the entry-level game with a car that frugal but fashion-conscious drivers can be proud to own.