Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Review: Chevrolet Aveo

Having sampled the top and middle sections of the automotive food chain in my previous rental road tests, it was time to get down and dirty at the bottom of the heap. The perennial bottom feeder, the not-so-spectacular subcompact everyone loves to hate, insert additional pretentious snobbery here: The Chevrolet Aveo.

I have yet to read a positive review of the Aveo. It seems that everyone from Consumer Reports to Edmunds.com to the biased jerks at The Truth About Cars have a unanimous disapproval of this Daewoo-cum-Chevy. I always assumed they were just spoiled by all the luxury and sports cars they get to spend time in, and that they had lost touch with the average car buyer. Basically, I thought they were simply being whiny babies.

Well, apparently I’m a whiny baby too, because I cannot find a single redeeming quality in this car apart from the roomy interior.

Some will argue that the Aveo is a simply a cheap little economy car… “It costs 10,000 dollars, it’s not supposed to be quiet or have a good ride”. To that I say; for $10,000 you can get an 8-year-old Lexus that runs circles around the Aveo in every single regard, or if you prefer a 4-year-old Corolla that is still so wildly superior it’s not even on the same level.

Now let's get to the car itself. Perhaps the worst part of the Aveo, and the part that puts me off to it the most, is the engine. Open the hood and you will find a warning label reading “FOR AGRICULTURAL USE ONLY”. If you have never heard the automotive term NVH, take one ride in the Aveo and the meaning will become quite clear. Go ahead, pull up to a stoplight and let the engine idle at rest for a moment… but make sure to remove your hands from the steering wheel first so the vibration doesn’t break your wrists. Ever wonder what it’s like to puncture an eardrum? The answer requires nothing more than a deep stab at the Aveo’s accelerator. Just be prepared to hold it down for a while, since you won’t be going anywhere quickly.

Now let’s move on to sound insulation. Wait… sound insulation? What’s that? Around here, we put a lot of salt on the roads to melt the snow and ice. Drive down any street in the Aveo and you will hear every single grain clink and clank against the underbody. Swoosh over a patch of slush, and it sounds like Niagara Falls is flowing under the floorboard… a body panel that I estimate is about two millimeters thick.

Then there’s the build quality. Perhaps “quality” shouldn’t be part of that phrase. No, actually, labeling this car as “built” is being a little too generous. Misaligned interior panels, chintzy feel components and switchgear, insubstantial *everything*. Ok, this is an economy car. Perhaps this inattention to detail can be somewhat forgiven. You win this round, Aveo. Barely.

Handing? Oh, sorry, I was too busy vomiting out the window (which I had to roll down manually) from body lean-induced seasickness to notice. Bopping around town in the Aveo is bad enough, but the freeway is downright torture. At around 60 miles per hour the severe shaking sets in, and at even the slightest hint of a directional change the top-heavy body wallows and bobs upon its overly soft springs like a ship at sea. It’s a wonder the speedometer actually goes past 55.

Live in an area where every single road is brand new, completely smooth, and has no potholes, imperfections, or expansion joints? Neither do I. Don’t buy an Aveo. Unless of course, the idea of compressed spines and sore necks sounds appealing. In that case the Aveo was built for you.

Perhaps this all sounds like an exaggeration. While parts of it are, most of it is not. Don’t believe me? Then simply try one out for yourself. It’s waiting for you down at the local rental lot.

Yet, for all its mediocrity, I still like the Aveo. More specifically I like the concept of the Aveo. I would not want to have one myself by any means, but for some reason it makes me feel so good that they still make things like this. Previous to experiencing this car I had some glorified image that all new cars are wonderful and spectacular and marvels of technology and engineering. The Aveo shows that clearly this is not the case … apart from the styling it very well could have been built in 1987.

I guess what I’m saying is I like how humble the Aveo is. Odd as it may sound, it’s nice to know that you can still buy a car whose windows you roll up with your own hands and whose gruff engine vibrations you can feel through the passenger compartment. I’ll never, ever buy something like this, but I admire the people who do in an odd sort of way. Perhaps because it shows that they have the patience of a saint.

1 comment:

Mark Brown said...

Ha, glad you got the chance to try one out.

I've never tried an automatic one but I suspect it's exactly as you describe. Automatic gearboxes paired with small engines in economy cars have a tendency to exaggerate any potential problems! The vibration especially would be caused by that - at a standstill, the engine really has to struggle to keep that torque converter spinning against the stationary half - and that's where you get that vibration you feel in your butt and can watch on the steering wheel. My manual car, while not the smoothest machine in the world, has none of that vibration at any speed or lack thereof.

I hate to think of the lack of performance this must have with the 4-speed auto, too. Even ignoring the fact that the manual has an extra gear to make the best use of the power, you're probably looking at about 10hp less at the wheels through the increased drivetrain loss with the auto.

I like my little Wave. I've owned 6 cars before it, and I've driven hundreds of other cars, almost all of which are objectively better vehicles. But like you, I like that my 2006 vehicle has manual windows, no cruise control, no ABS, a physical throttle cable (take note Toyota!), etc. Plus, I find it an entertaining little vehicle with enough poke to more than keep up with traffic, but lacking enough in power that I get to drive the snot out of it everywhere. My best description of it would be "sprightly."

Still, in the end, I bought it because I was severely financially crunched - buying a house, getting married, going on a 3-week European honeymoon - and I needed something cheap, reliable and with warranty, none of which applied to my '97 Camry by that time. It's cases like this where that 8-year-old Lexus - and its associated running, maintenance, and repair costs - suddenly loses its appeal.

But now that life is settling down, I'll probably drive it 'til the warranty runs out (a couple more months at this rate...), then casually look for something better, without rush. It's nice to finally be able, for the first time in my life, to have the luxury of considering getting a different car because I want to, not because my current car is FUBAR! :)