It all depends on what you’re after.
The Chevy Aveo, for example. It’s not the highest-mileage economy compact on the road. That honor goes to the 40-plus MPG (on the highway) 2011 Ford Fiesta. But the Fiesta starts out about three grand higher (for the hatchback; the sedan version’s about $1,355 more) than Chevvie’s little cheapie. That plus the fact that the ’11 Aveo’s one of those cars you’re sure to be able to drive home for a lot less than the advertised MSRP sticker price – because this is the final model year before a major redesign in 2012 - can work out to a lot of leftover gas money – even at what could soon be $4 or $5 per gallon.
If “economy” – not just gas mileage but the whole package – is the bottom line, this Blue Light Special is not to be overlooked.
WHAT IT IS
The Aveo is GM’s least expensive and smallest car, sold through Chevy dealerships, and offered in both conventional sedan and 5-door hatchback sedan forms. The sedan, with a base price of $11,965, is one of the least expensive new cars you can buy right now. The sportier Aveo5 hatch is likewise super affordable, with a base price of only $12,1154.
For some perspective, the 2011 Ford Fiesta sedan starts at $13,320. The hatchback version of Ford’s economy car has a base price of $15,120.
Nissan’s Versa 1.6 (starting price $9,990) costs less than the Aveo – but that car doesn’t even come with a radio.
The $9,985 (to start) Hyundai Accent three-door hatchback is another contender for the tin foil crown – but the more practical sedan bodystyle has a starting price of $13,695 – $1,730 more than the base price of the Aveo sedan.
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2011
The Aveo’s 1.6 liter “Ecotec” engine has been updated with variable valve timing technology, to increase both fuel economy and horsepower/performance.
A cabin filtration system and a six month subscription to GM’s OnStar Directions and Connections concierge system is now standard equipment with all trims.
A cheapie to buy. With a sticker price just over $12k to start, you should be able to haggle your way into the high nines – motorcycle money for a brand-new car.
A cheapie to drive – 34 MPGs highway.
It’s got enough beans to get the job done.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
Well, it’s a cheapie. Looks it. Feels it.
Other cheapies like the Accent and Versa 1.6 are cheaper still.
Resale value likely to plummet to the bottom faster than the Italian Navy in WWII.
Stone Age technology four-speed automatic.
UNDER THE HOOD
The front-wheel-drive Aveo’s standard (and only) engine is a 1.6 liter four, now fitted with variable valve timing. It is rated at 108 hp for 2011 and comes with either a five-speed manual or (optionally) a four-speed automatic.
Though it’s an older design at this point, the Aveo is still among the most fuel-efficient small cars on the road – in addition to being among the least expensive. It is capable of 34 mpg on the highway and 27 mpg in city driving. That’s just slightly better than the Nissan Versa (26 city, 34 highway), only a tick worse than the Hyundai Accent (28 city, 34 highway) and not far behind the Toyota Yaris (29 city, 36 highway). Among the current crop of subcompact economy cars, the only one that gives you a significant (more than 2-3 MPG) fuel economy advantage is the Fiesta, but again – the Fiesta’s higher sticker price cancels out much of that advantage.
Zero to 60 with the standard manual five-speed takes about 10.8 seconds – far from speedy, but still quicker than a Prius (the Gold Standard for slow these days).
Of course, it is happy drinking 87 octane regular gas.
ON THE ROAD
Owning an economy car in the not-so-long ago past meant signing up for the Low-Rent Experience – including a bouncy, tinny ride with lots of tire screech in the corners and a tsunami of wind noise through the minimal insulation and el-cheapo carpets. All that was missing was an EBT card in the glovebox.
Everything looked sad, felt flimsy and even a little bit dangerous – and that was before you actually put it in Drive started moving.
Compared with the econo-boxes of the ’70s and ’80s, the Aveo is a veritable mini-me Cadillac.
One of the reviewers for edmunds.com kicked the Aveo in the nuts for being “underpowered.” He must be about 25 years old – because it’s clear he’s too young to remember what economy cars used to be like – even as recently as 10 or 15 years ago – when they needed 15 seconds or more to achieve 60 mph and were maxxed out and screaming near redline by 85.
In those days, economy cars were iffy on the highway – and made you nervous everywhere else. Other drivers hated you – because you were always in their way.
Passing was for other people.
But here’s some perspective for you: The Aveo can reach 100 mph in 4th gear (leaving one more to go) and has sufficient power to maintain highway speeds in the 70-80 mph range without obviously struggling – enough to comfortably keep up with traffic on the highway. Its zero to 60 capability isn’t going to scorch the Earth but it is certainly adequate for dealing with the realities of everyday stop-and-go driving, which is what the thing was built to do.
None of its competitors are significantly quicker than that – and all of them are certainly quick enough for just getting around.
The point here is there’s no such thing as “slow” these days – not really. Probably the last authentically, dangerously underpowered car was the three cylinder Geo Metro. No one builds cars like that anymore. Not for the U.S. market, anyhow. The one exception to this, if you want to be pedantic about it, is the unfortunately named “Smart” car. But it is debatable whether this enclosed moped qualifies as a car and besides, no one buys them anyhow.
Back to the Aveo.
As is usually the case with small, small-engined cars, the Aveo with the standard five-speed manual is more fun to drive and more economical – both to operate and to buy. But the automatic version does ok, too – despite having two fewer gears than many more technologically current 2011 model year automatics. You’re in each gear a little longer as a result, and shifts seem to take longer to happen, but still, it gets the job done. Probably the simpler four-speed auto is cheaper to rebuild/replace, too – a consideration to bear in mind if you’re planning on keeping this car for then next 15 years or more.
There’s a handy “hold” button on the shifter lever that locks the transmission into first, second or third – for better performance, or traction in winter. Even from a dead stop, the little Aveo accelerates well – another thing not many econo-boxes with automatics could do once upon a time. Part of it is due to an aggressive first-gear ratio that helps launch the car better; part is due to the peppy 1.6 liter engine – which has about 30-40 more hp than the typical econo-car engine of the mid-late 1980s.
But the biggest impression you get from driving the Aveo is that economy and self-respect are no longer mutually exclusive. Unlike the crap cars of the 1980s – pitiful specimens like the Plymouth Champ, Ford Escort and Chevy Chevette – you won’t feel ashamed to admit the Aveo’s your car – or feel like a failure when you’re behind the wheel.
AT THE CURB
Both versions of the Aveo are roomy enough to work as a primary car – even a family car – if only 1-2 kids are involved. The Aveo5 hatchback sedan is more versatile and spacious, with about 42 cubic feet of cargo capacity when the second row seats are folded down. The Honda Fit has more space – about 57 cubic feet – but like the Ford Fiesta, it is priced several thousand dollars higher than the Aveo.
The Yaris sedan, on the other hand, only has a 13 cubic foot trunk. The more expensive Yaris 5-door hatchback doesn’t do much better, either – with only 26 cubic feet of cargo capacity.
Hyundai’s Accent three-door hatch is a few bucks less than the Aveo, but it’s less practical than the sedan – which costs a lot more and has just 12.4 cubic feet of cargo capacity, because it’s a conventional sedan (not a hatchback sedan) and so has a pretty puny trunk.
Styling touches that jazz up the looks of this little runabout include an upmarket-looking vent on each fender for the Aveo5 hatch. Here again, the car doesn’t come across as pathetic or embarrassing. In fact other than its subcompact size, its materials, workmanship and overall ambience are “par” for a car that’s barely into the double digits to start and only about $15k if you buy a “top of the line” model.
This is a lot of car for not much money – with a couple of caveats:
ABS brakes can be ordered only if you also order the optional automatic transmission – which is only available with the more expensive 1LT trim. Oh, and if you want AC, you have to step up to the 1LT trim, too. This is arguably counterproductive if the goal is to sell a lot of cars vs. racking up the margins on each car.
Why not let people buy equipment such as this on an a la carte basis?
However, you do at least get a stereo included with the base model Aveo – vs. the black plastic plate you get in the base model Versa 1.6, where the radio might have been, if you had some more money to spend.
Higher-up-the-food-chain options such as leather and carbon fiber trim, foglights, heated outside mirrors, a sunroof and Bluetoof are available but seem oxymoronic.
Why buy an economy car and then load it up with expensive options?
The basic comprehensive warranty is just ok: Three years or 36,000 miles – but the Blue Chip Boys (Honda, Toyota, etc.) aren’t giving you any better. Drivetrain coverage, on the other hand, is decent: five years or 100,000 miles.
THE BOTTOM LINE
It ain’t the latest – let alone the greatest – but the Aveo’s still worth considering if you’re looking for a way to get from A to B without spending more than about $12k out the door. Remember: Chevy dealers are going to be getting the all-new 2012 Aveos not too many months from now, so they’re going to be motivated to get rid of remaining inventories of 2011 Aveos ASAP. That could mean a sweet deal for you, if you jump on this in time.
Throw it in the Woods?