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A Budget Model With Little Value

2004 Chevrolet Aveo LS

By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 18, 2004; Page G01

There are several ways to look at the Chevrolet Aveo LS hatchback. Nearly all of them are bad.

The most benign view is that it is a cheap ride, and it's built to perform, feel and stay that way. There is nothing special about it, nothing romantic or inviting.

The Chevrolet Aveo is being sold again after a one-week suspension, during which General Motors Corp. conducted tests on the small car. (General Motors Corp.)

Nuts & Bolts

Upside: Low price, height (58.8 inches) allows for excellent headroom, sensible layout of the instrument panel.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Pedestrian in all respects.

Head-turning quotient: Guaranteed anonymity, even in the "victory red" paint of the tested Aveo LS hatchback.

Body style/layout: The Aveo is a front-engine, front-wheel-drive car available as a four-door sedan or five-door hatchback. There are three trim lines, including Special Value (super cheap), Base (very cheap) and LS (cheap).

Engine/transmissions: All Aveo models come with GM's E-TEC II 1.6-liter, inline four-cylinder engine, which develops 103 horsepower at 6,000 revolutions per minute and 107 foot-pounds of torque at 3,600 revolutions per minute. A five-speed manual transmission is standard. A four-speed automatic is optional.

Capacities: All Aveo models have seating for up to five people. Maximum sedan cargo volume is 11.7 cubic feet. Maximum hatchback cargo volume, with rear seats flipped and folded, is 42 cubic feet. All Aveo models have an 11-gallon gasoline tank. Regular unleaded is recommended.

Mileage: I averaged 33 miles per gallon in the tested Aveo LS five-door hatchback with manual transmission (which weighs 11 pounds less than the model with the automatic).

Safety: Four-wheel anti-lock brakes are optional. In this case, buy them.

Price: The base price of the 2004 Aveo LS five-door hatchback is $12,045. Dealer invoice price on that model is $11,262. Price as tested is $13,235, including $650 in options and a $540 destination charge. Rebates are available. Chevy dealers aren't going to the bank on this one.

Purse-strings note: GM views the Scion xA, Toyota Echo, Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent as natural Aveo rivals. In that group, the Aveo rides just above the Kia Rio, which runs at the very bottom of the pack. In order of preference, I recommend the Toyota Echo, Scion xA and Hyundai Accent.

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The Aveo LS is an appliance in much the manner of a toaster, washing machine or steam iron. You turn it on, and it takes you from place to place in splendid mediocrity. Ironing clothes, by comparison, would be an adventure.

I had hoped to write something different. I am a big fan of small cars well done -- automobiles such as the Mazda3, Mini Cooper, Nissan Sentra and the Nissan March that could be coming to America in 2006.

Those cars are economical. They drink modestly from fuel pumps. Their tailpipes offer minor offense to the air. They use little parking space. Yet, they have excellent handling, commendable acceleration and lots of personality. They understand the difference between "economical" and "cheap."

An economical car offers more value than expected for the money paid. The Hyundai Accent, priced from $11,839 to $12,639, is an example. It is smartly styled, made well and imbued with good performance and handling. It is a pleasant surprise. It makes you smile every time you sit behind its steering wheel.

A cheap car gives you a low price and little else. Put another way, it meets minimal expectations for a minimal price. The Aveo LS hatchback is a cheap car.

That cheapness is not reflected in the Aveo's general fit and finish, which are good. It instead shows up in handling, which is bad by the most generous measurements.

The Aveo, actually a front-wheel-drive Daewoo Kalos made by Daewoo Motor Co., General Motors Corp.'s South Korean subsidiary, is a compendium of wacky proportions and mismatched parts. It is heavy for an economy car, weighing 2,354 pounds with an automatic transmission. That weight, largely located at the front end, rests atop a super-soft suspension system and a short (97.6 inches) wheelbase.

The wheelbase is the centerline distance between the front and rear wheels. Short wheelbases are fine -- for cars that also have accommodating vertical geometry, such as lowered side panels and low rooflines.

But the Aveo LS hatchback is a short, heavy, tall car on a sloppy suspension. The result is an automobile that wanders, wiggles and wobbles all over the road. It is the next best thing to driving a 1960s Lincoln with worn shock absorbers.

There are other deficiencies: The standard five-speed manual gearbox is a rubbery affair. The clutch retreats from, rather than responds to, the left foot. The steering is less than precise.

GM supplied the Aveo's E-TEC II 1.6-liter, 103-horsepower, inline four-cylinder engine. It is a good engine that would be great in a car that weighed at least 300 pounds less.

There seem to have been too many cooks stirring this particular automotive pot; and it seems that their main concern was cutting costs rather than coming up with a combination of the best ingredients at an attractive price.

That's too bad. GM has done an overall excellent job of revamping its lineup of cars and trucks. Most are fresh, different, exciting and globally competitive.

The Aveo so far is the only disappointment in the company's new fleets, and that is no small thing. Good entry-level cars are needed to attract first-time buyers. Keeping those buyers is the key to building a strong customer base for future product sales. But customers can be retained only if they are pleased. The Aveo does not please.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company