It's refreshing to see GM get some good press every now and then.
Little cars get no respect.
But the court of public opinion requires that nearly every carmaker bring out a subcompact of some type. It takes wee wheels for automakers to earn some respect from frugal consumers, fuel conservationists and federally elected officials.
These tiny vehicles may not be the savior for the environment or for any particular carmaker, unless consumers decide they're willing to pay $30,000 for them. But some are starting to earn a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T in Motown.
The reason: Fashionable little four-bangers continue to get better. First was the redesigned Honda Fit, and now, rolling into showrooms is the 2009 Chevrolet Aveo5.
This boxy people hauler starts at $12,625, making it one of the least expensive new cars available (many used cars cost more).
It's roomy, peppy and comes with more personality than similarly priced competition.
This addition to the Chevy family takes on a much squarer look than its sedan sibling. Designers chopped off its trunk, creating a big opening on the back -- commonly referred to as a fifth door. Some day, it'll be OK to call it what it is: a hatchback. I've never understood car companies' disdain for the word hatchback. It's not evil, consumers don't mind it, and not calling it what it is seems foolish, like we won't know it's a hatchback.
The hatch helps the Aveo5 stand out. It's a good look, and it plays multiple utilitarian roles, such as making it extremely easy to park as well as load big things in the back. Few other exterior features add to its looks. It's not like the designers had a lot of sheet metal to work with.
Tightening up the wheel wells over 14-inch tires isn't going to make this car look fast or powerful. The wraparound headlights look slightly oversized, and the big air intakes and gold blow tie point to Chevy's new unenthusiastic global face. The little fender vents seem over the top and a waste of plastic.
Inside, the Aveo5 offers lots of room. At 6 feet tall, I could fit in the front or rear comfortably. There is 41.3 inches of legroom up front and the stadium seating in the back gives passengers a little more room to see.
Chevy upgraded the interior materials, though there is a certain economical feel to this vehicle. Every part of the cabin feels well built, though it's difficult to know how it will hold up over the long haul.
However, there are some nice surprises inside, which certainly add value at minimal costs. The base stereo includes an auxiliary jack to play a personal music device, and the optional upgraded stereo is CD/MP3 compatible with six speakers. My test vehicle included the optional steering wheel controls for the stereo and satellite radio.
While the back end looks lopped off, there's a surprising amount of space -- 12.6 cubic feet -- behind the seats.
Fold down the 60/40 split second row and there is 42 cubic feet of space. That's more than enough room to carry a large television or all of a college student's dirty clothes.
Power to keep up with peers
The revving heart of the Aveo5 is Chevy's dual overhead cam 1.6-liter in-line four-cylinder engine tied to a five-speed manual transmission. The 106-horsepower engine also produces 106-pound-feet of torque at 3,800 rpm. The power is on par with the other popular subcompacts -- the Honda Fit (117 horsepower), the Nissan Versa (107 horsepower) and the Toyota Yaris (106 horsepower).
The engine helps the Aveo5 match the competition on gas mileage as well. It reaches 27 miles per gallon in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. During my week of testing, I was able to achieve 30 mpg in a mix of driving.
The Aveo5 offers an optional four-speed automatic transmission which hits 34 mpg on the highway and 25 mpg in the city. I'd stick with the stick.
Gas mileage is important, but it's still not everything. A car should still be fun.
The manual transmission let me press it a little harder around town, where the 97.6-inch wheelbase gave it a go-kart like feel. It whined a little on the highway and the road noise was noticeable, but nothing out of the ordinary for a car this small.
There was one unintended feature: The gear shifter vibrated in my hand when cruising, especially when I'd take my foot off the gas.
But that didn't dissuade me from pushing this car. Its high body rolled only a little in big turns and the car's zip let me cut off much bigger vehicles with ease. The lines of sight were excellent and its petite size let me squeeze into tight spots.
The power rack-and-pinion steering had a well-weighted feel, especially around town, where the Aveo5 excelled.
The original Aveo, the cheapest new car to own according to Edmunds.com, is nice. The Aveo5 is nicer.
It may not pass every vehicle on the road today, but it's not going to eat everything in your wallet either. While the savings won't buy you respect, its performance and frugal approach to space might earn some from you.