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Aveo LS meets only lowered expectations

The Chevy hatchback has a nice fit and finish, but the handling makes it feel more cheap than economical.

August 11, 2004|Warren Brown | Washington Post

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 (base price: $12,680), and it's built to perform, feel and stay that way. There is nothing special about it, nothing romantic or inviting.

The Aveo LS is an appliance in much the manner of a toaster or washing machine. You turn it on, and it takes you from place to place in splendid mediocrity. 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.

These 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 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 GM Daewoo Auto & Technology 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 2,442 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's like 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.

It seems there were too many cooks stirring this automotive pot and 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 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.

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