2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 hatchback car reviews

2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 2LT Automatic

chevrolet aveo5 car reviews

Personality Fun little economy car
Why we’d buy it Good enough mileage and speed, fun to drive in the city, quiet, easy to park, base cost
Why we wouldn’t Firm seats, less than ideal mileage, cost “as tested”
Mileage EPA, 25/34 (manual: 27/34)
Reviewer David Zatz

Driving a Hemi Challenger and Chevy Aveo just about back to back reminded us that you don't need high performance to be fun. A little car that can be joyfully thrown into turns can provide about as much fun as a massively powered performance car, at a fraction of the price — if you don’t mind losing the sound effects and the thrust.

Reactions to the Aveo were split between people who dislike any small cars, and those who found it cute. We found the big truck nose to be less than ideal, but the rest of the car was aesthetically pleasing or, at least, “cute.” 

The Aveo was created to be a “premium small car,” and in most ways other than price, it is. The doors shut solidly with the kind of sound one expects from a larger, higher-priced vehicle; the door handles aren't small or flimsy; and relatively high-end options abound. For a car that starts at $12,120, the Aveo outperforms any reasonable expectations of “not feeling cheap.”

The interior had some of the trim effects as luxury cars — chrome accents in the places where PT Cruiser owners tend to buy aftermarket chrome accents, light tan trim offsetting neutral gray trim, and faux wood (looking very close to real wood) separating the two. The under-windshield area is a dull dark gray, reducing reflections, while pillars are a light tan (at least, in our car with the "neutral" color scheme). The instrument panel, however, used a moderately cheap-looking dull silver around the gauges, which were backlit in a sickly green-yellow color. The effect fell short there.

The main shortfall of the Aveo is the engine, a modern powerplant with variable valve timing and buzzword compliance, which nevertheless is a bit buzzy, harsh, and weak at lower engine speeds. In our case this engine was coupled to an automatic transmission, never our choice with a small car because there’s invariably some “rubber band” feel to the gas pedal and noticeable loss of power and economy. It turns out that the Aveo's four speed automatic is fairly well tuned for economy, or the manual transmission is not, because they both get around the same mileage — and not impressive mileage, either. We tended to get around 24 mpg in city traffic (EPA rating: 25/34). This is lower than the Toyota Yaris (29/36) and Honda Fit (on par with the Hyundai Accent), and while the Aveo was also much more fun, we have to wonder why our old Neon got so much better mileage, while boasting a much larger interior and much better performance. Perhaps that’s because the Aveo gets five-star crash test ratings, has thick glass to insulate occupants from noise, and soaks up broken pavement like a much larger highway cruiser. That doesn't explain, though, how the Chevrolet Cobalt XFE - which is around 2-3 seconds faster 0-60, and considerably larger - manages to match the Aveo.

The engine is rated at 106 horsepower, not a lot for those used to big trucks and such, but a decent amount for a small car weighing less than 2,600 pounds. Torque is also 106 horsepower, a good balance in this case. The engine runs on regular gas, and uses electronic throttle control and an electronically controlled thermostat. It also has an integrated oil cooler with piston spray nozzles along with a replaceable cartridge oil filter (instead of a spin-on can) to increase durability; the timing belt is designed to last 100,000 miles. GM used their oil life monitor on this engine, so you can stretch out (or reduce) your oil change intervals to maintain proper lubrication without overdoing the oil changes.

Power tends to come mainly at higher engine speeds, though the buildup is smoother than on some early variable-valve-timing cars where the switch in programs was obvious. The automatic transmission downshifted rapidly and smoothly when needed; normally it was in the right gear for the time, with no stubborn refusal to upshift and no premature upshifting. Sometimes shifts were not quite as smooth as they could be, particularly under relatively high acceleration. There were times when we could have used more power, but normally we got more than enough acceleration, particularly from a dead stop when the transmission had shifted down to first. Now and then the automatic refused to downshift when it should have, resulting in slower acceleration than desired; but this could be countered simply by flooring the pedal. Once in the right gear, the Aveo did not feel at all sluggish. We could easily get onto highways, pass slower motorists, and more than keep up with suburban traffic. For most people, the Aveo is more than fast enough even with the slushbox. No, you won't win a lot of stoplight races, but since those are pretty illegal, it might be just as well. The power is just good enough to avoid robbing the joy from the little car.

One feature of the automatic is the Hold button, which keeps you in third gear while in Drive, or locked into first or second gear when those are chosen. The main reason for this is to let you start out in second gear to increase snow traction; you may ask why they didn't provide a Snow button, in which case I'd answer, “They did, and they labelled it Hold.”

The automatic and manual transmissions have similar final drive ratios, the manual being slightly lower (which accounts for the similar highway mileage) but including a much lower first gear for starting power.

chevrolet aveo

The Aveo has admirable cornering, with a high fun factor, even as it smooths out the ride. Potholes, concrete roads, and other pavement nasties are softened nicely, giving the Aveo a relatively smooth and comfortable ride. Though the springs are compliant, you can twist the wheel sharply around a turn and hit the gas, and still end up where you want to go, without relying on a stability control system. The more we drove the Aveo, the more fun it got as we warmed up to the idea of treating it more like a Camaro than a Yaris. Part of that may be due to the 17-mm front stabilizer bar, high-rate front springs, and highly damped front shocks which minimize the amount of vehicle roll.

We have to point out that the Aveo we tested has completely different suspension tuning from the 2008 and earlier models, engineered to be more exciting and more comfortable. This may explain why we found it to be joy to drive when some found it to be a drag: many reviews were written about the 2008s and earlier models (and many sources simply update the year, price, and features, rather than re-driving, which usually makes sense.)

The Aveo hatchback has good visibility, with the thick rear pillar relieved by a small triangular window, vast expanses of glass, and strong headlights. Parking was easier than in most cars due to the short hood and the huge rear window, which, coupled with the relatively small gap between rear seats and rear glass, meant that it was unusually easy to judge exactly where the rear of the car was. The car’s short length also helped it to fit into spaces many other vehicles would have a hard time with.

Our test vehicle came with a manual day/night mirror, which is more effective at filtering headlights than the automatic kind; it also came with GM’s OnStar service for emergency roadside assistance or, at an extra price, concierge service to make reservations, give you directions, and such. On the down side, the sun visors were skimpy in size, did not slide out to cover more area, and were fitted with vanity mirrors that had no covers — which could be distracting at times.

The interior was moderately spacious for a small car, with plenty of room for four people; the seats could be more comfortable and better cushioned, and the seat belts in the rear do not leave enough width for larger people or kids in car seats. There was, however, plenty of headroom, and the driver’s seat came with a built-in armrest, minivan style.

Chevrolet did not stint on the interior amenities, providing map pockets, a real glove compartment, and slide-out cupholders in the center stack (below the stereo). There was no covered center console in our Aveo and no space for one; a small open bin provided a spot for sunglasses or an EZ-Pass.

Cargo space is not huge but it is very conveniently shaped, with a hatch that gets right up and out of the way; it was a pleasure to load and unload the cargo bay. With the rear seats folded, the Aveo can fit 43 cubic feet of cargo, if you’re willing to have it shoved up against the glass.

The Korean creation of the Aveo showed up in one area, what I’ve called “Korean lock syndrome.” Some aspect of the local culture seemed to dictate that Hyundais, Kias, and Daewoos all provide master lock control to the driver. When you click the remote, all doors lock or unlock. When you unlock or lock the driver’s door via the conventional-looking thingie, all the doors unlock or lock. Hyundai’s been phasing out that quirk; apparently the GM owners of Daewoo have not yet stamped it out.

Even as the Aveo is stuck with Daewood’s odd locks, the GM people have made their mark. In its inimitable style, GM has given the Aveo overly bright high-beam daytime running lights that cannot be shut off; at least they still let drivers have control over the headlights, with the three traditional settings on the stalk. That said, like other GM vehicles, the Aveo warns you if your headlights are not on. That’s right, you get an amber warning light on the dash, which quickly leads you to ignore any warning lights, if you’re driving through the middle of the Arizona desert at high noon in July, because your headlights aren’t on. Don’t you know they should always be on? (Headlights draw a considerable amount of power which does impact gas mileage, albeit not by a huge margin.)

The light controls are on the turn signal stalk, while cruise control is on steering wheel buttons with definite tactile and audible responses, and front and rear wiper/washer controls are on a right-hand stalk. You can judge by feel whether the cruise control is on (the button stays down), but there is no cancel button; you need to tap the brakes to temporarily shut it off.

The gauge cluster provides large, clear dials for the speedometer and tachometer, with smaller but still generous dials for engine temperature and fuel level — a far better display than the Yaris’ diminutive center display, and it’s right in front of the driver. A clock and passenger airbag status display (don’t ask me why GM thinks it’s so important that I know when the passenger airbag is off) sit where the Yaris’ gauges are, all the way forward and in the middle, far from the driver.

The trip computer sits in the middle of the gauge cluster, providing gas mileage, elapsed time, distance to empty, or the outside temperature, as well as the odometer or one of two trip odometers. These are all controlled by two unmarked buttons inset in the gauge cluster, so that playing with them while driving can be somewhat dangerous.

Other controls and displays are fairly conventional. The climate control system is integrated into the center stack for a more organic, flowing look, more sophisticated than many more expensive cars; it uses a traditional three-dial system with separate knobs for temperature, fan speed, and vent (the fan speed dial has a different look and feel to make it easier to find the right knob without looking). Three buttons on a curve, again set up to be identified by touch, turn on the a/c compressor, air recirculation, or the rear defroster. The air vents are large, moderately quiet, and easy to adjust, moving around and around or snapping closed. These are among the best vents we’ve seen so far in terms of flexibility.

The stereo is a bit of a challenge: while we had the optional satellite radio system, and appreciated the Aveo’s high sound quality, tuning in stations was more of a challenge than it should have been because there is no tuning dial, just up/down buttons. Satellite radio has over a hundred stations, so moving rapidly from one point of the dial to another is challenging. You can use the interactive search mode to find types of music, but this is distracting if you're driving; likewise, you can save a six presets, but these appear by number rather than by name despite the graphic nature of the display, which displays the names of the satellite radio stations as you flip through them (many are not particularly descriptive.) FM, AM, and satellite radio stations all share the same set of presets, so there is a total of six stations that can be tuned in.

Overall, the radio had great sound but it could use one more knob and more than one set of presets. On the lighter side, the audio controls were fairly easy to manipulate (bass, treble, etc.) without devoting too much attention to them, and many people will be satisfied with a handful of satellite stations.

The base Aveo starts at $12,780, an absurdly low price, but that vehicle is lacking many of the accessories people today tend to demand. Our Chevy Aveo 2LT was the top trim model, and listed for a more reasonable $15,500 with destination and no options — a nearly $2,000 discount from the 2008 models if Chevrolet's web site (and this car’s price sticker) is to be believed. That $15,500 includes a five year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty; a clean 1.6 liter dual overhead cam engine with variable valve timing; front disc brakes (the rears are drums, which should be fine for such a small car); a stainless steel exhaust; OnStar with a one-year subscription; tire pressure monitor; power heated foldaway mirrors; 15 inch wheels; intermittent wipers; fog lamps; air conditioner with air filtration; rear window defogger; tilt wheel; floor mats; cruise control; trip computer; remote; power windows and locks; driver’s seat armrest; CD player with input jack for iPods and such; XM satellite radio; steering wheel radio controls; and sunglass holder.

In short, for $15,500, roughly the price of a base-model Toyota Corolla, you get a pretty well loaded vehicle that gets similar mileage (Corolla is rated at 26/35 with manual transmission). It’s a lot smaller, and probably not quite as reliable, but it’s also a lot more fun and a little easier to park. Or you can save a few thousand on geegaws, especially if you live up North and don't care about air conditioning.

Our test car had a surprising $2,090 in options. The four-speed Aisin automatic transmission, which we’d pay to replace with a manual transmission, cost a whopping $925. The antilock brakes were more reasonable at $440. Aluminum wheels added $350 and were probably not worth the extra charge. Finally, “leatherette” seats and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter added $375, which is worth it if you just have to have leatherette (which looks exactly like a good leather, but isn’t quite as soft — it is probably as good as a cheap leather, though). The total ended up at $16,950, and the $660 destination charge — fairly reasonable for a vehicle built in Korea — brought it up to $17,610.

The Chevrolet Cruze is coming later this year, replacing the Cobalt, and will probably be a tempting option.

The Chevrolet Aveo is not for everyone. Some people found it ugly, others cute. Some wondered why it had neither front nor rear bumper, a styling choice that might come back to haunt owners. But if you like fun little cars that can be tossed around on the road, do a lot of city driving, and don’t mind buying Korean as long as there’s an American company getting the money, the Aveo is a surprisingly good choice. We had a ball driving the Aveo faster than an economy car has any right to go around sharp turns, without being punished by excessive fuel consumption or a harsh ride or lots of noise. When it comes down to it, we liked our loaded Aveo better than numerous other, pricier cars, and we could live with the relatively small interior, especially when it came to parking. We wouldn’t spring for “leatherette” or the automatic, but the 2LT package and “neutral interior” added a lot, and antilock brakes are a given.

In short — ignore everything you may have heard before, and if you’re in the market for a small car, make sure the Aveo5 is on your list, and when you take it for a test drive, swing the wheel around hard and see how it feels. An ordinary 25 mph, cautious-driver test won’t suffice; put the Aveo5 through its paces and you may find yourself spending less and getting more.