Published on Tuesday 11 March 2014 10:54
Ten Second Review
Anyone doubting Chevrolet's ability to build a class-competitive supermini needs to try this one, the second generation Aveo. Smartly styled and, in diesel form, smart to run, it's a budget brand small car you actually might feel rather good about owning.
Chevrolet has never offered us a truly class-competitive supermini - but then, given that the brand has only been represented on these shores since 2004, maybe we can forgive them that. Though the brand's little Matiz and Spark citycars have attracted a reasonable following, buyers looking for something a little larger and Fiesta-sized have been offered a series of fairly lightly disguised variations on the old Daewoo Kalos, a design dating back to 2003. Which was fine for emerging Asian markets: not so good for more demanding Europeans. People who the company hopes will take this car, the second generation Aveo launched here early in 2012, much more seriously.
On paper, it certainly seems as if the designers, engineers and marketing people have ticked all the right boxes. There's a more distinctive look, a more efficient range of engines that at last includes some properly frugal diesel options and the usual emphasis on high spec and value pricing to enable the car to better compete against fellow budget brands like Skoda, Kia and Hyundai. And it's all supposed to be bound up in a product that promises to save you money without constantly reminding you of the fact. If that sounds appealing , then stay with us: we're going to put those bold claims to the test.
If you're a typical Aveo buyer, then you probably won't care very much what goes on under the bonnet or how adept your car will be at tackling your favourite twisty B road. In fact, you probably won't have a favourite twisty B road. So you won't care that there are no really performance-minded engines in the range, that the steering is a little light and that bodyroll is a little more pronounced than you'll find in something more Fiesta-like. You'll be more interested instead in stuff that's of greater importance every day - namely levels of ride and refinement that are as good as anything in the class, including small cars that are a great deal more expensive than this one.
Partly that's because under the skin, this car has a very solid, taut chassis indeed, underpinnings originally developed for the fourth generation Vauxhall Corsa but which this Chevrolet managed to get hold of first. In terms of refinement though, the only caveat I have to add concerns the 86PS petrol 1.2 that the majority of buyers of this model tend to choose. Though its performance figures - rest to sixty in 13.6s on the way to 107mph - look alright, just 115Nm of torque, of pulling power, demands that you work the engine pretty hard to achieve reasonably rapid progress. And that'll prove a stern test of the considerable efforts that the designers have put in to keep noise levels down in this model, efforts that include everything from special damping mats to thicker windscreen glass and a felt blanket lining the underside of the bonnet.
The benefits of all this are much more noticeable in the other petrol engine on offer, a 100PS 1.4, especially if you mate it to the necessarily relaxed progress that's conditional if you order this car with a sprint-sapping 6-speed Hydra-Matic auto gearbox. Even with the slightly notchy five-speed manual gearbox that most Aveos must have, a 1.4-litre model doesn't offer you much more in terms of speed than the 1.2 and it loses out considerably in terms of everyday driving punch to even the least powerful of the two diesel engines finally put on offer to Aveo customers in this second generation guise. Both VCDi units are 1.3-litres in size, with a choice of either 75 or 95PS outputs. The pokier of the two manages sixty in 12.6s, a second and a half quicker than its stablemate, a figure you can reduce further to 11.7s by opting for a more frugally-focused 'Eco' version.
Design and Build
Chevrolet says it's a bit fed up with small cars being cute and cuddly, the intention instead with this car being to create something bolder, more striking and with a dose of attitude. Hence a set of progressive, raked bodylines, pronounced wheelarches and, most notably, the apparently motorcycle-inspired design theme that crops up all around the car. It's most obvious here at the front where the familiar bow-tie-badged split-front grille is flanked by exposed, round headlamps, twin tubes with high gloss round bezels and chromed rings that do without the usual lens cover and certainly give the front of the car some character.
It's a look carried forward to the tail lamps too, not quite as successfully, though the curved rear hatch glass and integrated spoiler look smart and neat. Lifting the tailgate reveals a 290-litre boot within spitting distance of that of a rival Fiesta in size and practically shaped, provided you can lift your luggage over the rather pronounced lip that sits proud above the rear bumper. Pushing forward the 60:40 split-folding rear seats reveals a class-competitive 653-litres, though unfortunately, the area provided isn't quite flat.
To take a seat in the back, you first need to locate the rear door pull handles, cleverly concealed in the upper section of the door in a largely unsuccessful attempt to give this five-door-only design a coupe-like look. Once inside, you've the usual supermini standard - comfortable space with decent headroom for two adults or three children but three fully-grown passengers might find it a bit of a squash. Up-front though, there are no issues in getting comfortable, not only because of the spacious cockpit but also thanks to a smart three-spoke reach and rake-adjustable steering wheel and a height-adjustable driver's seat that gets a comfortable armrest if you're in a plusher model. And the centre console's Vauxhall Insignia-sourced big buttons and clear controls are easy to use. But all of that you'd expect from a modern era supermini. What may come as a bit of a shock to this car's traditionally older clientbase is the design of the instrument cluster in front of you with its faux drilled casing, again motorbike-inspired, incorporating a round speedometer and a digital LCD readout. At least it's memorable.
Market and Model
Whichever Aveo you choose - 1.2 or 1.4-litre petrol or either of the 1.3-litre VCDi diesels - you should find your car to be reasonably equipped, though for some unknown reason, the 1.4-litre petrol model does without the electric power steering systenm used on every other model in the range, instead using a less advanced hydraulic set-up. Inevitably for the nicer features, you have to stretch further up the range. Even basic variants though, get air conditioning, cruise control with a useful speed limiter to keep your licence intact, remote locking, a rear spoiler, an MP3-compatible CD stereo, plus power mirrors and electric front windows. Popular options fitted further up the range include rear parking sensors, alloy wheels and auto headlamps. Sat nav though, rather surprisingly, isn't even available as an option.
Safety-wise, there's plenty to justify this car's 5 star Euro NCAP rating. That means single-stage airbags for the driver and front passenger, plus roof-rail airbags and side impact airbags - so six in all. The roof can withstand forces more than four times this car's weight. And there's a releasable pedal assembly to reduce the risk of lower extremity injury.
Cost of Ownership
As usual when it comes to cost of ownership, the diesel option is by far the better way to go once you've swallowed the up-front asking price premium. With the Aveo though, the gulf between petrol and diesel is especially wide. Though owners of the petrol 1.2 can talk of a 60.1mpg combined cycle fuel figure, the reality is that since this engine develops most of its power in the upper reaches of its rev range - meaning that you have to drive the thing pretty hard to maintain purposeful progress - I'd question whether that figure is in any way a realistic guide to what day-to-day owners will actually achieve. You may actually do better behind the wheel of the pokier petrol 1.4, though here the torque figure is only a fraction higher at 130Nm. It manages 53.3mpg on the combined cycle.
1.4-litre petrol Aveo buyers are the only ones who get the option of the brand's supposedly hi-tech Hydra-Matic 6-speed auto gearbox, a unit that seems to drain the 100PS engine quite dramatically, fuel consumption falling by nearly 10mpg and CO2 emissions rising from 125 to 147g/km - rather a lot for such a small car. Clearly though, the Chevrolet engineers placed their efficiency emphasis in other areas, partly with the petrol 1.2 (which manages a creditable 111g/km CO2 showing), but mainly with the various diesels - 75 and 95bhp versions of the familiar 1.3-litre common rail unit used in the Vauxhall Corsa. The lower-powered unit delivers 74.3mpg on the combined cycle and 99g/km of CO2, but I think I'd be tempted to stretch a few extra hundred pounds and go for the 95PS version. Here, there's the choice of either a standard model (the only one in the range with a 6-speed manual gearbox) or a frugally-focused 'Eco' variant in which 78.4mpg on the combined cycle and 95g/km of CO2 is possible.
A budget-brand supermini was once a last resort when you couldn't stretch to the safe conformity of a Fiesta, a Corsa or a Polo. Now look at it. Cutting edge styling, the option of super-frugal diesel power and a hi-tech up-to-the-minute platform that in this case, more expensive Vauxhalls can only copy. There is, in short, no doubt that with this second generation Aveo, Chevrolet has clearly upped its game.
Whether that'll be enough to catapult this car into contention with the established supermini class leaders is debateable but it's certainly good enough to stand it in good stead against Chevrolet's targeted rivals in this segment, Skoda's Fabia, Kia's Rio and Hyundai's i30, even if you don't like all of the 'characterful' touches that do so much to set this model apart from its rather dull predecessor. True, you can buy greater quality, sharper handling or even extra gadgetry from other rivals in this sector but in every case it'll cost you more. Usually a lot more. In contrast, this Aveo manages at an affordable price to offer more of what you really need in a car of this kind with greater panache than any small Chevrolet before it. And for many potential customers, that'll be all they need to know.