Spacious, refined, frugal, great-value and decent to drive, Chevrolet’s economy Aveo is also its best

What is it?

Probably the best and most desirable version of the all-new Chevrolet Aveo, which goes on sale in the UK this month. Economy-minded superminis may not be the most obvious products of desire, of course. But the Aveo 1.3 VCDi Eco isn’t your typical economy hatchback.

While so many low-emissions models have that telling hint of try-hard austerity about them, this Aveo really doesn’t. On paper, it actually offers more power and better accelerative performance than any of Chevrolet’s other Aveo variants, as well as the lowest emissions and best fuel economy in the range. As mid-spec LT trimmed model, it’s quite well equipped. And it’s just over £1000 cheaper than a less powerful Skoda Fabia Greenline, and £2.5k cheaper than an equivalent Ford Fiesta Econetic.

What’s it like?

Spacious, comfortable, economical and, from a ride and handling perspective, unexpectedly well rounded. All of which you’ll already know if you’ve read any of our previous reviews of the new Aveo. It’ll come as more of a surprise, though, if you’re used to the mediocre standards of the last Aveo, nee Daewoo Kalos.

The key to the Aveo’s rapid advancement is General Motors’ new global ‘Gamma II’ platform, which has been developed by GM Korea, by a team lead by European engineers, and that will serve underneath the next Vauxhall Corsa as well as this car. It’s conventional enough: a steel monocoque with a transverse engine, with MacPherson strut suspension up front and a torsion beam at the rear. But it’s also new enough – and clearly good enough – to give this budget hatch capacities and talents significantly beyond those of its forebear.

Fine packaging gives the Aveo a generous cabin, with the kind of headroom to accommodate even tall adults. The car’s driving position is excellent, with rare and plentiful downwards adjustment on the seat, and lots of reach and rake adjustment on the steering wheel.

The dashboard design, like the exterior, may be a little ‘funky’ for moderate tastes. The stylized motorbike-inspired instrument binnacle, with its digital speedometer and faux drilled casing, is compact and pleasingly simple, if a bit contrived. However, there’s an abundance of oddment storage, and while the material quality of the car’s hard fascia plastics is predictably run-of-the-mill, their fit-and-finish is quite good.

In mixed everyday driving on UK roads, this Aveo performs strongly and conducts itself with assured dynamic competence. The reason it’s faster, at least on paper, than the non-‘Eco’ 94bhp diesel are its gear ratios. A longer final drive than standard, and longer first and second gears than the six-speed version, allows this Aveo to crack 60mph in 2nd gear. The truth is, in gear acceleration in the six-speed car would be much better, aided by an additional 15lb ft of torque over this model. But the five-speed Aveo Eco feels more than brisk and flexible enough on most roads and situations.

And this is a genuinely economical car to boot. Not quite frugal enough to match the 78mpg of Chevrolet’s claim, but – in the case our still-tight, 1500-mile test car – frugal enough for better than 60 to the gallon on a mixed touring route.

Finely honed ride and handling forms the bedrock of the sense of maturity that the Aveo engenders. Taut damping accompanies authoritative shock absorption and a quiet, supple primary ride. There’s a modest quantity of body roll, but not enough to corrupt the car’s accurate and consistent steering. And while engine refinement and wind- and road noise suppression are no better than average, they’re good enough to make the Aveo a relaxing, capable and thoroughly complete affordable small car.

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Should I buy one?

That will depend on your feelings about the car’s slightly weird styling, which does make it look like a cross between a low-budget science fiction extra and a cruise-regular’s homemade aftermarket special. This tester would certainly prefer the car without its ‘Alien-vs-Predator’ head- and taillights and its pugnacious grille. But it’s not a deal-breaker.

Budget, super-frugal hatchbacks are seldom as uncompromised, or as pleasing to use everyday, as the Aveo Eco. While the Kia Rio and Skoda Fabia are equally multi-talented, each in slightly different ways, the Aveo is now anything but an also-ran.

Chevrolet Aveo 1.3 VCDi Eco LT

Price: £12,795; Top speed: 108mph; 0-62mph: 11.7sec; Economy: 78.4mpg; Co2: 95g/km; Kerbweight: 1165kg; Engine type, cc: 4 cyls, 1248cc, turbodiesel; Power: 94bhp at 4000rpm; Torque: 140lb ft at 1750-2500rpm; Gearbox: 5-spd manual

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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Add a comment…
jelly7961 13 January 2012

Re: Chevrolet Aveo 1.3 VCDi

evanstim wrote:
May I suggest, yes, it would be pretty dire under those conditions?
well considering that the speed limit in Oz is all of 68 mph and that we were on the best road in the country (the M5) then no I would not have expected it to be dire! We drive our Smart forTwo turbo 220 km form Naples to Rome at 130 to 140 km/h reasonably reguarly and even though it takes only two peeps it still feels far more 'together' than this piece of Korean Krap. I will be objective and add as long as it's not too windy though

evanstim 13 January 2012

Re: Chevrolet Aveo 1.3 VCDi

ischiaragazzo wrote:
took it on an 80 mile trip with 3 people and some luggage and I thought it was pretty dire

May I suggest, yes, it would be pretty dire under those conditions?

To be fair to the vehicle, it isn't designed to be a long-distance motorway cruiser with 3 people and their luggage on board. It is a vehicle designed to be economical for short trips in the city with one or two people on board, and the occasional 3rd or 4th.

jelly7961 11 January 2012

Re: Chevrolet Aveo 1.3 VCDi

We hired on of these - not by choice I might add but your options of hiring a car between Christmas and New Year in Sydney are pretty limited - took it on an 80 mile trip with 3 people and some luggage and I thought it was pretty dire. The interior looked like it would last 10 minutes withkids on board and the whole package I found completely underwheming. Slow, thirsty and weird steering. It was a petrol model but I do know that Holden engineer the Daewoos to Oz conditions but I think they may have called in sick the day this turned up.