Fortunately, we're more enthusiastic about small cars at TheCarConnection.com than we have been in a long time, and that's thanks to a host of new vehicles in the class - vehicles from the MINI Cooper to the Chevrolet Aveo.
After a week of trying out a stick-shift Aveo four-door sedan for some 400 miles over every kind of driving Southern California offers, I came to a few conclusions - mostly Aveo-centered, since the MINI has a cultish following and the Aveo is arrowed right at the mainstream, nearly all cuteness excised.
My conclusions? Ford, which has announced it will offer a B-car in the
That's because though not flawless, Chevrolet's Aveo is well-appointed, quiet, smooth riding, handles nimbly and most of all is fun to drive. Heck, its trunk can even swallow two and possibly four golf bags without indigestion. The Aveo is an incredible improvement over the three-cylinder Suzuki-supplied Chevy Metro of a few years ago, before GM took over the South Korean automaker Daewoo.
What's a B?
First, a little primer if you're still unsure as to what a B-car is. In the segment so far this year, Aveo sales of 19,944 are an uncontested second only to 26,418 for the Toyota Yaris. But you could argue that the Yaris is really is a "C-car" entry with its wheelbase slightly over 100 inches, and thusly that the Aveo is really the segment sales champ. That would make the second and third best sellers the Honda Fit at 12,795, and the Hyundai Accent at 11,190.
The top three sellers in the compact "C" segment are the Toyota Corolla (120,484), the Honda Civic (99,295), and the Ford Focus (56,463) with the Chevrolet Cobalt a hair behind in fourth place at 56,448. In any event, you can see that B-cars are puny sellers in the U.S. , in a total market of 5.2 million light vehicles for the first four months of 2007.
Regardless of the numbers, Americans have nothing to fear in "moving down" to a B-car except the sneers of their neighbors. Most of the rest of the world drive primarily B-cars and thrive on them. Yes, you could argue the laws of physics dictate that a 2500-pound car is less safe in a population of 3500-pound or more vehicles, but today's American-market Bs like the Aveo also are loaded with such amenities as front and side airbags, anti-lock brakes, and good crash-test "star" ratings from the NHTSA.
A far cry from the Beetles
B-car sedans carry base price stickers generally ranging from $11,000 to $13,000, while Cs typically run from $13,000 to $15,000. The Aveo is well-positioned at $11,950. Our test vehicle was stickered at $14,775 with options and delivery.
Unlike stripped entry-level cars of the past, you can get a lot for your money now - the Aveo has standard air conditioning, power steering, intermittent wipers, reclining seats, tilt column, and a remote trunk release. Optional on our test car were anti-lock brakes, cruise control, AM/FM/CD, remote-entry power locks, and aluminum wheels.
The Aveo trim level was noticeably high. Seats are upholstered in a hard-surface fabric that you can slide across as easily as over leather. Front seats sit high for excellent vision and caused not a crick on our road trip described below.
This is a far cry from the barren Beetles, Pintos, and Vegas that really got the subcompact market in the U.S. going some 37 years ago.
Aside from buzzing happily around San Diego , a typical daily driving routine at which the canary yellow (labeled "summer yellow") Aveo excelled, a 250-mile mountain-and-desert road trip in this little car was noteworthy.
For my birthday, son Matt (a Navy doc recently returned from deployment with the Marines in Iraq ) presented me with a training lesson in a glider. The glider port is located at Warner Springs , some 60 miles northeast of San Diego over largely two-lane roads gradually climbing from sea level to 3000 feet. The Aveo's 1.6-liter 103-hp four-banger gobbled up this route with minimum downshifting.
I had an exhilarating glider ride on thermals up another 3000 feet to just below the cumulus puffs - you could almost reach out and touch them - and the first stick-and-rudder time I'd experienced in many years. Then we hit the road again, over the high desert east into the mountains and wound steeply down to the desert floor at Borego Springs, west of the below-sea-level Salton Sea . Needless to say, this was a great workout for the Aveo's civilized handling, but nothing to compare with the way back up the mountains on the return half of our loop. We ate up the 1750-ft Yaqui Pass , twisted through the Cuyumaca Rancho Park area ravaged by forest fires a few years ago, and ended our journey with a 40-mile stretch of Interstate 8.
This leg made me wish for a few more squirrels, or at least more energetic critters, to supplement the drop-downs from 5th to 4th to 3rd and even 2nd in order to maintain speed on the essing back-and-forth climb. In dashing commuter traffic, the 1.6-liter is fine, but it won't shine in drag racing or minimal-shift mountain climbs. But that's part of its fun. In an automatic or CVT, all this shifting would have been unnecessary - and the driving more boring.
Still, the Aveo handles in an entertaining way. Its shift lever is nicely positioned so that gears can be changed with a flick of the wrist while the driver's forearm rests on his right-side armrest. However, I confess to having some problems finding 3rd on downshifting, forcing a 4-2 shift two or three times in the mountains to avoid losing momentum.
My only other complaint about the Aveo is, for gosh sakes (as Rummy would say), the paucity and inadequacy of the cupholders. In the front compartment, there are only two flimsy holders which aren't deep enough to clutch a medium-sized water bottle safely, and too close to the instrument panel to hold a fat cup. And there are no bottle-slots in the front side-door map pockets, fairly common in American cars these days. Given the remake of the Aveo for '07, I was surprised at this apparent oversight.
This is perhaps a trivial gripe, but it's the "tremendous trifles" which can kill a sale and Americans are finicky about such things. Luckily, we can't find many of those in the well-executed Aveo, which goes to show you that Americans aren't by nature averse to a competent B-car. We just haven't had many to consider - or many reasons to consider them again - until now.
2007 Chevrolet Aveo
Base price: $11,950; as tested, $14,775
Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder, 103 hp/107 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 169.7 x 67.3 x 59.2 in
Wheelbase: 97.6 in
Curb weight: 2531 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 27/35 mpg
Major standard features: Air conditioning; AM/FM stereo with auxiliary jack; tilt steering; 60/40 split rear seat
Safety features: Six airbags
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles