Home » Contrary To Popular Belief, The Chevrolet Aveo Was Once Perfectly Adequate: GM Hit Or Miss

Contrary To Popular Belief, The Chevrolet Aveo Was Once Perfectly Adequate: GM Hit Or Miss

Chevrolet Aveo Topshot
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Human memory has a funny way of warping the truth as time goes on. From spinning minor accidents into huge deals to millennial/Gen Z cuspers coming out of COVID isolation with rose-tinted memories of life during the War on Terror, our brains have a unique way of making things go topsy-turvy. Take the Chevrolet Aveo: It’s a hateful little shitbox that embodies American automakers’ contempt for the small car, right? Not so fast. While I’m not saying that this mediocre subcompact car is unappreciated genius, there’s a possibility that in some way, shape, or form, it was alright at one point. Welcome back to GM Hit or Miss, where we peel back the layers of GM’s fill-every-niche pre-bankruptcy lineup in (Pontiac) Pursuit of scratchy-plastic enlightenment.

Let There Be Economy

Geo Metro Lsi

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Back in the 1990s, captive imports were all the rage. Ford had Mazda, Chrysler had Mitsubishi, and GM had the kitchen sink. From the collaborative NUMMI plant with Toyota to rebadged Isuzus sold as Geos and Asunas, the post-Cold War decade was a great one for Asian cars with American badging. Let’s zoom in on two examples critical to the Aveo’s story.

First up, we have the Suzuki Cultus, which was brilliant. A series of rotating GM badges meant this subcompact hatchback was America’s minimum viable new car for more than a decade, and viable it was. Sure, the Chevrolet Sprint or Geo Metro or whatever you wanted to call it was slow, but it was almost unfathomably economical. When new, the 1992 Geo Metro XFI was rated at 53 mpg city, 58 mpg highway, and 55 mpg combined on the EPA’s old three-cycle testing regimen. Owners still report fuel economy north of 50 mpg and even the larger, heavier next-generation model was rated at 41 mpg city, 47 mpg highway, and 43 mpg combined. See what lightweight construction and three tiny cylinders can do?

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Another entry-level captive import rebadged as a GM product was the Daewoo LeMans, and it was a little bit rough. Needless to say, I smile every time I see one on the road. Sure, it’s not bad to look at and it was based on the Opel Kadett E, but early Korean build quality meant they never lasted long in the rust belt. Plus, Motorweek’s John Davis reports in a period review that the handling was crap. Brakes locked up early, the manual steering rack was described as “very slow and dead in road feel.” Adding to the matter, Davis reports that “The steering wheel didn’t want to re-center itself after a turn.” Ouch.

Needless to say, the LeMans was cut from the team after 1993, but the Metro soldiered on until 2001, faithfully fulfilling that cheap new car niche so highly desired today. However, the Metro was getting old and General Motors had different plans for the CAMI plant in which it was built. It was time once again to outsource.

A Shrewd Acquisition

Daewoo Kalos

Back to the Daewoo for a second. By 1999, the Korean automaker had collapsed due to a combination of corruption and bad timing. It eventually gave us one of the greatest automotive lines in cinema, but that’s all this chaebol wrote. After several years of trying to find a buyer for its automotive division, General Motors eventually swooped in to purchase Daewoo Motors for $1.2 billion in 2002. By that time, several projects were well underway including the Kalos, a B-segment hatchback or sedan that primarily used a licensed variant of GM’s Family I line of four-cylinder engines.

On paper, the Kalos seemed brilliant. Engine by Opel, styling by Italdesign, testing in such demanding locales as Kapuskasing, Canada and Arjeplog, Sweden, and a huge list of optional equipment. It was a genuine world car for Daewoo, so it’s not terribly surprising that Chevrolet plucked it out of the Daewoo lineup and rebadged it as the Aveo for various global markets. It went on sale in America for the 2004 model year at the low price of $9,995 and despite all its promise, it turned out to be a mixed bag.

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The Car, The Myth, The Disappointment

Chevrolet Aveo 1

Remember the Metro from earlier? This bastion of economy built a hell of a name for itself. On paper, it should’ve never worked in America – it was too small, too underpowered, and completely at odds with the prevailing American tastes of the time. However, all the traits that made aspiring SUV owners turn their noses up at the Metro gave it an iron-clad reputation as a brand new car that was almost cheaper than a bus pass and would never, ever go wrong. Even setting economy aside, the Metro was good – it had independent rear suspension for surprisingly decent handling, consumables cost absolutely nothing, the cabin was well-finished for the time, and quality genuinely felt present. Would I love a five-speed Metro to augment my 325i? Hell yeah I would.

However, the Aveo largely abandoned this niche. For a start, fuel economy was surprisingly poor for such a little car. The EPA rated it at 27 mpg city, 35 mpg highway, and 30 mpg combined in old three-cycle testing, and that’s if you didn’t opt for the four-speed automatic. This little car may have packed substantially more power than a Metro, but it was a lush for the subcompact segment.

Chevrolet Aveo Interior

Then there’s the matter of quality – for whatever reason, every older Aveo I’ve ever been in has felt poorly-made. The wiper stalks are popsicle sticks JB-Welded to concrete, threatening to snap if you dare wish to see where you’re going while Mother Nature is chucking down cats and dogs. Then there was the dashboard, which would get marked up like a blackboard soon after purchase. Sure, cheap Toyotas of the time had hard plastics, but they were nicely-textured, whimsically-styled, and hid scratches well. The Aveo’s dashboard didn’t do any of those things. Oh, and the shifter action felt like stirring a cup of coffee.

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Get the Aveo out on the road and things improve. Ride quality is remarkably good compared to most subcompacts of the time, cabin noise isn’t wildly loud, and visibility is solid. Sure, the iron-block Opel-derived engine was 80-grit coarse, but compared to much of the competition, the Aveo was a decent road-tripper.

Chevrolet Aveo Competition

See, the rest of the subcompact segment in 2004 didn’t do much to stir the imaginations of Americans. The Hyundai Accent was cheap and nasty, and so was the Kia Rio. The Toyota Echo was great, but it was shunned for being weird, and it was much the same deal with the Scion xA and the more expensive, more refined Suzuki Aerio. For people on a budget whose tastes were as bland as grits, the American subcompact car market in 2003 ticked no boxes other than basic transportation.

In that context, it makes sense how the Aveo caught on. Sure, it was cheap and slightly nasty, but it was first and foremost cheap. Owning a used car is a luxury if you can’t afford breakdowns, so it wasn’t uncommon to see Aveos here, there, and everywhere. For a few years, the Chevrolet Aveo was alright. That would all change very quickly, though.

Aging Un-Gracefully

2009 Chevrolet Aveo 1

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Just two model years after the introduction of the Aveo, the Toyota Echo, Hyundai Accent, and Kia Rio all got replacements. Surprisingly, all three of were better than the Aveo, with the Accent and Rio demonstrating that Korean car brand trend of taking a quantum leap forward instead of simply evolving a model. Honda then came along with the brilliant Fit for 2007, and Suzuki brought out the phenomenal yet misunderstood SX4, cementing the Aveo’s status at the bottom of the subcompact car barrel.

So what’s GM to do? It’s 2007, the Aveo hasn’t yet completed a typical model cycle, but the competition was creaming this entry-level car from all fronts. That’s right, keep it on-sale unchanged. It took another year or two for the Aveo to reach facelift time, but at least it was an extensive update. In addition to the customary new bumpers and lights, GM changed the front fenders, hood, and a huge chunk of the dashboard. Seriously, just look at this comparison between the pre-facelift dashboard and the facelifted model’s dashboard.

Chevrolet Aveo Dashboards

I don’t think I need to label which one’s the early dashboard and which one’s the late one. If you’re still wondering though, the facelifted model’s dashboard is the one with veneers from the Roger B. Smith collection. Even though the updates did a lot to make the Aveo feel nicer, they weren’t extensive enough to catch the competition. The Toyota Yaris still got better fuel mileage, the Honda Fit was better in every way, and Ford was starting to drop hints that the Fiesta might make it to America. There just wasn’t much appeal to the Aveo at this point, nor was there much safety if you crashed one. In Euro NCAP frontal crash testing, the facelifted T250 Aveo scored just two stars. Watch for yourself:

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Well, that’s a lot of deformation. It would make sense if Chevrolet killed the Aveo quickly after its facelift, but we’re talking about a company going through serious financial hardship. For one reason or another, the Aveo soldiered on through the 2011 model year. This means that Americans could buy an Aveo and a Mazda 2 at the same time, and it’s plain to see which was the better car. GM followed up the Aveo with the Chevrolet Sonic, and it was so good that everyone just forgot about the Aveo’s existence.

Vindicated

Chevrolet Aveo 2

Now that the dust has settled, I reckon the world was a little bit too harsh toward the Aveo. There’s a huge difference between a car being flat-out bad and being just subpar. In 2004, for the money, the Chevrolet Aveo was fine. If that sounds crazy, I’d like you tell me that you’d rather drive a 2004 Accent than an Aveo with a straight face. It’s difficult, right?

I’d actually reckon that its biggest problem was timing. Perhaps the Aveo was born too slow? If it had come out in 2002 and run a typical five-year model cycle, it likely would’ve been more respected. Likewise, if GM wasn’t in dire financial straits by 2008, a full replacement to the T200 Aveo may have prevented a backsliding reputation. Consider this a lesson: If a car will be left to languish on the vine, it better be excellent. Competition moves quickly, and what’s perfectly fine now might be unacceptable in five years. So, here’s to the Aveo. Indisputably one of the cars of all time, and the first GM product we’ve showcased that’s both a hit and a miss at the same time. How’s that for a legacy?

(Photo credits: Chevrolet, Geo, Italdesign, Hyundai, Kia, Toyota, Scion, Suzuki)

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Jack Beckman
Jack Beckman
1 year ago

Drove one of these (a rental) over 500 miles on a road trip. Sorry, it was crap. Barely able to get up a hill with two adults and luggage – it needed to be floored. It almost needed to be floored to stay at 70 on the highway. It was also cramped, and I’m not that tall (5′ 11″).

Boxing Pistons
Boxing Pistons
1 year ago

It just goes to show that cheap cars are tough to judge, especially as they age. People don’t buy them new by choice, so they are maligned from the get-go. They are “good enough” by design and age rapidly. Even if they were fine back when they were built, people cannot imagine a case for them comparing them to newer stuff. Their only saving grace is reliability.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
1 year ago

Only worked on one once. When I jacked it up to change front brakes, the top of the strut rattled around. This was around 30k miles. Alarmed, I started checking around. Turns out this was normal.

I like shitboxes I’ve driven them all my life. That Aveo was deeply disappointing. It drove worse than the 10yo neglected Justy with the cvt on the way out my buddy had. The only redeeming quality that particular pile had was that it made money for the owner what with 2 major wrecks and the final totaled in a parking lot

BolognaBurrito
BolognaBurrito
1 year ago

Back in like 2010 or 2011, the Director of Procurement had an ’04 Aveo in that horrid orange (ok, it’s not a bad color, but it was horrible on that car). This lady made great money, but simply did not give two shits about vehicles. She beat the ever living piss out of it; loading it up with dogs, never washing it, sliding into curbs during winter. Besides damage from accidents/fender benders, the thing never left her stranded. Last I heard she sold it once it got to 10 years old and something like 250k miles. It was an utter piece of shit, but it sold itself as that.

Tommy Helios
Tommy Helios
1 year ago

Finally! I get to tell my aveo story, apologies if this gets long.
My now wife was doing her dissertation on a landslide in Utah near cedar city. We booked flights to Vegas and rented the cheapest car we could.
We were broke college kids so we did not have the ability to upgrade and were couchsurfing the whole stay. When we got to the rental checkout counter we saw our steed for two weeks: a second gen banana yellow aveo with beige interior and an auto. I was pissed, and begged for a sonata but no dice so we threw our bags in and set off for Utah.
It was terrible. The engine was underpowered, any hill on the highway meant turning off overdrive or it would bounce between gears trying and failing to keep speed going up a grade. It wallowed through turns and had awful nvh.
Once we made it to cedar city things weren’t much better. We were taking this car to an actual landslide. The first few days we parked off the side and hiked a half mile uphill or hitched rides with the repair crew in their 4×4 quad cab 250s. But one day they were late so and I had ran out of fucks to give so I threw the aveo in low gear and romped on the gas. To my absolute surprise we not only made it up the landslide but did so rather well. This was loose rock and dirt with deep groves and holes that a bulldozer had pushed up once. I was at best used to driving oil and gas roads in a truck so not exactly an offroader. This pile of turds had impressed me.
The next day we had to check out the other side of the landslide which meant a trip 4 hours around the mountain to open roads in a popular ski area, and oh Lord did we stick out among the BMWs and jags. We got to the point where the road was blocked and covered in a decent 6″-12″ of snow, but there were snowmobile tracks so again, being out of fucks I sent it. We made it about 3 miles before the tracks veered off and it was no longer safe to continue.
We also decided to have some adult activities in the car since we were couchsurfing and why not, it was a great view, so another plus for the aveo. We were still 3 miles from the landslide so we gave up went back and hiked it instead. But that shitty car made it up the landslide a few more times before we left. It was caked in mud so I did do a quick detail before we turned it back in to the rental agency.
In conclusion, the aveo sucks. But if you have no choice and no fucks to give it can do more than you expect.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
1 year ago
Reply to  Tommy Helios

One detail in your story suggests you were not, in fact, completely out of fucks to give.

Tommy Helios
Tommy Helios
1 year ago

Lmao, well played.

Michael Hess
Michael Hess
1 year ago

Test drive one for funzies, one of only two cars I’ve driven that literally terrified me. Then a friend bought one, and I pled for her to get rid of it asap, she’d paid 23k for it!!!

This pile of smoking crap has not one redeeming value.

Here4thecars
Here4thecars
1 year ago

I rented an Aveo once and drove it to a gig in Tahoe, in the snow. It was a white-knuckle experience, but the little Aveo got me there and back. It didn’t get stuck in the snow, and it had enough power to get over the Sierra in winter. I wouldn’t ever want to own one, but sometimes all you need is some cheap wheels.

Last edited 1 year ago by Here4thecars
Aaron Neilly
Aaron Neilly
1 year ago

I was unlucky enough to work as a GM tech.

Oh wait, that wasn’t the full thought.

I was unlucky enough to work as a GM tech when these little shitheaps were still being sold, somehow with a warranty. They had zero redeeming qualities. And somehow they managed to make a tiny little car with narrow tires that was terrible in the snow. I always said I wanted to buy a cheap one just to beat to death with a baseball bat, but they just vanished off of the roads here when they were 5 or 6 years old.

GM has made some pretty terrible cars over the years, but the rebadged Daewoos of this era were some of the worst.

B3n
B3n
1 year ago

Despite their negative reputation, they are roaches of the automotive world. These are still being made by AvtoZAZ and sold in a few *istan countries.

Phantom Pedal Syndrome
Phantom Pedal Syndrome
1 year ago

“Indisputably one of the cars of all time”
Hahaha! That’s a damn good line to finish off your well argued take on the Aveo.
Great article TH.

Robot Turds
Robot Turds
1 year ago

No no no no no. I had the displeasure of renting one of these on a trip in Colorado. The car was already falling apart with just 300 miles when we got it from the airport. A reflector inside the door fell off onto the parking lot. It was fucking slow, could not keep up with freeway traffic and got surprisingly bad fuel economy. I cannot think of one single redeeming thing about it.

DDayJ
DDayJ
1 year ago

I had one as a rental once. Not only is it a miss, it was a swinging miss followed by a passed ball by the catcher.

JDE
JDE
1 year ago

I recall the first Aveo’s either being such low profit or completely unsellable enough that Chevrolet offered them free with a New Silverado purchase. seemed like a sweet deal actually as the price of gas had hit a pretty big high around that time and it allowed you to commute in the crap box and enjoy your country Cadillac for the truck stuff.

They did not really advertise this as being a rebate switch, so I imagine a few people ended up with these cars and either daily’d them to work or gave them to a kid in high school. But I imagine like the Timing belt maintenance required on the Geo Metro Motors, maintenance was probably mostly ignored. so you kind of have to wonder if any bad reputations were more because of bad owners, or if they were truly just bad cars. The world may never know.

LactoseTheIntolerant
LactoseTheIntolerant
1 year ago

I owned an Aveo!

I had a 2004 Ford Ranger. She came in with a 2005 Oldsmobile Alero. The problem was that I maintained the Ranger, but she didn’t do any maintenance on the Alero. After $3,000ish spent on the Alero (that’s value was only $6,500), only for the electronics to go out the 3rd time. We traded it in on a 2007 Chevy Aveo LS, with the optional 15″ rims in bright yellow and rolled in the amount she owed on the new car.

Honestly, I wish we would have bought the Honda Fit, but our financial situation wasn’t great. Everyone of them was selling for $11,500 at the time, while our lowly Aveo was $8,200 and a year old, thus keeping the note to $9,500 after digging up $700 to put down.

For the time, it was a good car. Oil changes and tires were only thing that it needed while we were together. Those dumb 15″ “sport” rims meant tires went from $220 a set to $450 a set. There was more ground noise through the car, but it is a cheap-o econo box. Calculated gas mileage was better than the sticker.

We did rent an Aveo on a trip in Florida; that car was awful at 25,000 miles. The front struts were shot and the tires were worn so it drove like it had wooden wagon wheels under it. Our yellow one never had this issue, even with more miles. Rental cars take a beating.

I know my ex drove the car for years afterwards. I assume she skipped the maintenance, and it met its demise…

Last edited 1 year ago by LactoseTheIntolerant
Jason Roth
Jason Roth
1 year ago

Consider this a lesson: If a car will be left to languish on the vine, it better be excellent. Competition moves quickly, and what’s perfectly fine now might be unacceptable in five years.

This rhymes with the Saturn story: the original SL was, if not clearly better than the contemporary Civic and Sentra, certainly better on some dimensions and clearly worse on very few. The Civic got a fresh model a year later, but the Saturn was still competitive. But the car languished: it got a new (IMO uglier) body after 5 years, but the interior and mechanicals were all but unchanged*. In 1999, the SL2 was functionally identical to the one that first rolled off the line in 1990. Meanwhile, the Civic went from selling the 4th gen in ’91 to the 6th gen in ’96—it even got a facelift for ’99 (although the ’96-’98 models for me are among the best-looking Civics ever; I hate those goggle-eyed later ones). Even if the SL2 had been far and away the best car in its segment when introduced, it would have still been trailing by the end of its run. As it was, it was basically running on the dealer rep by halfway through its run.

*mechanicals were IIRC identical; I think the dash got a refresh, but the rest of the interior was the same

OptionXIII
OptionXIII
1 year ago

Enthusiasts have this terrible habit of evaluating the merit of a car by their impression of what it represents and the people that drive it today, not what it was when new. It’s annoying at best and completely obnoxious at worst. Some examples:

Dodge Neons were fantastically well liked cars in the 90’s. They were great performers compared to the competition, and fun to drive. Comments about them now are just thinly veiled classism about people that have to drive 20 year old domestic economy cars.

Jeep SJ Grand Wagoneers were not sold to people doing ridiculous off road builds, it was a well heeled persons comfy 4wd station wagon. Todays enthusiasts expected the revival to be the logical next build for the dude they follow on insta that LS swapped and lifted theirs to go take on Moab in retro style. Same for the XJ – most owners were normal people using them as commuters.

EXL500
EXL500
1 year ago
Reply to  OptionXIII

I rented many first gen Neons, and absolutely loved them. I still look for them today.

Lokki
Lokki
1 year ago
Reply to  OptionXIII

Dodge Neons were fantastically well liked cars in the 90’s. They were great performers compared to the competition, and fun to drive. Comments about them now are just thinly veiled classism about people that have to drive 20 year old domestic economy cars.

Yup – classism -totally! Didn’t have a damn thing to do with their notorious head gasket problems….

https://www.carproblemzoo.com/dodge/neon/blown-head-gasket-problems.php

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