Nice Sensible Commuter Cars With Stick-Shifts: 2008 Kia Rio vs 2006 Chevy Aveo

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Okay, okay! Since David raised such a stink about both of yesterday’s cars being automatics, today we’re looking at a pair of cars from the same basic class, only with three pedals each. But first let’s see which slushbox you hated less:

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Looks like the Plymouth Neon is the winner. That’s “Plymouth,” with a P. And an R and an N and a D and so on, which I guess was the problem.

Now first, let me say that I am in absolute agreement with David (and half the commenters). Small cars especially should have manual transmissions. But while David is still young enough to crawl around under cars in junkyards and then hop in a manual truck and drive home without feeling like he’s been worked over by a Vegas bouncer, I’m old enough to be his… um… cool uncle, and I have the arthritis and stiff knees to prove it. I own three cars, and they’re all manuals, but I can’t guarantee the next one won’t be an automatic.

But then, it won’t be an economy car either, probably. So let’s see if we can take some of the penalty out of the boxes by adding some proper transmissions to the mix.

2008 Kia Rio – $2,200

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.6 liter inline 4, 5 speed manual, FWD

Location: Modesto, CA

Odometer reading: 150,000 miles

Runs/drives? “Great”

The existence of the Kia Rio in the U.S market always puzzled me. The brand already sold the Sephia (that’s the Spectra in the U.S.), a small cheap car, and then decided to import the Rio, an even smaller, cheaper car.

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This second-generation Rio is a true “poverty spec” machine: no air conditioning, no power features, nothing but an engine, some seats, and an aftermarket radio. Even in 2008, this would have been the plainest of plain-Jane cars, appealing only to the the most frugal of car shoppers. To drive a black car without air conditioning in Modesto for 150,000 miles just to save a few bucks speaks of an automotive asceticism bordering on self-loathing. One can’t help but wonder how much sweat is soaked into that cheap upholstery.

[Editor’s Note: I bought my brother’s girlfriend the cheapest car in the U.S. in 2009, the Nissan Versa, and learned while changing the serpentine belt that there was no compressor and that someone had replaced the HVAC controller to make it appear that the car had A/C. It did not. And it was black. My brother’s girlfriend is now in Arkansas sweating bullets because I’m a fool. -DT]

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But it looks like it has been well cared-for, and the seller says it runs and drives well, and the registration is current, which is always a good sign. And as always, less stuff is less stuff to go wrong. This car probably wasn’t worth ten or eleven grand when it was new, to be honest. Is it worth two now? You tell me.

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2006 Chevrolet Aveo – $2,395

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Engine/drivetrain: 1.6 liter inline 4, 5 speed manual, FWD

Location: Seattle, WA

Odometer reading: 186,000 miles

Runs/drives? We assume

The failure of small hatchbacks in America seems to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. We rarely get the good stuff, and when we do, it doesn’t stick around long; witness Ford’s withdrawal of both the Fiesta and the Focus from the US market. Back in 2006, when General Motors was launching the Opel/Vauxhall Corsa D in Europe and the UK – a delightful little car; I drove one from London to Edinburgh and back in 2012 – they saw fit to instead saddle the American market with a study in mediocrity called the Aveo.

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It’s not a bad little car, exactly; it’s just not good. I’ve never owned one, but I have test-driven a couple of them, and honestly barely remember a thing about them. On paper, and in photos, it looks like it should have the right stuff: it’s tiny, has a twin-cam engine and a five-speed stick, and it doesn’t look half bad. But the whole is somehow less than the sum of its parts.

At least it has a tach.

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This Aveo looks all right, but there are some disturbing-looking stains on the door panels. Not sure what that’s about. A few dings and scrapes tell a tale of parking lots past, but the paint looks decent. It does have a lot of miles, but I have heard that these follow the grand GM tradition of running like crap forever. The aftermarket alloy wheels are a nice touch.

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There isn’t a whole lot to recommend either of these beyond having manual gearboxes, but if you don’t want a Corolla that has been to the moon, or a Civic that has been attacked by a Pep Boys accessories aisle, something basic and Korean might just do the trick. I’ll leave it to you all which one is the better choice.


Images: Sellers
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59 Responses

  1. Fun story time: my wife is a geologist and was studying a landslide in bfe Utah, and as broke college kids we could barely afford the cheap flight to Vegas and a rental to get to the site. So we had a yellow with beige interior automatic aveo and we beat the snot out of that car for two weeks. We drove up and down the landslide, just loose gravel and dirt, through full on construction projects where everyone else had contractor spec 2500 pickups and I even managed to get us up the back side of the mountain so we could photograph the other side. Have a few other fun stories about that particular rental but voted aveo because it went above and beyond for off-road capability of a tiny econobox.

  2. AC wins the day, here. I’m in Florida, I’ve driven without AC for the past 10 years, as I turn 30-mumble I’m tired of it.
    I’d probably prefer the Kia overall, though.

    Drop that third option. Folks gotta man up and just accept it.

  3. Aveo. Unless you live somewhere with mild summers, A/C is a must. In the mid-90s, I drove a poverty-spec Ford Ranger with no A/C between Chicago and Arizona 3 times! I would smell Oklahoma about an hour before I saw it. Have you ever watched the sun rise through a haze of aerosolized cow shit? If not, I recommend visiting Oklahoma in the summer.

  4. The Aveo is the superior body style and color (plus, if you drive a maroon Aveo you get to cosplay Bernie Sanders) but the Rio is a full generation more modern from a time where that really counted in Korean cars. Plus, I was caretaker for my mom’s (ice blue, a/c-auto) Rio for a decade so I can vouch for it not being a complete disaster.

  5. Too many people are wimps. Way too soft Back when I was young, AC in cars was not very common. You learned to live with it.

    Besides, AC sucks power, of which small cars have no excess.

  6. Kia looks like a well kept turd. Aveo looks like a poorly kept turd. Granted, not as poorly kept as some of the turds we’ve voted on, but not as well as the Kia.

    I refuse to take the easy way out (3rd option vote), so Kia it is.

  7. It’s almost like those cars were marketed to bodge the CAFE numbers or something and they weren’t actually interested in anyone buying them…

    The Kia definitely looks better, but no A/C is a dealbreaker and little hatch beats little sedan every time.

  8. Wait. So my choice is Kia’s even cheaper answer to the Ford Escort Pony (google it, kids,) or a GM that’s actually a Daewoo which was specifically designed to be sold and licensed into ‘developing markets’ while they were actively going bankrupt?

    I choose walking.

  9. Hard abstain.

    We did get the Aveo in Europe, also. It was originally the Daewoo Kalos, but later changed to also become the Chevy Aveo. I can’t recall the last time I saw one. It might’ve been yesterday. It could’ve been years ago.

    Of the Corsa D; my girlfriend at the time bought a three-door brand new in 2008 (in a metallic, mildly dehydrated pensioner’s urine colour). It spent a lot of the latter half of 2009 back at the dealer with major electrical issues. I also can’t remember the last time I saw one of those, either. In 2010 she got rid of it for a Mitsubishi Colt CZC, which… less said the better, but it speaks to how shit the Corsa was.

  10. I’ve actually test driven both of these, when new, part of my dedication to test drive everything theoretically in my budget because I was bored that summer and didn’t like staying in my apartment.

    The Rio was an entirely acceptable small car that drove extremely okay and had a bit of charm to it.

    The Aveo felt like a worn-out ’80s economy car that was inexplicably sold as new. And squeaked every time it turned left.

    1. My only memory of riding in a co-worker’s Aveo is how loud it was on the interstate. I don’t know that there was a bit a soundproofing in that car. It was hard to have a conversation with him over the road noise and noise of the other vehicles. Also, his A/C was broken. So I guess I’d vote Kia.

  11. Can’t believe I had to take the dead man’s exit and pick neither. I can usually make some kind of chicken salad out of chicken shit, but why are they both Korean Kleenex cars? And not even a (relatively) good Korean car, so to speak?

    There’s a 99 Saturn SL 5spd on Seattle craigslist that would have made a far better choice than a Daewoo Aveo whose only claim to fame is that it somehow made it this far without ending up at pullapart.

    I’ve had Korean cars and I’ve had Saturn SLs. I’ll pick my poison, and it has rings around it. I’d easily choose an SL 1.9L 5spd and deal with the buzzy interior, oil consumption and occasional issues with the plastic gear linkage over the awfulness you’ve bestowed upon us today. There’s no winner here.

      1. Had a 95 SL2 manual for my first car. Took it from 100K to 240K, had 270K when it was totaled by the neighbor I sold it to. Awesome car. It was so light, that DOHC 1.9 was fun when it had 5 speeds you could shift! (I did have to get good at fixing the shift linkage while driving in town)

  12. My sister has a Daewoo Kalos which is a pre-facelift Aveo, with an Opel derived 1.2 four cylinder. We bought it from relatives. I have never seen so much oil sludge like what was under the valve cover. Well, the sludge is still there, because I sure as hell won’t dare dislodge it. The lifters are so clattery, it sounds like a diesel. In true Opel fashion, it leaks oil from all orifices. Despite all this, it never truly broke down. It almost caught on fire once, however.

    1. Brilliant on the Escort Pony!

      I liked that gen’s styling, esp on the GT, but wow the Pony was something else (and was seemingly part of Ford’s then strategy of odd mash-ups with animal names…like the classic Mustang Cobra).

      1. I used to actively buy Escort Ponies, believe it or not. (The Pony origin dated to a stripper Pinto.)
        Why the fuck would I do this to myself?
        Simple: Ford had deleted so fucking much from the car including even sound deadening, that when you removed the back seat and replaced the fronts with Kirkeys, even after adding a full cage, you could not pass SCCA tech without a completely full gas tank and slugs.

        Plus they were so abominably awful to even attempt to drive on a regular basis (didn’t even have rack and pinion, forget power steering) I think the most expensive one I ever bought was $3500, less 10k miles, and less than 1 years of registration on it. It still had the $9,995 window sticker in the glovebox.

    1. Having just traded in my 2010 Mazda 3 5-speed with non-working AC for a 2019 Kia Cadenza with AC *and* ventilated seats, I would take the Aveo (assuming it has working AC).
      I will never go through another Georgia summer without working AC. It was absolutely miserable.

  13. Very easy choice, the Kia. Those things will run longer than your patience to own or drive it.

    I’ve seen the 1.6 in the Aveos grenade so many times, generally out of sheer neglect because they have a timing belt, but they’ve also failed in spectacular ways at 40-60,000 miles too. Just a generally poor engine in a poor vehicle.

  14. I’ve driven a similar model Rio, and test driven a same-year manual Aveo.

    Rio all the way. The Rio is cheap but a decent driving vehicle all-round and more or less reliable. The Aveo is the cheapest, plasticy-est, least reliable vehicle with about the worst feeling manual transmission I’ve ever driven.

  15. You know how a hot tub can seem kinda clean until someone turns the jets on? That’s how I feel about the Aveo, it probably smells pretty bad in there, but the AC will definitely make it worse. I’d rather crack a window in the Kia.

  16. Having driven both cars (not these exact ones, mind you) the Kia, hands down. it was built after Kia started to figure out quality, but its still that basic 4 wheels and a heater that we long for. the Kia will be pretty buzzy on the freeway, due to short gearing, but that short gearing also makes it pretty tossable. its cheap, it knows it, and doesn’t hide it, thats admirable. that daewoo is just miserable. gutless, souless misery. that gearchange isn’t any fun. that motor isn’t pleasant sounding or feeling. the fact that its a hatch might make it more practical for some. knowing someone managed 180k miles in that shitbox just makes me feel ill.

  17. Some fun facts: the Aveo started production in 2002 as the Daewoo Kalos and was facelifted several times until production ended in 2011. The original design is actually penned by Giugiaro.
    I owned one for a while a couple years back, and while it was a penalty box with the feel of a tin can, it was reliable and economical.

  18. I went Kia, only because I know just how utterly terrible that Daewoo Chevrolet thing is. But no A/C in socal? I live in a climate best described as Arctic without the snow and even I couldn’t buy a car without AC.

  19. I currently drive a 2008 Aveo 5 sv bought new. SV stands for “special value”. It was special I suppose, 11k for a brand new car which meant I could afford it and it had a warranty. No ac, crank windows, the only option was a provision to add ac later, which I considered but when I got laid off 3 months after I bought it that went out the window. Not a big deal to me as I’d never owned a car with working ac up to that point anyway. It’s small enough I can reach all 4 locks and window cranks from the drivers seat. It is slow, but that just gives me an excuse to drive the piss out of it and not worry about breaking the speed limit by too much. It has been mostly trouble free save for 2 flex pipes and a minor sticky clutch. I had been considering finding something different soon but with used car prices and fuel the way they currently are I may wait it out a bit. The car still runs well and I don’t feel pressured to buy right now.

  20. Kia. Most of my cars from the 20th century haven’t had AC, and I survived. When I was a kid we used to vacation all around the Southwest in a 1974 Renault 12 station wagon with black vinyl upholstery and no AC, and anything would be better than that. Between these two cars, the Kia is significantly less ugly, and just looks better-maintained. I’ve owned much worse.

  21. I see mention or photo to suggest the Daewoo / Chevy has A/C. I can smell the interior funk just looking at those pictures. … assuming i’m going to kill it in rallycross I’d take the Rio for the extra … 7 HP when new?

  22. Kia wins in a landslide.

    If I were to valet park my Rio and the attendant mistakenly gave me an Aveo, I would complain. If the valet parked my Aveo and gave me a Rio, I would keep my mouth shut and drive away. Advantage: Kia.

    Both are mediocre cars that aren’t fun to drive, but the Kia looks more upscale. You could confuse it for a Jetta or an entry level Japanese luxury car (if you have an eye infection). I’ve always thought the Aveo looks like something less than a “real” car. To me, it is in the same vehicular class as Torch’s Changli, which is a car in the sense that a moped is a motorcycle.

    Incidentally, Kia should have made a luxury option package called the Rio Grande. Or maybe a slightly larger version of the Rio called the Grande. Either way, that was a wasted opportunity.

  23. I would usually pick the hatchback because they are almost always better however this Daewoo in Chevy badge isn’t cutting it. I hate you for making me pick a Kia, something I thought I would never do. Yes, gun to the head, the Kia is the better choice of this sandwich…

  24. I rented an Aveo on a trip years ago. It was the biggest piece of shit and was already falling apart even though it had 150 miles on the clock. The door reflector fell off in the parking lot. It was SLOW and despite being a 4 banger got sort of crappy fuel economy.

    1. Rented one to drive from La Jolla to LA, and I have never been so petrified on an expressway (no power, steering vague to the point of being theoretical), and that includes driving a 3-speed auto 1st generation Suzuki Wagon-R (40hp?) uphill on the Tomei Expressway. When I returned it and complained to the guy at the rental office, he told me small cars are not designed for expressway driving. Strange how they manage it perfectly well everywhere else.

  25. The Kia looks like it was taken care of better, AC or not. At this end of the market, as long as there isn’t terrible rust, that’s really the make-or-break point. Plus, I like the way she dances on the sand.

  26. Unpopular view I’m sure, but for me, a less-obvious strike against the Aveo is actually the aftermarket wheels.

    They seem to make a pure economy car like this worse somehow, like it’s trying (and failing) to be something it’s not at all. At least with the OEM wheels, you’re like “yeah, it’s an economy car, that’s the point”.

    Not saying they’re bad looking by themselves, just that they don’t work.

  27. I’ll take the Kia.
    No A/C no problem where I live. I rarely use mine now. The power it would suck out of that already gutless Aveo would mean I never use it anyway.
    Plus, Aveo, ew.. they always struck me as the car equivalent of a dead beat dad.
    I feel like the second I sat down in it I’d gain 90lbs, a comb over and permanent pit stains. As soon as I turned the key I’d gain two ex wives and children that don’t talk to me anymore.

  28. People forget that the American small cars were just small cars they lost money on but sold to offer something in that class. They really didn’t want to sell a lot because they didn’t want too because lost money. The Korean cars were one of the few vehicles they made so wanted to sell as many as possible. As such the Korean vehicles were designed to be a little bit more desirable so Kia.

  29. I miss cheap cars, maybe 6-7 years ago I picked up a ’97 Altima for just $550, it was a manual everything, no A/C (being in Wisconsin was that was manageable), 5-speed beater car. I feel bad admitting this as I take care of my cars, but I drove that thing for 4 years as a disposable car, only money I put into it was new tires, and gas and oil. It was great to drive and nice not caring if anything happened to it, still ran like a champ when I sold it because it was rusting away too bad.

    These are not cheap beater cars, so I guess I’d take better care of the Kia over an Aveo.

  30. For 3k you can get a first gen honda insight and get 60-70mpg and have a fun time driving it. Mine has close to 300k, original engine/trans, and likely the original battery. I purchased it with a non running IMA system for $3,000 in 2013. Deep discharging/grid charging the IMA pack brought it back to life and it works fine now. AC works. No leaks. 1800lbs. Drives like a CRX.

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