Text: Iñigo S. Roces / Photos: Iñigo S. Roces | posted March 17, 2009 00:00
A litte too rice
These guys loved to soup up their cars, more the outside than the inside. And as such these vehicles were called rice rockets and their owners ricers, owing to the fact that their cars certainly looked like rockets but go so slow they seemed to be powered by rice.
All too often, the favored rice rocket starting point is a hatchback. These small economical cars, since they're so affordable, are often cut up, boosted and be-winged to become quarter mile kings and street race legends with the help of performance parts. Remember that: with the help of performance parts.
Don't for one second belittle these mobiles as they easily number in the thousands. No surprise then that Chevrolet has taken this design direction to help boost sales of the Aveo hatch. Now with the kind of menacing look that ricers lust after, all it needs is a couple of performance parts to start tearing up the streets.
It's come quite some distance from the original Italian-designed body. If you're quite the car aficionado, you'll find some design features borrowed from other popular tuner favorites. The new look now sports an enormous horizontally split radiator grille with a body-colored crossbeam, and the brand logo sitting proudly in the middle. Headlights are now larger, tapering upwards with a blunt end like a Suzuki SX4's. At the base of the windshield sits a little grille borrowed BMW's M line. The tail lights have shed their conservative origins to sport a dominant circle form for the reverse and signal lamps while the brake sits just on top of it. What really completes the look is the optional extras like the aggressive front skirt seemingly pulled from an Evo. It's complemented at the back with a skirt that incorporates a mesh grille at the bottom. Chrome fog light accents and tail pipe finishers add a dash of bling.
Inside, much of the wholesome playground forms have been beefed up to emulate larger sports sedans. The dash is predominantly black and silver, dipping in the center to form the console. Large double dials with red needles are lined with silver accents in the same tuner vein while the gear shift takes the form of a golf ball as a nod to one of the first tuner hatches, the Golf GTI. Modern round aircon vents like these are similar to those of the Audi TT, while optional leather seats add a touch of class to Chevrolet's entry level hatch. Power features are standard with controls for all four windows in the driver's arm rest and side mirror controls just left of the steering wheel. Power locks is also standard but the only way to lock all four is through the fob or by sliding down the driver's lock.
Under the hood is a 1.5 liter SOHC 16 valve 4-cylinder that pumps out 83 horsepower and 94 lb-ft of torque. It's paired with a close ratio 5-speed manual transmission that lets you go through the gears quite quickly. Reverse is engaged by lifting the ring built into the shifter and slotting it into first gear.
Looking to the tuner scene has certainly gotten the Aveo some attention. The trouble is with such a pimped-out look, drivers will naturally want a tricked out engine and here is where the Aveo begins to disappoint. The numbers alone are already cause for concern as the last 1.5 liter to produce less than a hundred horsepower was sold a decade ago. There's hardly any power, barely enough to overcome a multilevel parking ramp and while the short ratio gears do much to disguise it on a straight road, steep inclines reveal the car's weakness. Economy might also suffer as there's hardly any go to move it along.
The suspension is frighteningly soft, not providing much in the way of thrilling handling.
Being a hatch also has its compromises as space, particularly in the trunk, is very limited. The rear seats don't fold entirely flat either, adding some space to the cramped trunk but best used when only really necessary.
To its credit, the tuner façade still provides a lot of clearance over humps and sidewalks. The soft suspension makes for a comfortable ride and Chevy's strength, the insulation, keeps the interior nice and quiet.
All in all, Chevy's formerly conservative hatch will certainly be catching your eye but the dismally weak engine makes it difficult to love. The overboard appearance tweaks are also a little too close to the "rice" stereotype for comfort.
It's a valiant effort but there's a fine line between tasteful and tacky, and unfortunately, that line's already been crossed.