Raymond D. Young / Raymond D. Young | September 18, 2006 00:00
A very economical optionIn this age of fuel economy awareness, naturally it's the hatchbacks that suggest frugality. But here in the Philippines, it's still the sedans that the motoring public turns to if the abovementioned is of primary concern. That's where the battle is now; popular marques are staging their proven pawns against each other in the quest for the most economical of ‘em all. Sure, they have hatchback offerings, which, ironically, ride on the same platform of the sedans they're putting their stakes in. Whereas hatchbacks should command a much lower price due to the absence of a trunk, in our beloved country they are not as such, and instead, priced way above economical reason, thereby creating an unnecessary niche market.
Realizing this gap, General Motors decided to fill it in by bringing in the Chevrolet Aveo, its world compact car. Possessing Italian looks with a potent 1.5 liter engine, it managed to attract a sizeable amount of patrons. But then, they decided to narrow the gap further, which gave way to the introduction of a more economical, entry-level 1.2 liter Aveo.
On the outside, its exterior fascia is almost bordering to timeless, despite the design being at least three years old. That's one virtue Italian-designed cars possess. In fact, no one said that Ferraris and other Italian cars grow old. The new one-piece headlight and turn signal assembly is a refreshing upgrade to the already sleek front end. All other sides of the car remain unchanged.
Inside, the Aveo 1.2 is true to the entry level, base model tradition. Those who are searching for power amenities will be hard pressed to find for one, as there is none, well maybe except for the power-assisted steering. All controls such as windows, mirrors, and locks, are manually operated, and locks do not possess central locking capability. Seats, on the other hand, are not entry level in trim as they are sporty in design and offers great lumbar support. An MP3 capable (but not iPod ready) head unit in silver trim supplies tunes.
Further discussion about the new Aveo won't be complete without touching its engine. For those who religiously followed its anthology know very well that the initially-offered engine is a 1.5 liter four-banger. True, this engine gives ample torque and is more befitting to be placed in the Aveo body, but this it does at the expense of fuel economy. The new 1.2 liter engine pledges to dispel fuel consumption woes. With a new 16-valve DOHC design, it has decent power and torque figures (72 ps and 104 Nm, respectively) even without the aid of variable valve timing technology. The new engine is then paired to a 5-speed manual transmission.
Driving the Aveo 1.2 around town and on nearby places was a pleasant experience in entry level motoring. Despite being a base model, nothing in its ride suggests that it is, except for the giveaway clue of manual window risers. It will also trick one to thinking that it doesn't have the conveniences of a remote hatch release and fuel door opener, while in fact it has one. NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) figures are excellent for a car of this class; interior noise is very quiet up to the point that engine sound is muffled to a hush except during high engine speeds. Steering likewise proved to be another positive point. As it's inherent in a small car to be agile and nimble, the power steering amplifies it even more but not to the point that the steering wheel is too light and uncommunicative. Braking likewise is good, predictable, and easy to modulate as well, giving excellent feedback and not soggy to step on. The gear ratios of the 5-speed manual transmission are well-selected, well-spaced, and encourages one to shift early, say, at about 1,500 rpm. Given the fact that the engine is small, the first and second gears obviously extract every torque available from the engine, whereas the remaining gears are for cruising.
If one thinks that it couldn't conquer slopes due to its puny engine size, think again. This writer was able to bring it up to the hills of Antipolo and Tagaytay and Antipolo without unnecessary engine strain. What's required as extra, however, is a more attentive ear to the engine's note (as the car does not have a tachometer to peer at) and a little more care in selecting the appropriate gears, short of rowing through all of them. When driven appropriately, the base model Aveo doesn't feel like a 1.2 liter; its performance is close to the 1.3 liter models out there.
The Aveo's suspension, on the other hand, is composed of traditional struts up front and torsion beams at the rear. The default behavior of this setup is taut bordering to unforgiving, but this is standard issue on small cars as suspension travel is limited because of space constraints. During spirited driving, however, it is overall stable, albeit slight body roll is evident.
An article about an economy car won't be complete without noting down fuel consumption figures. This writer's test drive stint with the Aveo was composed of mixed driving duties (about 45% city, 55% highway) with occasional sprints and uphill climbs. Air-conditioning was always on. With these parameters, the car returned a fuel consumption estimate of 9 km/l. The number may look low, but considering the vehicle's mileage of less than a thousand kilometers, the consumption will definitely improve once the recommended break-in period of 5,000 km is reached.
The Aveo, more than ever, deserves a second look from the prying eyes of everyone from the style-conscious ones to the frugal-mentalists.