Chevy Aveo LT Review

Scroll to bottom of review for update.

TireKicker Phrase I Never Expected To Write #1:

"The Chevy Aveo is a good car. It's worth a look, a test drive and possibly a place in your driveway or garage."

If they gave a "Most Improved Player" award to cars, the new Aveo would win it, hands-down.

I'll get to how good the '09 Aveo is in a second, but here's what it had to overcome: Raised on the somewhat snarky automotive writings of David E. Davis, Jr., Jean (Lindamood) Jennings, John Phillips, P.J. O'Rourke and others, I've got a smart-aleck streak in me (okay, it was there before I ever picked up a car magazine).

After testing the first Aveo five years ago, someone asked me what I thought. I broke into song, using my best Harry Belafonte impression (to the tune of The Banana Boat Song [Day-O]):



A-Veo come and me wanna walk home



A-Veo come and me wanna walk home

Is piece of crap Korean car

A-Veo come and me wanna walk home

Is piece of crap Korean car

A-Veo come and me wanna walk home.

There may have been more. I really don't remember. But it was that bad. A bottom-line Daewoo freshly acquired by GM with no time to do anything but slap a couple of Chevy badges on it and ship it to the USA.

Well, time and development are wonderful things. Yes, the Aveo is still small, inexpensive and Korean-built, but now it's Korean as in "keeping up with Hyundai's growth curve".

You either like or don't like the shape of a subcompact hatchback. There's not much room to work with, so most look like the Aveo from the windshield back. Chevy's taken the step of adding what's becoming the family nose (the bold, split grille from the Malibu) to the Aveo...giving it a longer hood and making the entire car look quite a bit more substantial.

Inside, well...somebody's been inside a Volkswagen recently. Better-than decent plastics, the top half of the dash grained like VW, in a tasteful two-tone (the tester was the mid-range 1LT trim level). Every surface attractive to the eye and to the touch.

The $13,595 base price brings with it a year in OnStar's Safe & Sound plan, air conditioning, a rear window defogger, a tilt steering column, front and rear floor mats, and armrest, height and lumbar adjustments for the driver's seat, and a 180-watt premium audio system with six speakers, AM/FM/CD and iPod jack. GM's vehicle fleet folks loaded it from there...$425 for power windows, door locks and remote keyless entry, $925 for a 4-speed automatic transmission, $440 for anti-lock brakes and $250 for cruise control. Total tab: $16,295, including delivery.

That puts it in the reach of some tempting larger alternatives like Honda Civic. But the payoff is at the gas pump: The EPA says 25 city and 34 highway...both believeable figures based on how little the fuel tank needle moved during my week with the car.

Oh, and the safety statistics are impressive too: Five stars for driver and passenger in the frontal crash test, four stars for both in the side crash and rollover tests.

Like everything but the price? The base LS model starts at $12,625. If you can live with rolling up your own windows, locking your own doors, not having a remote and living with four instead of six speakers (and less wattage) for the audio system, you're set...especially if you live someplace where air conditioning isn't a must. If you need air, then it's a dealer-installed option, the price is likely to be at the dealer's discretion, and you're probably dead even or better off stepping up $900 to the 1LT and getting it standard from the factory.

Even without the grim first-gen Aveo to compare it to, the new Aveo is a solid pick for subcompact buyers.

UPDATE: Some mid-year changes have been made and they're not good. First, base price is up for the 1LT...it's now $14,100.

But more troubling is the smell in our second Aveo tester this year. There is a strict no-smoking rule in press vehicles...and like all strict rules...especially aimed at journalists...it occasionally gets ignored. Doesn't happen as much as it used to, really.

But the Aveo smelled like someone smoked a carton of the worst cigarettes on earth and then tried to cover it up with a can of air freshener.

And nothing got rid of it...not even Ozium.

I parked it after a day and a half. Couldn't stand to be in it.

The GM reps took the car in and had someone try to find the problem....was it in the HVAC ducts? In the compressor?


It was in the seats. More accurately...the glue for the seats. When it gets hot...as it does in Phoenix in the summer...it smells like this.

Now, it's never exactly cold in Phoenix...a locked car in sunlight in January can get over 90 degrees inside...and the first car didn't smell like this, so I don't know what's up. Maybe some have it and some don't.

But if you go shopping for an Aveo...spend some time in it before you let the salesman turn on the air, okay?


Ford Focus SES Coupe Review

I began my automotive journalism career 12 years ago this fall by testing a small Ford coupe that impressed me more than I expected. So it's kind of appropriate that this, the 150th TireKicker post (first anniversary is August 24), is also about a small Ford coupe that impressed me more than I expected.

The Ford Focus has been a bit of a disappointment simply because there's a better one being sold in Europe. But there are two bits of good news: We'll be getting the Euro Focus (or something very close to it) in a year or two...and the American version is being constantly improved and refined in the meantime.

The SES I drove had a 2 liter DOHC four, a 5-speed manual that's one of the best I've had from Ford and 17 inch wheels.

Inside, air, SYNC, and auxilary audio jacks are all standard.

Options on the tester included leather heated bucket seats, a moonroof and an upgrade to the audiophile sound system...as well as anti-lock brakes (which really, really should be standard).

Base price: $17.570. As tested: $20.615.

EPA estimates: 24 city/35 highway.

Now in that range, there's a lot of competition (it takes 26 city to make the TireKicker Top Ten Fuel Savers...and a lot of compacts are priced in that $17,000-$20,000 range), but the Focus is now good enough that it's able to run in that crowded pack.


Ford Transit Connect Review

Is this the future of small business vehicles in America?

It is if enough florists, caterers, handymen, plumbers and electricians decide they don't really need full-size pickups and vans.

The Ford Transit Connect has sold 600,000 copies in 58 countries since 2003. Now, Ford brings it to the USA.

Selling points?

A low base price...starting at $20,780.

Fuel economy....EPA estimates are 22 city/25 highway.

Innovative technology....more on which later.

The interior is more Focus than F-150...but it's roomy and especially well put together.

In work vehicles, it's what's in back that counts...and thanks to a low load floor and tall roofline, the Transit Connect has a surprising amount of room for tools of whatever trade you're in.

The innovative tech? In-dash computing which allows internet access, scheduling, invoicing and more....right from the driver's seat with a wireless keyboard. It's a $1,395 option.

Add another $1,220 and you get Tool Link. Put radio frequency tracking tags on your tools and Tool Link keeps track of them. Leave the office or a work site without your full complement of stuff...and you get an alert on the in-dash display before you can drive away...saving the cost of return trips for forgotten items or replacements for things lost.

Ford is even offering a wagon version that seats five (base price $21,135) to sell to consumers who like the cargo space. There's also a strong possibility that these will become the next-gen taxicab as the Crown Victoria ends production.

Ford hosted a Transit Connect event for journalists, dealers and small business owners on Monday (7/13) at Firebird Raceway in Phoenix. And that's where we learned the other selling point: Maneuverability. The Transit Connect handled the slalom course like no E-Series van ever could (except, perhaps with Firebird's next-door neighbor Bob Bondurant at the wheel).

As we took the course, we noticed that one of the group had actually knocked over one...but only one...of the cones. Arizona Driver photographer Randall Bohl actually caught the culprit in the act:

But tinted glass and the driver's side A-pillar conceals the identity of the culprit. That is, until Arizona Driver publisher Joe Sage spent a little time with Photoshop:

The object in mid-air would be ABC15's $4,000 video camera.

Thanks, Joe.

Here's the story as I did it for ABC15:

Toyota FJ Cruiser Review

If this were Jalopnik, the headline above would no doubt be something like "Honky Tonka" (Well, maybe not Jalopnik...their heads tend to be longer and more ironic).

After all, that's what the FJ Cruiser has been for the three years it's been around...a real-life, full-scale Tonka Truck.

But that's about to end. Toyota has said there won't be a next generation FJ...there's no assurance it will live beyond the 2010 model year.

My take is that the FJ got a bad rap. Being a large scale, in-your-face SUV, a lot of people have lumped it into the same genre as Hummers...and they couldn't be more wrong.

The FJ is actually a fairly economical vehicle...with base prices beginning at $23,320 and EPA mileage estimates of 17 city, 21 highway.

It's rugged, fun and (relatively) cheap. If that sounds like what you're after, do yourself the favor of a test drive...and if you like the FJ, get one before they're gone.


Jalopnik's Graverobber Swings For The Bleachers

Jalopnik has a fun regular feature, "Nice Price or Crack Pipe", in which readers debate whether a used vehicle offered for sale (usually on eBay or Craigslist) is worth the asking price.

The contributing writer usually gets a few clever lines in, but Graverobber has outdone himself with today's entry about a 1985 Dodge 600 Convertible with a price tag of $15,000.

And yes, there's a definite P.J. O'Rourke influence at work here.


Car and Driver: Texting While Driving

Not a day goes by that I don't see some fool text messaging at the wheel (and my commute is at 3:30 AM and 12 Noon...imagine the target-rich environment of rush hour).

Anyone with a brain (which apparently doesn't include the above-mentioned multi-taskers) knows it's dangerous.

But how dangerous?

Well, the guys at Car and Driver broke out the instruments and measured texting while driving against driving under the influence of alcohol.

Please, watch this video. And if you have ever texted while driving, don't ever do it again.


Patrick Bedard Retires from Car and Driver

Patrick Bedard just announced (in print, in the August issue of Car and Driver) that he's retiring. August is his last column.


In 41 years at C/D, Bedard could be counted on to tell it straight...even (make that especially) the stuff you didn't want to hear. Like how the automotive air bag is the first "safety device" in history to have a warning label saying that properly used, the device can cause death.

He called BS on a number of things that needed it...shortened yellow light times that started showing up when red light cameras did...incessant and insane attempts at regulation...I'd need a while to fill out the list. Simply put, if it deserved calling out, Bedard did it.

And he knew of what he spoke...not because he was a journalist (see David E. Davis' August column for the best line about journalism in a while), but because he was an engineer. He not only knew about cars...he knew how to (and not to) design and build them.

After 41 years, I can't begrudge Bedard his retirement. But I'll miss him...and coming at a time when C/D appears to be heading to new heights, I'll always wonder how much better it would be had he stuck around.


Toyota Prius Review

Cult cars can be a lot of fun. For one thing, they're instant conversation starters.

And no matter what you say, the 2010 Toyota Prius is a cult car. A big cult, to be sure, but a cult nonetheless...with the faithful believing everyone should drive them and an equally passionate resistance trying to set the English-language record for the number of times the word "smug" can be used in a single sentence.

But back to the conversation starter thing...having just handed the Prius back to Toyota yesterday following a week at the wheel...there are a handful of core questions everyone asks:

How many miles per gallon does it get?

How much money does it cost?

Is it nicer than the last one?

The answers:

51 in the city, 48 on the highway (according to the EPA).

$25,800 base...$30,709 the way the tester came (with moonroof, solar powered air conditioning, voice activated navigation, upgraded audio system, Bluetooth, backup camera, floor mats and security system).

Yes. In fact, here...have a look inside:

Much more upscale than last time around...in fact, Toyota's channeling its Lexus side here.

Oh, yeah...the other big question is "How does it drive?"

Heck with that...I wanna know why it stops.

As in without warning.

20 years ago, Audi suffered through a non-phenomenon called "unintended acceleration"...where owners claimed their sedans were roaring off at full speed while they stood on the brakes (evidence later showed they were, every last one of them, standing on the accelerator).

Well, let's call this "unintended de-celeration". You're driving along when suddenly, the Prius is coasting...the gas pedal does nothing...and you eventually crawl to a stop.

I'll solve the mystery. You probably just made an adjustment to the climate control system (while keeping your eyes on the road like a good driver should) and accidentally pressed the "Park" button.

That's right...for the uninitiated, Priuses (Priii?) don't put Park on the gear shift...it's a separate button...marked with a big "P", above and to the left of the gear shift...and for 2010, it's directly below the climate controls.

From online research, it appears a handful of last-gen Prius owners found this flaw the hard way (at first, you think the car has simply died on you) back around 2005...and Toyota whipped up a software solution so that pressing the Park button in motion above 7 miles per hour would have no effect.

I don't know whether it got overlooked in the new Prius, or if the tester malfunctioned, or what...but after figuring out why it happened by accident, I was able to make it happen multiple times...at 25 miles per hour.

Hey, look...they fixed it once and if it needs fixing again, Toyota will do it. But it does point up the issues raised by gimmicks and complexity. Does the Prius really need a giant function key instead of a legitimate parking gear on the shift lever? The answer, in my view, is no...which is why hybrids that resist the urge to re-invent everything and focus purely on the economy and emissions appeal to me more.