Think Chevrolet and you might picture a shark-like Sixties muscle car shuddering under the power of its enormous, thundering V8 engine. A small, value-driven hatchback may not be the first thing that springs to mind then, but that's the direction that Chevy is headed in. A far cry from the cars of yesteryear, the Aveo is the latest of Chevrolet's current models to be fully revamped.
The outgoing Aveo is the company's best-selling car globally, so the newcomer, due on sale in left-hand drive markets in June, has a lot resting on its shoulders. This is no mild facelift either, as the Aveo has been completely redesigned from the ground up, in a bid to up its game and appeal to a younger audience. The new model is more visually striking than its dreary forebear, but it's debatable as to whether this Aveo has what it takes to muscle in on the turf occupied by established rival hatchbacks. The squared-off headlamp areas with circular lights shrouded in black plastic are reminiscent of the none-too-handsome Mitsubishi ASX, and it's a similar affair at the rear. The sharp lines along the sides add a dose of road presence, though, and the larger five-spoke alloy wheels offset the flared wheel arches nicely. Heavy use of black plastic, coupled with those obscure head and tail lights leave beauty very much in the eye of the beholder, though.
The interior elicits an equally lukewarm reaction. It's made up of a mixture of materials, some of which are of better quality than others. The centre console is fabricated from plastic that's pleasantly smooth to the touch, while the rest of the dashboard consists of unpleasant, cheap grey and black plastics that emit a grating sound should you run your fingers across them.
The cabin's saving grace is a logical layout, with three chunky dials to operate the air conditioning on the lower section of the dash and a simple, easy-to-use stereo. However, the speedometer and rev counter are housed in a curious, Eighties-style pod, flanked by two lines of black circles containing the warning lights. Chevrolet claims it is inspired by motorcycle dials (therefore alluding to a sportier image), but the reality is that it appears a little tacky and out of place.
Practicality is a stronger point for the Aveo. It may be a hatchback of modest proportions but leg and headroom for rear passengers is ample considering the size of the car. Front and rear visibility is equally impressive, rendering the baby Chevy easy to manoeuvre and park. The boot can swallow 290 litres with the rear seats upright, which is impressive, but it's not quite as capacious as the 315 litres of the Skoda Fabia, one of the Aveo's chief rivals.
Engines are modest in size and power output. Chevrolet expects the most popular option to be the basic 1.2L petrol, but 1.4L and 1.6L variants will also be offered. A super efficient 1.3L turbodiesel engine is also on the cards, which will be available with a stop-start system for ultra-frugality, though whether that will go on sale in all markets has yet to be confirmed.
It may be the biggest seller but the 86hp 1.2L petrol engine falls short of being the class best. It needs a thorough thrash to get anywhere and lacks any kind of low down pulling power. Drive it hard and the diminutive engine eventually gathers pace, but with nowhere near the kind of clout that most sorted modern engines - petrol or diesel - can muster.
The 1.4L and 1.6L petrol engines sort out the 1.2's woeful lack of punch, with 100 and 115hp respectively. Neither feels particularly quick, though, and they return 5.9 and 6.6L/100km on average, which is a long way from class-topping and is significantly thirstier than the 5.5L/100km of the 1.2.
Regardless of which one you pick, the Aveo's engines are all loud and buzzy because they need to be worked so hard. There's also a lot of noise from the tyres during cornering, so refinement is lacking. On the plus side, the Aveo is quite comfortable, as the soft suspension copes well with bumps and rough surfaces, though the ride can become a little unstable at high speeds. As for the Aveo's handling, it's not what you'd call a thrilling driving experience. The steering is reasonably accurate in the sense that the car goes where you point it, but there's little, if any, feedback through the wheel, along with a noticeable amount of body roll, all of which tallies up to render the Chevy pretty unmemorable.
The five-speed manual gearbox is preferable to the six-speed automatic by a long way, too. Though not a highlight of the car, the manual transmission's action is soft and easy-going, which suits the Aveo well, while the self-shifter is very jerky and seems to change gear with something of a mind of its own.
If the Aveo were cheap enough to drastically undercut its key rivals from Kia, Hyundai and Skoda then it would get a serious recommendation. However, with an estimated starting price of Dh57,500, the harsh reality is that its competitors offer better quality, superior desirability and a more engaging driving experience for similar money. The Aveo represents a step in the right direction for Chevrolet in that it's better than its predecessor, but it needs more than a budget price tag if it's to steal any sales from the Czechs and the South Koreans.