Click above for high-res image gallery of the 2009 Chevy Aveo 5

Until the new Chevy Spark here in 2011, the entry point for getting into the General Motors product line-up remains the Chevy Aveo. The Korean-built Aveo is available in two forms, a four-door sedan and five-door hatch. The hatchback is dubbed the Aveo 5, an example of which spent some time in the AutoblogGreen Garage during the week following the Detroit Auto Show. This is the first opportunity we've had to sample the Aveo and it turned out to be something of a mixed bag.

The Aveo 5 is the smallest model in the current North American GM lineup and fits into the sub-compact B-Segment. Dimensionally the Aveo slots in between the Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit and almost matches the Scion xD. Until the Ford Fiesta arrives late this year, the Fit is generally considered the overachiever in this class. Find out how the Aveo 5 stacks up against the Fit after the jump.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

The 2009 Honda Fit exceeds the Aveo every dimension, most notably overall length where it stretches 7.3 inches longer bumper to bumper. All other exterior dimensions are different between the two by less than an inch. The most significant differences on the inside are shoulder room, where the Aveo has an advantage of about an inch, and rear head room, where the Fit has 1.4 inches of extra clearance.

The Aveo has been with us for several years and received a visual update for 2009, ostensibly to make it look more like other contemporary Chevrolets with its dual-port grille design. Unfortunately, GM designers have taken what appears to be the largest iteration of this grille design and grafted it onto their smallest body. The result is best described by the old cliché that it fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.

When approached from the rear, the effect is not quite so visually jarring, although that angle falls more toward the bland side of the equation. The test car we had was equipped with several options in addition to the top 2LT trim level. $350 for 15-inch alloy wheels is definitely a worthwhile expenditure, but $375 for "leatherette" seats would be better spent elsewhere.

Many automakers are now offering synthetic seat coverings that do a remarkably accurate job of mimicking genuine animal hides, including the leatherette used by Volkswagen in the Jetta. The material in the Aveo is more akin to what you might find in a mid-1970s Pinto when the stuff was still called vinyl. It didn't help that temperatures in southeast Michigan dropped from the mid-20s to near zero on the day we received the Aveo, and these seats took quite a while to warm up. Even worse, the seats are just not comfortable. The contour of the seat backs provide little back support and the lower cushions are too short.

Things are more on par with the competition elsewhere inside. The dashboard is all hard plastic, but the textures are appealing. There are no visible rough edges, everything seams tightly fastened together and the shapes are clean and functional. The center stack contains the standard GM radio found in most other mainstream non-navigation-equipped models with the standard three knob HVAC controls below.

Redundant audio control buttons can be found on the left side of the steering wheel hub with cruise control switches on the right, while strips of aluminum-looking trim span the dashboard and door panels. It's not a luxury car, but it's not a horrible place to spend time, aside from the seats of course.

Volume is reasonable in the back, although the taller Fit definitely has an advantage for adult size passengers. As usual, there are three seat-belts, but unless your friends are very slim, two is the practical limit. In spite of the Aveo's shorter overall length, it's clear that engineers have dedicated a comparable amount of interior space to passengers. Where the Aveo really loses out is cargo volume. The Fit has an enormous 20.6 cubic feet behind the rear seat-backs. That shrinks to a mere 7.1 cu.ft. in the Aveo 5, which is enough for a few bags of groceries, but that's about it.

Under the hood, the Aveo has a 1.6L four cylinder with 117 hp and 106 lb-ft of torque. That's 10 hp less than the Honda and equal peak torque, but the Aveo's torque peaks 1,000 rpm lower than the Honda engine at 3,800 rpm. In a small engine that has limited torque to begin with, fattening the lower end of the curve definitely helps drivability.

For now the Aveo's automatic transmission only has four forward gears, one less than the Honda unit. It doesn't seem to impact performance much and the shifts are smooth. Unlike the Fit Sport, the Aveo doesn't offer paddle shifters, but it doesn't really need them.

The biggest subjective difference between the Aveo and Fit powertrains is the refinement of the engines. The Aveo engine is louder than the Fit across the rev range. The differences are particularly apparent at idle where the Aveo engine vibrates noticeably. The Fit, meanwhile, is so smooth at idle that you can barely detect it's running.

The Aveo 5 also lacks refinement in general driving. On the highway, wind noise around the mirrors and A-pillars is more intrusive and more road noise permeates the body structure. The structure does seem solid enough and there are no noticeable rattles, even when driving over some particularly nasty surfaces. The steering feel is somewhat dead on center but tightens as cornering forces build. But the Fit is particularly impressive in this respect and the Aveo really can't compete.

With temperatures dipping as low as -16F and plenty of snowfall during our week with the Aveo 5, there was no real opportunity to test its handling dynamics, so we'll leave that aspect aside for now. The anti-lock brakes did get a workout, but the absence of available traction control was disappointing.

Certainly not disappointing was the Aveo's fuel economy. Given the frigid temperatures during our test, we expected somewhat disappointing fuel consumption numbers. When we topped off the tank, the mileage worked out to 36 mpg. That tops the 33 mpg we achieved in the new Fit last fall, as well as the official EPA numbers. The Fed's rate the automatic transmission Aveo 5 at 25 mpg city and 34 mpg highway.

Aside from the dubious styling of the Aveo 5, its biggest flaw may well be the price tag. The manual transmission 2LT Aveo stickers at $15,365. With the installed options and delivery charges, the bottom line on our tester came to an astounding $17,610. That's a bit steep for a subcompact, especially compared to the similarly priced Fit Sport. On the other hand, you can probably get some decent deals on an Aveo right now. Just make sure to approach it from behind.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

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