The Greatest Small Car GM ever made – 2012 Chevrolet Aveo (Sonic) in review

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DSCF9782 300x225 The Greatest Small Car GM ever made – 2012 Chevrolet Aveo (Sonic) in reviewAre you a young car buyer? Do you want a funky looking car with plenty of personality? Did you just get your license? Do you want to lose your license in record time? If you said yes to the above, what you need is the new 2012 Chevrolet Aveo.

The original Aveo was not a great car, although it was designed by Ital Design under GM Daewoo’s watch the car was relentlessly mocked by the US Automotive media but it did seem to gain some traction in Europe as an economy car and was of course loved in China and was one of the first big selling Chevrolets. When the Aveo took off in China GM realized that they had a potential winner on their hands with the Aveo nameplate, in 2005 they introduced a face lifted version of the original that was designed in cooperation with GM’s PATAC in Shanghai. The second generation model was unveiled at the 2010 Paris Motor Show, the Aveo RS concept stole the show – 19inch wheels and a 1.4T engine with 138bhp on tap and a menacing face to match.

The last generation Aveo was hardly exciting, it was a basic traffic tool to take you from A to B at the cheapest price possible before you had to consider buying something from a Malaysian or Chinese brand, the latest Aveo throws that idea on its head. Sadly in the US the Aveo nameplate has been so damaged that the name has been dropped in favour of Sonic, slightly strange sounding but still a good name. We received the top specification 1.6L (producing 121bhp or 89kw/6000rpm and 155Nm/4000rpm) with a six speed automatic gearbox, the Chinese market also has a 1.4L but does not yet have a 1.4 Turbo option, hopefully in the future such an engine will be introduced.

DSCF9811 300x225 The Greatest Small Car GM ever made – 2012 Chevrolet Aveo (Sonic) in reviewUsually car reviews go in fairly concrete order, first there is a bit of a background on the car, then it’s the design, then it’s the drive, then a conclusion. We’re going to skip that to tell you what you want to know – This car flies! There is no mistake about it, the Aveo is aimed at the youth market, but with such good acceleration and excellent handling ability, we think that this car is the worst thing a young car buyer could purchase – six months from ownership they won’t be able to drive it as they’ll have a suspended license or likely sitting in jail awaiting a court appearance. Somewhere at GM Korea where the Aveo was designed there is a voodoo priest, or a magician, or some sort of wizard who has managed to turn one of GM’s worst small cars into one of the markets best. Driving from Shanghai to Suzhou we were able to cruise past Audi A6’s, weave in and out of Mercedes S-Class and other luxury cars as if they were standing still, cornering was a pleasure as the Aveo felt planted to the floor – almost as if it was on rails with minimal body role. Chinese motorway signs may indicate a limit of 120kph, but in the real world this is just a suggestion, the majority of traffic sits at 130kph and higher but the 1.6L Aveo had no qualms keeping up. I mentioned that I was picking up a new Aveo to one of my friends, who just happens to be a well known blogger and race car driver in China, he dismissed the Aveo’s motorway ability by telling me to prepare a newspaper and a cup of tea if I planned to take it faster than 100kph, real world evidence seems to point to the fact that my friend is indeed a buffoon.

DSCF9800 300x225 The Greatest Small Car GM ever made – 2012 Chevrolet Aveo (Sonic) in reviewDriving around town is a pleasure as well, as many a China driver knows, you may be the first in line at a traffic light but as soon as the light goes green you will have at least five cars ahead of you. Not in the Aveo. It may take 11 seconds to hit 100kph, but it seems very efficient at hitting 60kph. Push the gearbox into manual mode and you can have control of the gears yourself thanks to a small switch at the top of the gearstick that allows you to move up and down the gears as you wish, slip it back into automatic mode and you can get back to a lazier style of driving, and hopefully slow down too. Six gears may sound like one too many for a small engine, but the 6th is very useful for motorway runs with it dropping the revs down to gasoline sipping range.

The exterior design may not be to everyone’s liking, but seeing as every small car in the past decade has been rather feminine, the introduction of more masculine designed cars shows that GM are hoping to get more men behind the wheels of smaller cars. On the inside the design just keeps getting better, the drivers pod seems a little confusing at first but does a great job of displaying everything you need to know in a non-traditional way. Plastic quality is top notch and it seems that the wide dashboard is trying to rival America’s biggest aircraft carriers in terms of deck space, the Aveo is tries very hard to make you think you are in a much bigger car. Obviously having such a big dash space sacrifices have to be made elsewhere and it appears that the rear seats were the victims. Leg space for an adult seems to be a little cramped, but there is no reason why you couldn’t comfortably fit 4 adults into the car. Trunk space is ample and will take a few bags of grocery shopping, or you can fold the seats flat in a 60/40 way to gain more space.
The Aveo we tested came with GM’s OnStar service which seems to be a very good but simple navigation system. Admittedly, it was the first time that I had personally used it we did run into some small problems, but once you get used to the services style I am confident that it could be of use.

Although we clearly love the Aveo, it does have some shortcomings. Entering the car at night and trying to find the ignition slot is a pain, other car models have a light behind the ignition slot that makes it easier to see in the dark, or they have dumped the ignition altogether in favour of a keyless start systems. The Aveo is also lacking parking sensors, which is a little unusual for a top spec car. I did actually reverse the car into a small awkwardly placed wall that was all but invisible from the rear view and side mirrors. Sorry about that, GM. Clearly we have become spoilt from the endless driver aids that other cars offer, reversing sensors and parking cameras have become the norm elsewhere, so why not on the Aveo?

When the Aveo hits other world markets in the next few months it is likely to come with a different specification and will be priced differently to the Chinese market, the one we had came to 111,800rmb or roughly $17,800USD. The Aveo is certainly a little head turner and over our time with the Aveo we were asked several times as to what car it was, and once when parking up at a shopping mall a Fiesta driving couple parked alongside and asked what the car was, the young lady then said “We should have bought this!”.

About the author  ⁄ Ash

Ash came to China at 18 and never looked back, a decade later he is still here. After a 4 year stint in a Chinese University where he gained a double BA in Chinese and International Trade he worked for a myriad of different companies in the Chinese Auto industry before heading back to school to get an MBA with a focus in marketing.

8 Comments

  • Justinex
    August 5, 2011

    Like most newer cars, the front bumpers are inadequate. They’re too vulnerable in city life. Idealy city cars need big bumpers survive all the parking hazards out there.

  • Gerald
    August 8, 2011

    Just noticed the reported fuel economy (10.5L/km!) in the photo of the gauges (DSCF9784.jpg), it seems you really were having a good time with this car!

    How does the new Aveo compare, size-wise, to the Fiesta? From the photos, it appears to be similar.

  • CCT
    August 8, 2011

    Thanks for pointing that out. I did actually baby it back to GM and got it down to 6.8L, I dont think it is very accurate and probably takes an average over a certain distance rather than an actual real world figure.

  • Gerald
    August 8, 2011

    6.8L is quite good considering the engine displacement, the 6-speed auto must help a lot too.

  • CCT
    August 8, 2011

    Not really, I would have thought it would have been able to get down to 6.0L at least! The six speed comes in handy at higher speeds when you want to drop it down to 1500rpm whilst cruising at 110kph.

  • Gerald
    August 10, 2011

    1500rpm! My Fiesta runs at 2800 rpm at 100km/h in top gear.

  • CCT
    September 26, 2011

    It seems that the Aveo is not that popular elsewhere: http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/09/review-2012-chevrolet-sonic/

  • Hugo90
    September 28, 2011

    This car should do better in the USA as they will be the only small car made locally. That is important to many buyers and they will surely use it in their advertising.

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