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Road Tests

Chevrolet Aveo 1.2

The old Daewoo Kalos has come a long way; it's now a revamped Chevy Aveo. But don't even think about the posher 1.4 as the little 1.2 version is much more fun


Model: Chevrolet Aveo 1.2
Price: from £7,500 approx. On sale from May
Engine: 1,206cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, 84bhpat 6,000rpm, 84lb ft at 3,800rpm
Transmission: five-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive
Performance: 107mph, 0-60 in 13.0sec, 51.4mpg official average. Carbon dioxide 132g/km

Globalisation. Or, as those who invented the idea would have it, globalization. By all means let's share the Western-world dream with all those less fortunate, but it will be on our terms. Obviously; why shouldn't it be?

If you're American, it seems obvious that Chevrolet should be a global brand. Others might not see it that way, but when the neo-Chevrolets used to be Daewoos then even the greatest cynic of things Stateside can see the advantages of a name-change. That was completed about three years ago, and since then the cars that were Daewoos at the time General Motors rescued the failed Korean company have mostly been replaced.

The most recent such replacement concerns the car you see here. The former Daewoo Kalos supermini became the Chevrolet Kalos in 2005, but in the New World it was always called the Chevrolet Aveo. And now it has had a bit of a remake, with a new nose in Chevrolet's current style, a revised interior and a general tidy-up. Naturally, it is also renamed Aveo, which means the same car finally has the same name everywhere.

Further burying of the Aveo's roots comes with its new 1.2-litre engine and the news that, from July, those destined for the European market will be built at the former FSO factory in Warsaw, which used to make the woeful Fiat-based Polonez . The theme, though, is ports.

Ports? Yes, ports as in entries to channels. The new Chevrolet face has a "dual port" front grille, its sections divided by a horizontal bar bearing a Chevrolet "bow-tie" badge (my bow tie doesn't look anything like it, but then neither are my kidneys shaped like a BMW "double-kidney" grille, as far as I know). And the 1.2-litre engine has "TwinPort" induction.

Oops, I've just confused the branding. This system of closing off one of each cylinder's two inlet ports at low speeds, to raise the speed of incoming air and so fill the cylinders more efficiently, is called TwinPort only in Vauxhalls and Opels. The Chevy now uses this same 16-valve engine, in place of a dozy eight-valver with 12 fewer bhp, but the gas-flow cleverness is described as Port Deactivation, or PDA. So when the salesman tells you the Aveo has PDA, don't expect a built-in personal organiser.

So why might you want an Aveo? Is it cheap, given that it wears the badge of General Motors' blue-collar, no-nonsense, global value brand? Prices will be announced when UK sales start next month, but they're likely to start around £7,500 and rise to about £11,000 for the top-spec Aveo with a 1.4-litre engine and four-speed automatic transmission. That means the cheapest version is indeed temptingly inexpensive next to rivals, especially given the likely perkiness of even the 1.2-litre engine which, at 84bhp, out-powers entry-level rivals. And the 1.4 manages 101bhp, which is quite impressive.

Expect a lively drive, then. But if you do, you'll be disappointed. I began with a manual 1.4 which, it is claimed, can reach 62mph in 12.4 seconds. Yet 23 years ago I ran, for a magazine, a 1.3-litre Vauxhall Astra with 75bhp which accelerated more quickly than that despite being a bigger car. True, cars are heavier today – the Aveo weighs about 100kg more than that old Astra – but a supermini with 101bhp should not be struggling on motorway inclines. And it's not as if the weight is there to help give marvellous crash protection: the Kalos scored a mediocre three stars in the EuroNCAP test and there's nothing to suggest the structurally identical Aveo will perform any better.

All told, the Aveo 1.4 is not an inspiring drive. The engine feels unwilling, the gearchange is clunky, the steering is woolly. At least it rides well over bumps, with the lolloping gait that used to be a French speciality. That many Aveos will be sold in Eastern Europe is why, as roads there tend to be rougher than those to their west.

That's with the exception of the UK, of course, which suggests the Aveo might work well here as we thread our way past the potholes, failed repairs and disintegrating edges.

So I wasn't expecting much from the Aveo 1.2. And that shows how wrong preconceptions can be, because it is much the better car. Obviously it's ultimately slower, but that matters little when the way the pace is delivered is so much more pleasing. The engine responds more crisply to the accelerator, so this Aveo feels perky and friendly.

Finding gears is a more tactile experience, and on the squidgier tyres that went with this lower-trim model's smaller wheels the ride feels yet more old-school French. It's hardly sophisticated but this Aveo has some charm.

And, derived from a Daewoo as it may be, the Aveo does look good. Giugiaro's Italdesign shaped the original Kalos and the update, with big, wrap-around headlights and round inserts in the tail-lights, is convincing. It's a tall supermini with plenty of space, and the new dashboard with its proper built-in stereo system (it used to be an aftermarket dealer add-on) looks modern and sophisticated. The top versions even get automatic air-conditioning, although the lesser models' manual system works perfectly well.

The surfaces are hard and the mouldings are no doubt inexpensive, but the effect is one of tidy functionality rather than poverty. It's a strange fact that with these cheap cars, the cheapest versions are usually the purest and the best, and opting for the posh version usually spoils the cohesion. So it is with the Chevrolet Aveo. A basic Aveo 1.2 is a good-value car with more style and charm than you might expect. Any other version misses the point.


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