The new Chev Aveo hatch is here, moving the small hatchback styling game forward in bounds and packing a potent 1.6-litre powerplant.
Since the sedan was facelifted as recently as 2006, it's been exempt from any dramatic changes apart from the adoption of the new 77-kW engine.
But the big improvements are most evident on the latest hatchback, making its local debut in five-door form. First shown in production guise at last year's Frankfurt Motor Show, this new Aveo is a stunner.
Sleek wraparound headlamps and a large grille with the signature Chevrolet Bowtie emblazoned on its crossbar are the biggest styling changes at the front of the car.
Incidentally, this striking new face of Chevrolet first seen on the Captiva SUV will adorn a range of new vehicles, including the front end of the new Cruze mid-sized sedan due in South Africa next year.
But back to Aveo, where prominent lines extend from the headlamps along the flanks to the circular tail lamp clusters that are very current. Tight styling also makes the hatchback appear a lot more compact than what it really is. However, the bold new look is compromised by the positioning of the front licence plate that is unfortunately plastered on to the bottom section of the grille.
Room to grow
However, Aveo's interior is spacious, particularly for the two front occupants, and passengers in the rear will also less likely feel shortchanged when it comes to those longer than expected journeys. A high roofline also ensures adequate headroom for taller passengers.
The Aveo may appear compact, but it has a luggage capacity of 220 litres, while, with the rear seats folded down, this swells to 1 189 litres.
Typically Chevrolet, this Aveo is about quality at much as value and the cabin furnishings are a very good mix of mottled and smooth hard plastics that gel well.
This model competes in a crucial market segment where, increasingly, pricing is everything. Considering the base L model costs R112 900, and comes with standard air conditioning, power steering, a driver airbag and ABS braking, it represents great value.
Three trim levels are offered with a choice of five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic with Hold Control on the mid-range LS model. A useful feature when negotiating an incline or steep decline, Hold Control allows the transmission to shift to third and hold the gear to avoiding the annoying hunting of gears.
LS and the range-topping LT models are equipped with dual-stage airbags for both front passengers and all cars come standard with Isofix mountings to increase the safety of younger passengers.
And as is the case with the previous Aveo, there is no price premium for sedan models, and although the two body styles should appeal to different sets of people, a difference in price need not play a deciding role.
The addition of a 16-valve DOHC engine should, though. Replacing the former 1.5-litre, this is a revised version of GM's Ecotec engine (the same one is used in Opel's Astra) and uses multi-port fuel injection and electronic throttle control to produce 77 kW at 5 800 r/min and a peak torque figure of 145 Nm at 3 000 r/min - 15 kW and 17 Nm more than the earlier 1.5-litre unit.
This added capacity coupled with torque that is more readily available makes Aveo instantly more driveable. It does require a good rev to get going, although this could more likely be attributed to power-sapping Reef altitudes. GMSA quotes fuel consumption as 7.3 l/100 km (and a respectable 7.7 for the automatic) from a 45-litre tank.
And while the designated route would have failed dismally in a contest judging SA's best roads, it was a good opportunity for Aveo's independent front suspension using McPherson struts and torsion beam on the rear axle to show us what it could do.
It bravely tackled ruts, potholes and gravel verges and, as a further testament to the car's build integrity, not a squeak or rattle was heard in the cabin.
Power steering is of the rack and pinion type, and while straight line stability on the models driven was great, steering felt unnecessarily heavy at low speeds.
But all in all, the new Aveo hatchback is a gutsy little performer. Although not entirely "all-new" - the windscreen, roof and outer door panels along with the dash and a few more interior bits have been carried across from its predecessor - the latest version continues as a no-nonsense car that goes about its tasks with quiet efficiency.
L - R112 900
LS - R125 900
LS (auto) - R135 900
LT - R144 500
*The sedan is only offered with LS and LT trim levels.