During the last monsoons, vast sections of the spanking Baroda-Ahmedabad Expressway were simply washed away. At that time, the contractors of this showpiece highway waived the toll charges - leading to a dramatic increase in the number of cars using the now free toll road.
But not today. Barring a few cars here and there, the road was pretty empty - sadly, it goes to show that even Rs 61 is too much price for us Indians to pay for a road that saves time, fuel, energy, mental trauma, and of course, lives.
Well, at least I had a clear stretch to hoist the needle of the brand new Chevrolet Aveo 1.6 to well above 160 kph. At these speeds, the latest machine from General Motors India was quite composed, with the engine humming without being too stressed.
In fact, with the rev counter indicating 4,500 revs, keeping it planted at a consistent 150 kph was no effort. Except for the intrusive wind noise, it looked as if it could cruise like this all day, given the road of course.
It better. Because the Aveo is quite an international showpiece for GM, destined for over 120 countries and engineered with inputs from various sections of GM's global network.
And its claim to fame is that Bob Lutz himself sketched and indicated what this world small car from GM should be like. Well, Lutz should be pretty happy with the overall result. Because the Aveo is quite good-looking.
It may not be as funky and post-modern as the Honda City or as humdrum/play-safe as the Ford Fiesta, but even with its conventional silhouette, it looks crisp, fresh and chunky. I am sure its prospective buyers across those 120-odd countries would love its chiselled looks, jewel-like taillamps, prominent wheel arches and that almost aggressive Chevy bowtie at the front.
What they will definitely love even more, and the same with me, is the interior treatment. It's simple, uncluttered and almost a whole generation better than its competition in terms of quality of switchgear, overall layout, quality of materials and the look.
Round one to GMI then. The 1.6 that I am piloting now borrows the bigger Optra 1.6's motor. GMI is offering the Aveo with a new 1.4 engine too.
Featuring dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder, these four-cylinder engines come with GM's Variable Geometry Intake System, which essentially optimises air intake across the rev range, the benefit being consistency in power and torque delivery.
But more importantly, VGIS is supposed to aid in fuel efficiency - the traditional weakness in GMI's gasoline-driven cars. The 1598cc unit develops 100.5 bhp at 5800 rpm and 15 kgm of torque at 3500 revs, while the 1399cc motor has 92.6 bhp on offer at 6200 revs and a turning force of 13 kgm at 3500 rpm. Both engines get the same five-speed manual gearbox. So how do the specs translate to the driving experience?
The 1.6 is a bit of a thrashy motor, it's gruff and raspy and whatever is going on inside the engine feels quite busy - but no doubt, it's peppy. The net effect is that the 1.6 Aveo feels as if it's doing more than it actually is.
Taking it through the gears, second tops out at 90 kph, while third goes well beyond 130 kph with ease. Pushing the car even with four adults on board, the Aveo 1.6's speedo indicated 170 kph on the smooth Baroda-Ahmedabad Expressway.
GMI claims that this Aveo can attain 100 kph from standstill in 11.81 seconds, which makes it quite quick indeed, but we'll come to that when we subject it to a full road test. GMI may say the VGIS is a good thing, but it perhaps needs a bit more tweaking.
That's because at lower revs, the 1.6 is not perky enough, and it wakes up only at around 4000 rpm, where the VGIS comes into play, giving the car a slight but perceptible kick - not unlike a watered down turbo-lag. This engine thrives on the highways all right.
On the other hand, the 1.4 is quite a suave performer compared to its bigger sibling. It is much more refined and is not all that bad in the output stakes too.
Though 6200 rpm seems a bit high to get to for extracting power, driveability is not hampered in slower speeds. And there is no compromise on the Expressway either.
The Aveo 1.4 also gets to 160 kph pretty easily in fourth gear and a shift to fifth means it will happily stay at that speed for a while.
Again, GMI's claim of a 0 to 100 kph timing of 13.06 seconds makes it quicker than the Fiesta 1.4 substantially, but we still have to time it ourselves.
Though there is nothing major to crib about both the engines, the five-speed manual gearbox is where the issue is. In the 1.4, it felt a little slushy while in the 1.6, it was decidedly notchy.
So no sporty, enthusiastic throws then. Besides, the gear ratios are unchanged between both the engines. Perhaps GM could change the gearing to match the temperament of the 1.6, make it extract let's say 100 kph in second gear itself. That would make it quick indeed.
The Aveo has an independent, McPherson strut setup at front and a torsion beam rear, and both versions ride on Goodyear Eagle NCT 5 185/60 R 14 tubeless rubber.
While GMI has increased the ground clearance to tackle speedbreakers, they have also tuned the suspension to offer a cushy, comfortable ride. Instead of a spongy ride, I would have preferred it to be slightly stiffer - something it begs for when on the highway - but most of its owners are going to experience the rear seat for most of the time anyway... and GM has them firmly in their sights.
I feel that since priority has been given to ride comfort, handling might suffer a bit. A full test, across various terrain and also traffic situations should sort out the answer.
In the top-notch LT trim, the Aveo 1.6 gets fancy interiors, a rear spoiler, alloys, a sporty, leather-clad gear lever and a four-spoke steering wheel. The steering wheel is good to hold and is of the right size too, but I preferred the golf ball gear lever and, er, even the three-spoke steering in the 1.4.
GMI will be packing the Aveo with plenty of goodies. Tilt-adjusted steering wheel is standard in both models, and you get other stuff like seat height adjustment, electric external rear view mirrors, a factory-fitted 6-speaker MP3 stereo in the top end and a host of other features.
ABS and dual airbags come as an option, only in the LT 1.6 Aveo, and by the way, both Aveos get disc brakes at front and drums at the rear.
So now comes the killer question: what price is the Aveo? GMI has yet to announce the price as we go to press, but indications are that it will be around Rs 600,000 for the 1.4 and Rs 700,000 for the 1.6. Which is more or less close to what the Fiesta is asking for, but less than the still-premium City.And is perhaps as per expectations. For that you are getting a car that looks substantially smart and big, and with two clear engine options. GMI will be aggressive in the marketplace with the Aveo... so expect a big battle to brew in this category soon.
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