Millennium Maestro

Road test: Chevrolet Aveo

This week, two things have led me to think of a car which has been much maligned since its launch back in 1983, the Austin Maestro. The first is the fact that I’m driving an all new Chevrolet Aveo; the second is that I went to a Stackridge concert. Let’s take these one at a time.

The Aveo takes me right back to 1980s cars and for good reason. After years of almost losing fillings because of low profile tyres, stiff springs and firm dampers, I am delighted to announce it has soft suspension. Back in the ‘80s, cars pulling away from a standstill lifted their noses, put their bottoms on the floor and set off. And that’s what the Aveo does!  Because it has gentle damping, it also absorbs lumps and bumps well and eats up the miles.

There are other similarities too. Today, most cars have fully integrated dashboards, with dials and gauges installed deeply to avoid reflections. The Aveo, however, has a binnacle attached to the rest of the facia almost as an afterthought. Likewise, the Maestro had a bit stuck on, rather like a roof extension. The similarities continue. The Maestro pioneered the digital dashboard (and some models actually spoke to the driver); the Aveo has a similar digital display. Not only that, the Aveo uses 1980s language to communicate to its driver. Last night, a few bongs were followed by a ‘code 89’ message. These days, we’re used to being told that the middle rear occupant doesn’t have his seatbelt fastened or that the near-side front fog lamp has failed but a code 89? Wow, that must be serious. I nursed the car for the rest of my journey, gingerly testing the brakes, looking for the engine temperature gauge (there isn’t one) and listening carefully when easing the power back on. Finally I reached my destination hoping I’d done no damage and checked the user manual. Embedded in page 78 of the guide is a list of error codes. Apparently, this Chevrolet needs a service. How very last century.

Although the Maestro was considered a family car, translating as a C-segment vehicle today, it shares almost identical external dimensions to the B-segment Aveo. In fact, the Aveo is an inch longer and 2½ inches wider than the Maestro.

The Maestro was one of the first diesel cars to win popularity with the public. The Clubman D offered adequate power, reasonable economy and not too much black smoke. This Aveo also champions a small diesel unit of just 1,248cc. Boosting smaller displacement engines often leaves a large no-go area at the bottom of the rev range but Chevrolet’s diesel is actually very civilised and considering its healthy 95 PS power output it has little turbo lag and pulls well from about 1,500 rpm.

While both cars share the five-door hatchback formula, the Aveo brings this up to date with clean flanks, deep corporate Chevy nose, purposeful scowl plus good panel fit and finish. In fact, apart from the less-than-helpful user interface the Aveo takes the best of the 1980s and turns it into a properly driveable little car.

So what does Stackridge have to do with the Maestro? Just seven years ago, they wrote an entire song about it called Wonderful Day. And while there are many songs written about Chevrolets, I’ll eat my flat cap if any are ever dedicated to the Aveo.

Model tested:

New Aveo LTZ 1.3 VCDi tested costs £13,615 (+£375 for metalic paint).  The Aveo range starts at £10,295.

Power: 95 PS (4,000 rpm), torque: 210 Nm (1,750-2,500 rpm), emissions: 108 g/km CO2 (band B), 0-62 mph: 12.6 secs, consumption: 68.9mpg (combined cycle).

Motor Writer rating:

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