The Chevy Aveo is a surprisingly excellent car.

This past weekend, on a whim, I rented a Chevy Aveo LS 5 door hatchback from Enterprise. They had a weekend special going; for just $12.49 a day, I got to experience the full glory of a rebadged Daewoo. Let me tell you, it was a surprising experience.

As some of you know, my daily driver is a newer german car, in the "entry level luxury" category. My car handles well, it brakes well, it has lots of bells and whistles and it's very comfortable to drive. You would think that driving a very base level cheapest-car-in-America would be a big shock to my system, like being thrown into a half frozen lake psychologically. But the truth is that the Chevy Aveo is a damned capable car.

I picked the car up on Friday night. The next morning, I went for a bit of a drive. When I got home 16 hours later, I had driven 920 miles. Sunday I hopped back in the car and drove it through Santa Monica and Malibu, then through the canyons around Mulholland.

A quick review:

The materials of the interior of this car are like a bad joke. Pull on the door handle too hard, and it feels like the whole door bends. The dashboard looks like plastic that came from those injection mold machines at the zoo. The steering wheel is acceptable. The interior space is more than acceptable - in fact, the driver has more room than in my german car. It's somewhat akin to driving a minivan - lots of headroom. I imagine the backseat is poor, but what lonely commuter really uses the backseat on a regular basis?

The handling is downright excellent. It turns sharply, there is hardly any body lean unless you really push it. I pushed the car's suspension right up to the edge, and came away alive. The 103hp 1.6 liter 16 valve motor is acceptable. Even with an automatic slushbox, it had enough power to comfortably cruise at 90mph on the freeway. And, I got a very nice 35 miles per gallon on mostly freeway driving. On regular gas no less (a real luxury to those of us who are stuck using premium.) Perhaps not the safest car on the road, it does have frontal impact airbags and is most likely more safe than most mid 90's econoboxes.

Where the Aveo REALLY shines is in the Special Value Package, which is $9890. If you can get past the lack of air conditioning, it's probably the best bang for the buck available on the market today. At the time of writing, Chevy is offering a 72 month 0% financing on the Aveo. With 10% down, your payment would work out to around $135 a month.

Most reviews state that you would be better off going with a slightly older used car. In the case of the more plush LS and LT which can go up in price to over $13k, I think that's true. But in the case of the Special Value Package, it simply cannot be beat. For starters, it has a 60,000 mile powertrain warranty, and it's a brand spanking new car. In addition it's hard to compete with the incredible financing offered by Chevy. With interest rates on the rise, it may cost you 8-10% APR on a car loan on an older Civic. This lowers the price range even more - perhaps down to a $6000 or $7000 car. I honestly think that you would be better off in every way getting the Aveo over a 96 Civic DX.

Not having A/C might be tough to handle in some parts of the country, but if you live in the cooler areas, go take a look at the Aveo. It's a real winner.