2009 Chevrolet Aveo5
Weary of supporting all the ex-wives of the world's Sheiks, Emirs and Pashas in the manner to which they are accustomed, when my old Chrysler started crying for another transmission I decided to opt for a more economical vehicle. I drove every car sold in California for under $30,000 and on that basis bought a brand new 2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 LT, under the "Cash for Clunkers" program. The "5" designates the hatchback, and with the back seat down, the storage is remarkable. I have carried two guitar amplifiers, three guitars in their cases, two mike stands, a full-sized suitcase and an electric piano under a blanket--all below the window-line quite easily.
This vehicle is also sold (with a variety of drivetrains) as an Opel, a Lancia, a Vauxhall, a Daewoo, a Kia and a Suzuki (at least). For the enthusiast, performance parts for it are available aftermarket under both the Suzuki and Lancia marques. A pretty comprehensive list of resources can be found here. After 30,000 HARD miles, I will list ALL the modifications needed to make it an exceptional road car: I replaced the stock Kuomo tires with General Altamax HP's (about $75 each) and raised the tire pressure to 42 psi. That's it. This completely eliminated the nasty body roll (and rebound) that results from sidewall deflection under cornering. There's little bottom-end torque, so just keep the revs up, where the 1.6-liter Ecotec engine has MORE than enough. On the road, I regularly blow away cars you would think much more capable, and not just those "in class".
I recently round-tripped L.A. to Santa Cruz over (and through) the coast range (northbound using CA Highway 198 and southbound taking the challenging Highway 25) and had a ball every twisty second. The stock disk brakes are exceptional, the rack and pinion steering is quick and precise, if a bit heavy at low speeds. On the down side, it is a $16,000 vehicle, and the interior reflects it.
I commute 150 miles a day on the L.A. freeways, most of it stop and go, and as a long-time big Detroit V-8 guy, it pains me to say that the only thing better for this would be a motorcycle (or if you really need four wheels, a Porsche). Did I mention the 5 star safety rating?
As to reliability, I have had just one failure: a left-rear turn signal lamp broke. The event that broke it came from a very hard bump, when, on a moonless night I drifted into a massive pothole in the apex of a blind corner at 85 mph (it was either that, or somebody stole a manhole cover). I suspect it would have ripped the suspension right out of a Jetta or Corolla.
So before you dismiss the Aveo5, put some air in the tires and drive one hard, you will come away a believer. If you don't, and buy something else, that blur blowing past you on your favorite mountain road will be me, getting a real-world 28 miles per gallon.
I would buy it again in a heartbeat.