The Chevrolet Monte Carlo undergoes several changes for 2006, the major one being a family of new engines. The 3.4-litre of 2005 is now a 3.5-litre; the 3.8-litre is now a 3.9-litre; and the SS model’s supercharged V6 is now a 5.3-litre small-block V8. All have continuously variable valve timing.

Other changes include new front and rear fascias, with new head- and taillamps; revised interiors with new instrument panels and controls; new audio systems; standard dual-stage frontal airbags; available side-impact airbags; and OnStar standard on all models.

Based on a version of the slightly larger Impala sedan’s platform, the regular Monte Carlo lineup now includes the top-line LTZ. The base LS and the mid-range LT carry the 3.5-litre V6, while the LTZ uses the 3.9-litre exclusively. (The LT can be optioned to the 3.9 in the U.S. market, but not in Canada.) The SS comes only with the V8, which features Displacement on Demand. This system regulates between eight- and four-cylinder operation, closing down four cylinders under light load for up to eight per cent improved fuel economy. All models use a four-speed Hydra-Matic automatic transmission; the V8’s version is heavy-duty.

The LS comes with power mirrors, 16-inch aluminum wheels, variable intermittent wipers, rear spoiler, dual-zone manual air conditioning, cruise control, floor mats, tilt wheel, power windows, cloth seats, 60/40 folding rear seat, CD player with six speakers, four-wheel disc brakes, touring suspension, power locks with keyless entry, and OnStar. For 2006, the base LS shares the 13.3:1 steering ratio that used to be exclusive to the more expensive models, for improved handling response.

The LT adds heated mirrors, tire monitoring system, auto-dimming rearview mirror, leather-wrapped wheel, six-way power driver’s seat, ABS, dual exhaust, sport suspension and traction control.

The SS package includes 18-inch aluminum wheels with performance tires, and sport suspension with larger-diameter stabilizer bars.

The Monte Carlo is a big, hefty coupe in the grand North American tradition, and one of only a few left. Rear-seat room is surprisingly spacious for the body style, and handling has improved over the 2005 version.

The V8 in the SS now closes the gap with the Mustang GT, which was the obvious winner in 2005 with an extra 60 horsepower; now, the Chevrolet version is 303 hp to Ford’s 300. The NASCAR fans will still buy based on what driver’s number they stick on the window, but for the rest of us, it comes down to some serious test drives to figure out which one to choose.

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