For 2006, Chevrolet has dropped the Optra four-door sedan model. It now comes as a four-door hatchback (the Optra5) or as a four-door wagon, in new trim designations of LS and LT. There are also new 15-inch, 10-spoke alloy wheels, electronic cruise control, a more user-friendly key fob, a standard CD player with MP3 capability, and new seat fabrics.

Both the Optra5 and wagon are powered by a 2.0-litre inline four-cylinder engine mated to a five-speed manual transmission, and both can be optioned to a four-speed automatic.

Built in South Korea by GM-DAT, the Optra is unique to Canada. In different trim, it’s sold in the U.S. as the Suzuki Forenza, a model that isn’t available north of the border.

LS models include manual remote mirrors, 15-inch steel wheels, variable intermittent wipers, tilt wheel, cloth seats, 60/40 folding rear seat, CD player with four speakers, fog lights, rear washer/wiper and four-wheel disc brakes.

LS models add power mirrors, cruise control, and speed-sensitive steering. The LS wagon also includes a cargo net.

Designed by Pininfarina, the Optra looks best in wagon form, where its bold face is offset by its length. Its 119 horsepower engine is growly when demands are placed on it, but it’s adequate for the task, and it’s comfortable when cruising on the highway. Torque steer is very pronounced and becomes extremely tiresome. The cabin materials are econo-box quality, and the standard steering wheel is hard, pebbly plastic and feels like it came off a cheap 1980s car (a leather-wrapped wheel is available as part of an optional Appearance Package). Fuel economy could be better, too.

On the plus side, there’s considerable interior space, and the wagon is just the right size for inner-city hauling. Thanks to a 2006 price cut, the wagon is $9,965 under the Malibu Maxx. Still, don’t forget to look at such competitors as the Mazda3 and the Hyundai Elantra.

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