For 2007, the Chevrolet Optra receives a standard single CD/MP3 stereo with auxiliary audio input jack and four speakers; an available new security package of anti-lock brakes, side airbags, and tire pressure monitoring system; a standard battery saver; a new Optra RS Appearance Package of 15-inch aluminum wheels, spoiler, premium eight-speaker sound system, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter knob with wheel-mounted audio controls; and a new Turquoise Blue exterior colour.

Built in South Korea by GM-DAT, the Optra is Canada-specific; in the U.S., it’s badged as the Suzuki Forenza, a nameplate unavailable here. The Optra comes as a four-door hatchback (called the Optra5, as the company considers it a “five-door”) and as a four-door wagon. Both are powered by a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with a five-speed manual transmission or optional four-speed automatic; trim levels for both are the base LS and upscale LT.

The LS trim line includes 15-inch steel wheels, four-wheel disc brakes, engine block heater, tilt wheel, lumbar support, console with armrest, cruise control, manual remote mirrors, variable intermittent wipers, cloth seats, 60/40 folding rear seat, CD/MP3 stereo, fog lights and rear washer/wiper.

The LT model adds power mirrors, cruise control and speed-sensitive steering; the LT wagon also includes a cargo net and roof rails.

The Optra is inexpensive, but it frequently “shows its price”; its engine is growly when pressed, torque steer is pronounced, and cabin plastics are hard and pebbly. Fuel economy could be better, too.

On the plus side, its engine is adequate once it gets up to speed, and it’s comfortable for highway cruising; both models are nicely-sized for urban use, but the wagon adds extra cargo capacity. It tends to be the handsomer of the two as well, with its extra length offsetting the bold nose. Compare to contenders such as the Mazda3, Ford Focus ZXW and Hyundai Elantra.

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