With the medium-sized segment in Australia shrinking from 9 per cent of the total market to around 7 per cent, Ford has decided not to bring in the second-generation Mondeo.

And that will leave Vectra a free run to challenge the four-cylinder Toyota Camry and Mazda6, which control the medium segment.

Explore the 2003 Holden Vectra Range

The Vectra line-up consists of the 2.2-litre CD sedan and hatch, the 3.2-litre CDX and the highly specified V6-powered CDXi.

Vectra will not be marketed as a price point range bridging a gap between the Astra and Commodore. With the entry model 2.2-litre ZC Vectra specified and priced $4110 more than the 3.8-litre VY Commodore Executive, Holden is looking to impact on other luxury imports. Holden chairman and managing director Peter Hanenberger says: "There is no doubt this car has the qualifications necessary to attract luxury import buyers and to make its competitive presence felt in the medium and prestige segments."

Mr Hanenberger says the new Vectra is far more than a re-engineered version of the former series which, at its peak, attracted 9500 buyers in 1999 and claimed 20 per cent of the medium segment.

"It is the result of new thinking - a very smart car that widens the appeal of our front-drive product portfolio and in many ways indicates its future direction," he says.

The new Vectra is half a size larger than its predecessor and boasts interior dimensions that are close to those of the first series Holden Commodore.

On top of standard high equipment levels, the new Vectra will come with four channel anti-lock brakes, corner braking control and electronic brake force distribution, and a new electronic stability program on the top model.

Holden engineers had significant input into ride, handling and steering settings after criticism at the world release of the car in Barcelona last year.

Mr Hanenberger said a pre-production car was flown to Australia and changes requested to meet Australian conditions and driving habits had been adopted in Europe. Vectra introduces General Motors' new styling architecture which melds what Holden calls "the shock of the new" with more familiar styling cues.

The new car is a wide-shouldered design which emphasises the curved belt line which sweeps rearward from the vertical and jewelled, clear headlamps.

It is a distinctive design which well could point to the styling of the next-generation Commodore.

Holden claims Vectra's interior is a full size larger than the previous series, due to some good work in the area of space efficiency.

Steering wheel reach and rake adjustment, eight-way adjustable seating and a sliding centre armrest allow simple tailoring of preferred driving positions.

Controls are sensibly grouped according to logical operating principles and white instrument graphics on black backgrounds are easily readable.

Both the four-cylinder and V6 engines employ four valve technology and drive-by-wire accelerators and benefit from on-board diagnostic computers.

The 2.2-litre, four-cylinder, lightweight-aluminium engine now provides 108kW of power and 203Nm of torque, only fractionally more than the 2.2-litre motor used in the former model but with dramatically improved emissions.

The 3.2-litre DOHC V6 replaces the 2.6-litre V6, lifting power from 125kW in the former model to a handy 155kW. The new motor puts out 300Nm of torque - 50Nm more than before.

Both engines can be teamed with five-speed close ratio manual transmissions or a new five-speed automatic which adjusts shift points in line with driving style and conditions. The adaptive automatic is fitted with Tiptronic-style manual gear select function.

The 2.2-litre Vectra CD sedan and hatch are equipped with five-speed manual or optional five-speed automatic and 16in alloy wheels.

At a Glance

Specifications

The CD comes with anti-lock brakes, electronic brake-force distribution, emergency brake assist, cornering brake control and traction control.

Further standard features include driver and front passenger airbags, side airbags, airconditioning, variable assist power steering, power windows and heated exterior mirrors, nine-speaker sound system with CD, cruise control, fully adjustable steering column and driver's seat.

The 3.2-litre V6 CDX hatch comes with automatic transmission as standard, front fog lamps and 16in wheels.

Extra interior features include wood-grain capping, velour trim and trip computer.

The 3.2-litre V6 CDXi has five-speed manual or optional five-speed, 17in low-profile tyres, sports bumpers, rear spoiler, performance exhaust and sports suspension, and new-generation stability program.

Interior features include heated leather sports seats, dual-zone climate control airconditioning, refrigerated glove box and satin chrome instrument detailing.