GM Europe has released first photographs of the Signum, its entry into a newly-emerging European vehicle class, which will reach showrooms in summer 2003.

The car is based on the new Vectra, and built on the Epsilon platform and is about one size bigger than the five and seven-seat 'mini-minivans' such as the Renault Scenic and GM's own Zafira.

Instead of seating seven, though, the new car maximises space for four adults (five grudgingly) thanks to a wheelbase stretch of 5.2in/130mm to 113.2in/2830mm. However, a shorter rear overhang means the new body, at 185.4in/4636mm, is only 1.6in/40mm longer than the Vectra saloon and fractionally taller.

Though the Signum can seat five, the three-seat rear is best turned into two individual seats that can slide back by up to 130mm for large luxury car levels of leg room.

Seat backs can also be inclined as much as 28 degrees, the equivalent of having the front seats in the rear.

The claimed world-first Multi-Functional "Travel Assistant" allows the centre rear seat to be versatile. When the seat cushion is folded forward and flipped over, a storage console is created. The upper section of the upholstered seat back can then be folded down to provide an armrest for those occupying the two outer rear seats.

The console conceals two fold-out trays, a cold-store box, a refuse bin, cup-holders, an electric power outlet, and a holder for a portable DVD player, as well as separate rear-seat controls for the audio system.

The three rear seats can also be folded forward to create a completely flat load surface. In this configuration the load carrying capacity is more than 1400 litres. With all five seats in use there is up to 480 litres of load space, depending on the rear seat position.

There is also a roof-mounted console, with reading lamps for rear passengers and five compartments providing more storage space. Vauxhall and Opel think the new car will bring them customers who would not have previously considered their products and the car will also be a more affordable alternative to Renault's more luxurious - and oddly styled - Avantime coupe which also maximises passenger space on a minivan-size platform.

General Motors Europe is launching three new ECOTEC engines with the Signum: their first petrol direct injection engine, a four-cylinder 2.2-litre unit developing 155PS; a new 175PS two-litre turbocharged four and an Isuzu-built 3.0-litre 177PS V6 common-rail diesel. Expect to see these across the Vectra line in due course.

Other new features are Adaptive Forward Lighting with bi-xenon headlamps - A steering-linked headlamp system that lights up bends in the road - and an orthopaedic and air-conditioned driving seat that can be adjusted eight ways.

This is not, though, the expected station wagon version of the Vectra. A more conventional body style fulfilling that role will be launched early next year.