Toyota Motor Corporation has launched its fully redesigned Vitz at "Netz Toyota" dealers in Japan.

The model is known as the Yaris in Europe, where most versions are built in France, while other export markets, such as Australia, receive it as the Echo.

Completely restyled inside and out on a new platfrom, the new Vitz is said to offer better performance, handling and ride, more safety and improved functionality and quality.

Like its Nissan March (Micra) rival, the Vitz gains 'smart' locking - doors can be locked and unlocked by simply having the key in the driver's pocket and the so-called 'Smart Entry and Start System' features push button engine start.

Also new is an automatic air conditioner with a pollen-removal mode that can be switched to filter out pollen, dust and other impurities from face-level air - Toyota claims a world first for this.

The suspension and brakes have been redesigned and there is also a new 'Super CVT-I' (Continuously Variable Transmission-intelligent) gearbox option.

Toyota said it designed the Vitz body structure by incorporating the concept of compatibility, where designers consider the effect of a crash on both vehicles in situations where vehicles of differing weights collide. Collision tests were conducted at 55km/h (about 35mph), the highest testing speed used for Toyota vehicles so far.

Seat structures incorporate WIL (Whiplash Injury Lessening) features designed to reduce stress on the neck during low-speed impacts from the rear, achieving claimed class-leading safety performance.

All new front-wheel-drive Vitz models achieve emission levels 75% lower than 2005 standards under the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport's Approval System for Low-emission Vehicles, and boast fuel efficiency that exceeds by 5% the level called for by Japanese 2010 fuel efficiency standards.

As before, engine options are 1.0-, 1.3- and 1.5-litre petrol with VVT-i (Variable Valve Timing-intelligent). European buyers can expect a continuation of the diesel options when French-built Yaris versions are launched later this year.

A newly developed ultra-compact torque converter for Japanese models delivers a smoother drive and high fuel efficiency. Neutral control improves fuel efficiency by semi-releasing the clutch when the vehicle is stopped (with the shift lever in 'D'). Traction control improves responsiveness to accelerator operation.

The 'Intelligent Package' (available from April) will use the new Toyota Intelligent Idling Stop System to achieve claimed highest fuel efficiency level in this class in Japan.

The monthly sales target in Japan is 10,000 units.