Toyota will begin selling its redesigned British-built Avensis across Europe in March.

The company sold over 450,000 units of the previous model and claims a 5.6% share of the 'D segment' market in Europe.

Toyota plans to sell around 130,000 units of the new model in 2003 with a medium term goal of 800,000 units, or 5% market share, in Europe by 2005.

The new Avensis is said to be the product of a global team working in Europe and Japan but the initial concept for the new car, which has lost its 'Japanese' look and now appears more like a Volkswagen Passat or GM Europe Vectra, was designed in Europe at ED2, Toyota's Design centre on the Cote d'Azur, southern France.

The redesigned Avensis will be available, as before, in sedan, liftback and wagon forms and all three body types will be built at Burnaston in Derbyshire and launched together.

At 4.63m overall length (4.70m for the wagon), the new car is about 10cm longer than its predecessor and is built on a 2.7m wheelbase.

Toyota says the new Avensis will be the first car in Europe to be launched with a knee airbag as standard equipment.

The 18-litre airbag is located under the steering column and is designed to protect the driver's knees and lower legs from injury on hard surfaces and contact with items such as the column and key barrel.

The knee airbag is part of an SRS safety package, which includes dual-stage driver and front passenger airbags, seatbelts with force limiter and pretensioner, and a driver's seat position sensor.

This works in conjunction with the frontal impact sensor to control inflation pressure depending on the severity of the crash impact.

A seat belt warning system gives 120 seconds of audible and visible warning if belts have not been fastened. ISO-fix child seat mountings and a 'top tether' anchor for child seats are also standard.

Toyota has also introduced a partculate filter system called D-CAT which, combined with common-rail direct injection gives a new two-litre diesel version emission levels well below Euro IV standards - NOx and particulate emissions are claimed to be reduced by 50% and 80% respectively.

D-CAT will be launched in September 2003 in selected countries, depending on the availability of low-sulphur diesel fuel.

The Avensis will also come with 1.6- and 1.8-litre VVT-i petrol engines, a new two-litre direct injection petrol unit and the two-litre D-4D diesel engine from the previous Avensis improved with a variable nozzle turbocharger.

Some models will offer an optional multi-mode automatic transmission, giving the choice of automatic or sequential shift operation.

New double wishbone rear suspension has been derived from the Celica sports coupe and an additional link has been added to give optimised toe control, which improves rear stability under hard cornering and better response. The rear track is 50mm wider than the previous Avensis  for greater stability.

Other technical innovations include optional voice-activated DVD satellite navigation that can recognise commands in English or German and can also control the audio system.