General Motors’ German operation Adam Opel AG will start producing the Signum, a large five-door luxury hatchback, on January 6 with 2003 output projected at 70,000.

The car is based on the new European Vectra, and built on the Epsilon platform shared with the new Saab 9-3 and Saturn Ion. It is about a size bigger than the five and seven-seat ‘mini-minivans’ such as the Renault Scenic and GM’s own Zafira and seems likely to also compete with a similar three-door Espace-based Renault called the Avantime.

Though larger than Opel’s own seven-seat Zafira minivan, the Signum maximises space for four adults (though it can seat five) thanks to a wheelbase stretch of 5.2in/130mm to 113.2in/2830mm. 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.

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.

General Motors Europe hopes the new car will bring in customers who would not have previously considered Opel- or Vauxhall-badged 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.

GME 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.

Announcing the Signum in August, GM said the new car would go on sale in summer 2003.

A conventional Vectra estate car is also expected next year.

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