Toyota's having another go at the large-car market, but has the second-generation Aurion got what it takes to tear sales from Holden and Ford? And more to the point, is it worth bothering as the New Zealand market retreats from the large-car sector to embrace mid-size and small cars?
From Toyota's point of view, it might as well be in for a slice of the pie because the Aurion is easy to source and prices-out quite well.
The fundamental difference between the Japanese sedan and its Aussie rivals is that it's front-wheel-drive, while the Ford and Holden are rear drivers.
Dimensions are similar to the Aussies' and there's not a great deal of difference in interior room, except width where Holden and Ford have an edge.
Despite being in that part of the market for years, first with the forgettable Avalon and then the first-generation Aurion, Toyota's large-car numbers have never been overly impressive. Last year, it sold 508 Aurions - it managed almost 1000 in 2008 - while Holden moved nearly 2400 Commodores and Ford, just over 1400 Falcons.
Yet even with the shift to smaller cars, Commodore was still the third-best seller last year, after Toyota's Corolla and the Suzuki Swift.
Aurion is based on the Camry, a best seller in the mid-size category, and shares its drivetrain and centre bodywork.
The 2012 model comes in three grades, the "fleet special" AT-X at 49,690, sporty Sportivo SX6 at $51,790, and the luxury Touring at $52,090. Each uses the same 200kW/336Nm 3.5 litre V6 and six-speed automatic transmission.
It's an engine shared with the Highlander people mover and similar to the ones in such family members as Prado, Lexus RX350 and IS350.
The engine's party trick is to provide what Toyota says is the lowest fuel consumption and emissions of any 3.5 litre V6 in its class. Overall thirst for fuel is 9.3 litres per 100km and CO2 emissions, 215 grams per kilometre.
On the other hand, performance verges on cut-cat territory with a 0-100km/h run time of 7.1 seconds. But, based on Driven's experience with the Touring model, if you're going to go fast, better do it on a straight road. The big Toy's handling is only average and the steering, which is now assisted by an electric motor, lacks feeling.
This is despite Toyota making what it says were "significant improvements in agility and on-road dynamics".
The safety features are there with seven airbags, seatbelt warning for all five seats, stability control and traction control. Toyota's piled on the comfort and convenience too. The Touring has leather seats and trim, a premium four-spoke steering wheel, along with such goodies as a rear wing spoiler, sports mesh grille and front fog lights.
So at least onlookers might be fooled into thinking you've actually got a sports sedan.
The car's exterior styling is pleasant and includes features to improve aerodynamics which, in turn, do their bit for better fuel economy.
These include undercover fins to channel air towards the rear and corners that smooth airflow across the body, lessening drag.
Aurion's worth considering by those seeking generous automotive real estate; just don't expect to find a wow factor in its extensive equipment list.By Phil Hanson