These days, consumers almost unknowingly expect a huge amount from their cars and take high standards for granted.
Holden's 3.2-litre V6 CDXi Vectra hatchback, for example, may seem almost understated yet underneath beats an impressive heart.
Modest the car may seem, but the on-road reality is something different. Indeed, the six-cylinder Vectra could proudly wear a GT or Sports badge such is its high performance capability.
In Germany the equivalent Vectra, which is called a GTS, is touted as the fastest Opel volume production car of all time.
And you only need a few moments behind the wheel to appreciate the car's capabilities.
Compared to the less costly Vectras, the CDXi body is lowered by 20mm, and the specially stiffened suspension has modified spring and damper rates.
The low front spoiler, however, is a constant worry within the urban jungle of kerbs, driveways and speed humps.
Electronically controlled electro-hydraulic power steering offers a more direct feel and adds to the overall refinement. It's sharp and a shade edgy but is in tune with the car's sporting flavour.
The car also benefits from excellent body rigidity and an efficient drag coefficient of 0.28.
Wind noise is especially low at higher speeds.
Both hatch and sedan share the same suspension, with MacPherson struts at the front, and a hydroformed subframe and advanced multi-link rear set-up at the rear.
There's a clear Euro feel to this third generation Vectra but the right-hand stalk for the indicator underlines the Holden input.
Though the Vectra name may struggle to achieve a strong image, you could hardly slate the styling for being understated. Indeed, the latest model is endowed with a fair measure of character, from the bold grille to the rising waistline that gives the five-door hatchback a real coupe-like stance.
Viewed from profile, the low windscreen and flowing roofline stretch in an elongated arc over large glass surfaces. The rear end is somewhat abrupt but there's no mistaking this Holden for any other.
Critics like Jeremy Clarkson haven't given GM and Vauxhall, or models like the Vectra, an easy time and you have to wonder about their logic or fairness, given the general competence of the cars.
To date, local demand for the new model has been split evenly between the German-assembled sedan and British-built hatch. Around 75 percent of sales are of the 2.2-litre four-cylinder and the majority of them are automatics.
At first glance, New Zealand sales for the new Vectra seem disappointing, given that 2003 volume was down 40 percent on the previous year.
But there are reasons for that. Stocks of the outgoing model were exhausted by late 2002 and the new model didn't arrive until late April.
There are no plans to introduce the station wagon version since it's too expensive and would fall uncomfortably close to the Commodore wagon.
Wagons made up around one-third of second generation Vectra sales, so the fall-off in total Vectra volume isn't surprising.
Even so, the Vectra should be selling better than it is and Holden fell short of achieving 1000 sales in 2003.
The opposition lies not with rival brands like Ford, Toyota and Mazda, but within the Vectra's own showroom.
At $54,500, the CDXi auto is not only the Vectra flagship but also a cool $14,600 more costly than the entry-level four-cylinder CD hatch.
It's also $3600 dearer than a Commodore Berlina sedan auto and you can hook into a new Commodore Executive sedan with the same 3.8-litre V6 power for as little as $43,900.
Punters are likely to ponder the various merits of the Vectra and the Commodore, taking resale and Aussie heritage into account, and go for the bigger traditional Holden.
If they took the Vectra CDXi for a romp, however, they could well make a different decision.
The 155kW Opel V6 pumps out more power than the 152kW Commodore V6 and is good enough to sweep the Vectra on to a top speed of 248km/h.
The Vectra's GM Ecotec V6 has a variable intake manifold that makes abundant torque available over a broad engine speed range.
Much of the engine is made from aluminium and ultra-light magnesium is used for several components.
With 300Nm of torque at 4000 revs, the Vectra V6 is immensely responsive and quick and has a high level of refinement. The car is a quiet, slick open road performer.
The motor simply gets the job done and in a cost-efficient manner. I couldn't match the 10.1 litres/100 kilometre claim for average economy, but my 12.5 litres/100km (22.6mpg) isn't to be sniffed at, given the size and performance of the machine.
There simply never seems to be any lack of urge and the motor combines well with the adaptive five-speed automatic transmission which is especially good at restraining the car on a trailing throttle.
In Europe the Vectra GTS is targeted at younger buyers than the Vectra sedan, but in New Zealand the profile is for older drivers and I suspect most buyers will scarcely be aware of the potential of their new steed.
Nor will they be fazed by the zero to 100km/h time of 7.5 seconds or the fact that a manual version can also be specified for $2000 less than the auto.
The lower-spec CDX hatch uses the same 3.2-litre V6 but is only available here in auto form. It costs almost $7000 less than the clutch-less CDXi.
Instead of the 17-inch alloy wheels on the flagship version, the CDX has 16-inch alloys and goes without the unique spoilers, twin exhaust, black bezel headlights and dark-lens rear lights of the CDXi.
In the safety stakes, the latest Vectra fares well. There are full-size front and side airbags, three-point safety belts for all five seats (equipped with height adjusters, tensioners and force limiters on the four outer seats), GM's patented pedal release system and active head restraints on the front seats to reduce the risk of whiplash injury.
Four-channel ABS braking including EBD and stability control is also part of the package.
Accident damage is said to be easy to repair and there is extensive galvanisation of the body, with a 12-year anti-perforation warranty, and extended service intervals of up to 24 months or 30,000km.
A couple of the doors on the test example needed slamming and the body had the odd rattle on indifferent surfaces.
It got brownie points, however, for the good lock, generous interior room, heaps of cubby holes for oddments, the graphic information display and the car's mechanical silence.
The light bonnet is suspended by gas struts and the under bonnet scene is neat and tidy.
Any way you look at the new Vectra, it's the most sophisticated Holden ever, and the CDXi is clearly the one with the most driver appeal.