by Jeff Mullins 29/10/12
The Toyota Carina E was the first car to be built at Toyota’s Burnaston plant in Derbyshire, United Kingdom. This plant followed in the footsteps of Nissan’s Sunderland factory and would go on to provide further evidence that the British can manufacture cars properly once the right methods are used. Nissan’s Bluebird gained a legendary reputation for reliability in its time and proved popular on taxi fleets, just like the Carina E would do. Today the factories collectively produce the majority of both manufacturers’ European output and even export some cars back to Japan as well as other parts of Asia.
After a production run of five years by late 1997 (a short one by European standards), Toyota set about replacing the Carina E with a new model. The brand was moving into a new era during this period and a number of household names within the range that had been used since the 1960’s began to be phased out in place of more modern European sounding names. The Carina was the first car to receive the marketing department’s attention and in its place on the bootlid of Toyota’s mid range saloon car would now appear the name ‘Avensis’. A similar philosophy would be used nearly two years later on the Starlet when it was renamed Yaris and the Corolla hatchback eventually gaining the title ‘Auris’ in 2006. All the names ended in ‘is’ in what was presumably a move to provide a link within the family, similar to Opel/Vauxhall’s cars ending with an ‘a’ (Astra, Vectra, Omega etc.)
During the mid 1990’s a huge financial crisis struck Asia and as a result, Toyota cut back in spending on development. To save money, many new models launched during this period used the same hardware as their predecessors and in some cases had very similar body panels. The Coralla E110 that succeeded the E100 for instance had interchangeable doors on some models. The Avensis was similar in this respect to the Carina E, continuing the use of the same basic platform and carrying over the same engines. The interior was upgraded with a less utilitarian look than that of the Carina and gained velour seats as well as wood/metal effect trim on the dashboard (depending on spec) in an attempt to lighten the theme.
Bodystyles for the Avensis from launch were four door saloon, five door ‘Liftback’ as well as an estate. Ireland is very much a saloon market so it can only be expected that most models sold were in the saloon bodystyle; unlike the UK, where hatchbacks are preferred. New Ireland exclusive trim levels applied to the range, with Terra as the entry model, Luna being mid range and Sol the very top level. Terra was utterly bog standard with only the basic things such as electric front windows, electrically adjustable mirrors etc. Moving up the range, Luna added air conditioning, while Sol brought alloys, front fogs and a choice of either climate control or electric sunroof to the specification list. Internally, each trim differed and most notably featured individual dashboard trims, with a sort of piano effect in Terra, Luna featuring a type of aluminium and Sol being finished in a questionable walnut type plastic. Certain engine units were exclusive with these trim levels, e.g. Sol only being sold with the 1.8 litre engine. Other units available between 1997 and the 2000 facelift were a 1.6 litre ‘Lean Burn’ which delivered exceptional fuel economy and unremarkable performance as well a 2.0 litre turbodiesel with direct injection and old school, pre common-rail simplicity.
Late in the year 2000 the Avensis received a facelift which brought redesigned clear lens front and rear light units, an updated interior with new materials and a new range of engines in both petrol and diesel. The petrol units received Variable Valve Timing (VVT-i) across and what they gained in technology they lost in overall indestructibility. The excess burning of oil was quite a problem early on in their lives and many cars were known to have had them replaced under warranty. On the diesel side, a new 2.0 litre D4-D diesel engine brought increased power and fuel economy at the expense of some refinement.
The Mk1 Avensis continued largely unchanged until 2003, when a run-out model was introduced. The Luna special edition added extras such as alloy wheels, front fogs and full body coloured bumpers combined with the most popular 1.6 litre VVT-i engine. It sold until the new generation model came on stream in the second quarter of the year.
Values for the Mk1 Avensis run from roughly 600-800 euro for an early ’98 Terra model in well used condition with NCT, to 2000-2500 for either a last of the line diesel model in Terra trim with a diesel engine or a run out Luna model with the 1.6 litre VVT-i petrol.